promethetan

free minds need new ideas

why vote in national elections?

The function of voting in governing America is not to select policy but to legitimate it. This explains why journalists and voters engage with politics primarily as a sport, and why campaign promises are seldom fulfilled. Voting is like recycling: it may serve important ritual needs, but everyone knows it’s not actually effective at its purported function.

Aside from the fact that most voters have little impact on the outcome of a national election, selection of elected officials is understood to have only a tenuous connection to state action. Pandering is a common explanation for broken pledges on the campaign trail. Certainly some candidates espouse policies that they don’t support in a cynical attempt to gain votes through deception; see Clinton campaign surrogates telling any given audience what they want to hear regarding the TPP. But a more interesting case is when politicians are unable to effectively direct the actions of the government that they formally lead. Barack Obama seems to have sincerely wanted to close Guantanamo for the past eight years. His major obstacle was not other elected officials - a department of career officials successfully opposed their head of state. Although the kayfabe of democracy is usually maintained, there are other recent breaks; the surprise of many senate intelligence oversight committee members at the content of the NSA leaks and CIA’s interference in the senate’s torture report come to mind.

In the loyalty / voice / exit scheme, voting is meant to be a form of voice. However, the expanding role of unelected and effectively unaccountable bureaucracy has made it, in practice, solely a display of loyalty. Exit is costly in physical spaces because political structures are bundled with specific options for housing, work, socialization, etc. In virtual spaces, these aspects are more easily unbundled. People jump situationally between online spaces with radically different speech norms. Facebook, twitter, tumblr, reddit, and 4chan have dramatically different social rules, created as much by technical design as by their users. As the fraction of human activity carried out in virtual spaces continues to increase, the costs of exit become dramatically lower, leading to a new, more fluid mode of engagement with institutions.

Think about how much time and cognitive space has been devoted to hyperventilation over Trump’s alleged fascism and Clinton’s corruption. Precommitting to not voting would free these resources up for better uses, like building options for exit in your own life or for others, or reading books.