Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Does Voting Legitimate the System?

Recently, the question of voting has come up in conversation with those generally self-identified as voluntaryists interested in non-violent communication and I decided to put some of my thoughts down on paper (so to speak) I've yet to listen to the podcasts that Wes recommended but I'll try to give them a listen in the next couple days before my upcoming camping trip and those arguments  might require modifications to my current thoughts but I wanted to get my thoughts out first and then consider the possible counter-arguments. So here is the draft of my thoughts on the matter as of now, I hope it is interesting to some:

   Does voting legitimate the system? I would contend, that it does not, nor could it ever, in any case, legitimatize any action violating the NAP (non-initiation of aggression principle). Voting in its only ethical-practice, would be merely the agreement, requiring individual consent of each person participating, to make a corporate decision, affecting those participating, through a process of majority vote (democracy); or said another way, at best, voting would be a process in which each individual would agree to consent to a contract/agreement in which the outcome or result of that contract/agreement, is to be determined by an agreed upon number or percentage of votes.

     This version of voting, in no way violates any individual's life, liberty or property, as in this ethical-practice of voting, each individual consents to the process and any individual not so consenting would be outside-of/immune to the terms of the contract/agreement of the individuals that would choose to enter the contract/agreement.  Like any other agreement or contract, each person's individual consent would be required for the terms of the contract/agreement to be legitimately applicable upon those individuals consenting and like any other contract, any party may lay claim to breach of the contract, at which time the contract is dissolved such that the agreement is effectively no longer in place [though some party might be entitled to damages based on various possibilities of fraud or perhaps detrimental reliance] but point remains, that any contract/agreement may be broken by the extrication of any party; just as while in marriage or civil-union between persons might be considered the most solemn of agreements, even this may be terminated by either party, at any time, for any reason.

     However, voting in its ethical-practice is not the voting which is employed in the current political establishment and does not conform to principle of contract/agreement; the "vote" as we are familiar with it, rarely requires the consent of each individual to be affected/considered-to-be-bound, but rather it assumes prior consent of all individuals in a particular geographical confine and therefore denies the possibility of consent or extrication.  This predetermined consent, in no way represents actual consent of any particular individual, nor could it ever be considered a legitimate contract, for it such could be the case then we could envision/propose various abuses of the principle.  One counter-example might be of Jimmy-Bob the cell-phone salesman, who under the errant-principle of presumed consent of a contract/agreement, could presume consent for every person in a particular geographic confine, for a cell-phone contract for an indefinite period of time; if you lived near Jimmy-Bob's place of business, Jimmy-Bob would deliver a cell-phone to you and charge you $50 a month for the contract/agreement that Jimmy-Bob has presumed for you.  If the errant-principle of presumed consent were valid, then any person could presume consent for any other person for any contract/agreement that the former could imagine.  The presumed-consent contract of Jimmy-Bob, assumes that you that you owe Jimmy-Bob $50 a month, whether you use the cell-phone that was delivered or not for an indefinite period of time, was never a legitimate agreement between Jimmy-Bob and you in the first place; the entire contract was a fantasy of  Jimmy-Bob's mind and was never in fact an agreement between Jimmy-Bob and yourself.

    So the voting that we are only too familiar with today, presumes consent or agreement, where no consent or agreement has ever, in fact, been given; but it does another thing, the current political process of voting as we commonly know it, also does not permit any individual to meaningfully opt-out/extricate-from of the presumed agreement.  We may often hear people say, “Well if people don't agree with the system, they can always move to some other place!” and while this unbelievably makes sense to a lot of otherwise generally rational people, it in no way conforms to our ethical response to ethically similar scenarios and in fact, begs the entire question (presumes correctness of the presumptive consent, before the issue of the presumptive consent is determined).   For if such a response was in keeping with ethical assessments of ethically-similar scenarios, such an errant-person would similarly tell a woman that she must remain in a marriage to which she had never consented and then tell her, “If you think your husband is abusive and you don't like it, you can always leave your children, friends, and property behind and runaway.”.  I do not think it would be overly inflating the case to suggest that this same reasoning would could also consul suicide as a possible means of escape of the abusive forced marriage.

      I would not think it the position of rational, ethical person, to say to a woman abused by her husband, that SHE should run-away and hide from her abusive husband; but rather, rational/ethical persons would contend that the husband either cease his abuse if his victims consent to forgive him or leave his victims in peace.  Would a rational/ethical person suggest to a homeowner, that if they don't like the burglar in their house, they could always move to a better neighborhood? Do rational/ethical persons, commonly in other cases like this, blame the victim and tell the victim to leave the area where they are victimized or do we say that the aggressor should cease his or her aggression? Clearly, it is they who initiate the aggression on otherwise peaceful persons, who should either cease their aggressing or be compelled to cease by the force of self-defense.

     So the problem with the political process of voting, is not the vote-casting itself, for if individual consent was required, this would affect no one else but the participants; if individuals could opt out of the system in a meaningful and legitimate way, then only the parties that continue to consent to the agreement would be bound by the outcome of the process. The problem with the process is not the symbolism of the voting process itself, it is instead the notion of collectivism that forces all persons into a collective-situation that some of those persons, do not consent to and would rather not be in.

    Imagine a bad Monty Python film: two colorfully dressed merchants walk along a lonely forest road making pleasant conversation, when three bandit-pirates appear upon the path; one bandit-pirate says, “Arg! Give me yer money or I'll take yer lives!”, the two merchants quickly fling their money purses onto the ground and put their hands into the air, and then a second pirate says, “Wait me maties! This here is an unfair proposition! We can'ts just take their moneies, we needs a legitimate process of social-justice, therefore lets take a vote! Gar!” The third pirate says, “Ok, fair enough me matey, lets takes a vote on it!  Whosoever votes that these two fellows here, keeps their money and goes about on their way in peace, raise their right arm in the air!” And of course, the two merchants look at each other in disbelief, they shrug their shoulders and both put their right arms into the air to vote that they should keep their money and leave in peace. “Ok, whosoever now votes that des two fellers gives up their purses and thenfore runs-away, raise der right arm and say, ARR!” and this of course being a monty python film, two pirates raise their right arms and say 'ARR!', while the third one has to think hard about it for a few seconds, until the other two pirates poke him and then he says 'ARRR!'” and then the second pirate-bandit says, “ARR! It is settled then, the ARR's have it. You two gentleman can run along now, we'll be taking yer purses!”

    Did the merchants in this example legitimate the voting system?  Did they consent to this process of "social justice"?  I contend that they did not. The entire scenario was under a condition of duress to begin with, because their participation in the system was compelled or forced with the threat of violence in the first place. While they would be perfectly within their rights to have abstained from voting and this would be have been a more principled stand, I do not myself attribute blame-worthiness to the victims of force or coercion for the actions taken under duress.  Either response, voting or not voting, is a legitimate response under the circumstances of duress or threat of force/violence and only the individual merchants' estimation, of how to best limit or mitigate his damages in the scenario, should be the determining factor in the individual's choice.

     Personally, I'm not very inclined to buy lottery tickets.  I'm not the kind of person who hopes to get lucky and have the expense of the ticket, be paid back by the possibility of the win; the more likely result, being loss, gives me no particular entertainment-value and therefore, I'm not inclined to do such things as vote. The chance that my single vote deciding the outcome of a forced condition of duress being so slight, it seems in nearly every case, to be not worth the time and effort to participate in the ridiculous farce. But let us say that Billy-bob does buy lotto tickets, and let us say that Billy-bob, really thinks Ron Paul is the Shiznits or the bees-knees and if not a perfect candidate for head-pirate-mob-boss, nearly as good as one he is likely to see.  Billy-bob thinks, that maybe his vote will be the vote that will make the difference, based on his experience with the lotto (hey, you never know right?) and Billy-bob says, "I don't agree with the whole system that presumes my consent, and denies to me the ability to extricate myself from the contract, but the aggression already has been committed and (in all probability) will continue to be committed, and therefore under conditions of duress, I will vote for Ron Paul!"

     Now, I'm not going to say that Billy-bob has legitimated the system, I recognize that Billy-bob is under conditions of duress in which he is trying to mitigate his damages, and he sees an outcome of Ron Paul as head-pirate-mob-boss as unsatisfactory but preferable to the alternative. I might not follow Bob's chosen behavior, yet I don't play lotto; I'm told by lotto players, that there is entertainment value in the process... maybe voting is similar... and of course that's probably part of the psychological motivation to statism, as it gives all persons the chance to pretend like they are trying to affect positive change, while denying any real consent and voluntary interaction to everyone, much like a man who keeps putting quarters in an obviously broken vending machine, as if the problem is not that the machine is broken, but that he just needs to put in a few more quarters…. Or as I had one experienced, a man who's truck stalled on a hill, so he got out, kicked the wheel twice and the driver side door three times, all the while cursing obscenities, and then got back in and started it up.... sometimes shouting obscenities makes us feel better, even if we know this isn't a particularly effective problem solving technique (or getting our needs met). But I can't decide for another what is best for them.  I don't want to be in the place of telling someone how they should life their lives, that's what liberty is all about.

      I can understand how some might come from a perspective of, "Well, if we all took the principled stand, then the system might be brought down by non-compliance" and there is truth to this argument but I don't know if I can advocate that everyone always should take a principled stance, though I am certainly willing to approve and applaud anyone who might choose to take the principled stance; telling a person, who is under conditions of duress, that they should always take the principled stand, would seem to me to deny them the ability to choose from all of their legitimate choices.  A resolute person of principle, may indeed say, “Though they may take my property, I shall never give the brigands the satisfaction of my seeming to 'voluntarily' give them their extorted tribute (taxation); I shall never use their fiat-currency; I shall never use facilities that are funded through extortion (unless I intend to homestead them); I shall never willfully acknowledge any of their rules and laws; I shall not say a word to their judges, other than that I am man who has been kidnapped against my will and am under conditions of duress. I will take a stand on integrity and principle.” This would be a truly principled stand, yet I don't think I can argue it would be the only possible or ethical stance one could take. I can understand if someone were to say that voting is one condition under which there is no compulsion to participate this is one very easy civilly-disobedient action one could take; as there are very few apparent damages that need mitigating under this scenario, and yet the fact that the outcome will be enforced with your falsely presumed consent and the inability to meaningfully extricate yourself from the arrangement, like the merchants on the forest road, raising your hand is nothing more than the vain gamble, that maybe, just maybe, it won't be so bad....

    If you decide to vote, for what its worth, I don't think you have aggressed against me or anyone else, I assess that you have, by your act of voting, legitimated the system, even if you were the only one to show up at the polling place, or the only person to vote in the entire geographic confine; those that control those systems and institutions of domination, would still presume/suppose the system to be legitimate, and the extrication of the system was never on the ballot anyway and since they don't care about whether you consent or not, they are not approaching you as a rational person, you are being treated as enlightened livestock, valuable commodities that must be treated with a certain amount of respect and care in order to reap maximum profits. You are not in the eyes of the rulers, an end unto yourself, a rational-being worthy of the respect and dignity of a rational-being, but in the eyes of those who are immersed in the meme of the State; you are a means only, for THEIR ends.

    Vote or not vote, we are all just merchants on the road, and the option we are ultimately given is,“Your money or your life!”

“In truth, in the case of individuals their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent…. On the contrary, it is to be considered that, without his consent having even been asked a man finds himself environed by a government that he cannot resist; a government that forces him to pay money renders service, and foregoes the exercise of many of his natural rights, under peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men practice this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees further, that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by subjecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his consent, so situated that, if he uses the ballot, he may become a master, if he does not use it, he must become a slave. And he has no other alternative than these two. In self-defense, he attempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a man who has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a man attempts to take the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests with the ballot – which is a mere substitute for a bullet – because, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot, is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural rights, as a stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere power of numbers…. Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot would use it, if they could see any chance of meliorating their condition. But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.” ~Lysander Spooner

“And yet, all this pales before the most important problem: Is a Libertarian Party evil per se? Is voting evil per se? My answer is no. The State is a Moloch that surrounds us, and it would be grotesque and literally impossible to function if we refused it our ‘sanction’ across the board. I don’t think I am committing aggression when I walk on a government-owned and government-subsidized street, drive on a government-owned and subsidized highway, or fly on a government regulated airline. It would be participating in aggression if I lobbied for these institutions to continue. I didn’t ask for these institutions, dammit, and so don’t consider myself responsible if I am forced to use them. In the same way, if the State, for reasons of its own, allows us a periodic choice between two or more masters, I don’t believe we are aggressors if we participate in order to vote ourselves more kindly masters, or to vote in people who will abolish or repeal the oppression. In fact, I think that we owe it to our own liberty to use such opportunities to advance the cause. Let’s put it this way: Suppose we were slaves in the Old South, and that for some reason, each plantation had a system where the slaves were allowed to choose every four years between two alternative masters. Would it be evil, and sanctioning slavery, to participate in such a choice? Suppose one master was a monster who systematically tortured all the slaves, while the other one was kindly, enforced almost no work rules, freed one slave a year, or whatever. It would seem to me not only not aggression to vote for the kinder master, but idiotic if we failed to do so. Of course, there might well be circumstances—say when both masters are similar—where the slaves would be better off not voting in order to make a visible protest—but this is a tactical not a moral consideration. Voting would not be evil, but in such a case less effective than the protest. But if it is morally licit and non-aggressive for slaves to vote for a choice of masters, in the same way it is licit for us to vote for what we believe the lesser of two or more evils, and still more beneficial to vote for an avowedly libertarian candidates.”


  1. Thanks for replying to Wendy's post about anarchists who vote:


    I also have replied to her post, inspired by what I believe is the clarity of your reply.

  2. You are most welcome! At the time that I posted, it met my need to contribute to the ideas being expressed and shared at the time; I am well pleased that you or anyone else may have found my thoughts on the matter to be of value.

    Institutions of domination (coercive-political-systems) are ethically-illegitimate, on this, I believe we would all be in agreement; therefore no amount of voting could ever legitimate or have any bearing on the ethical analysis, as those who vote, could in no way legitimately bind those that abstain or object to the political-system. That a large number of people do participate in elections, is used as the excuse/propaganda of tyrants to subjugate others, could not imply that the excuse/propaganda is legitimate, or that the act of voting has any moral import.

    I can appreciate that some would like there to be wide-scale boycotts of the polls; they imagine that if 75% (or some other arbitrary majority figure) of the voting public were to boycott the polls in protest, then tyrants would be denied their excuse/propaganda of legitimacy. However, it would not be the boycott of the polls that would cause the tyrants' demise but the fact that a super-majority of persons would be unwilling to comply with their dictates; it would not be the absence of political voting that would imply the abolition of domination, it is that if so many persons were to cease to comply with their dictates, those seeking to subjugate others would be denied the participation/compliance of that majority of individuals.

    As Lao Tzo wrote, "No one rules, if no one obeys.".

    If the same majority of people just stopped voting because of apathy, and not out of principle, it seems to me, that it wouldn't matter if only 10% of the populace voted, the tyrants would still maintain their presumption of legitimacy and could maintain their dominance over others.

    It would seem to me, perhaps even more efficacious, rather than to boycott the polls, which is easily interpreted as political-apathy, to rather attend the voting process to write-in a candidate; I might suggest the candidate by the name of: "I-do-not-consent-to-your-ruling-domination-over-me Abolish-all-government" (I think it's a foreign name ;-). )