Last week I wrote a rant about voting that left some important things out. I didn’t really explain why I think our whole electoral system is structurally incapable of doing any better, I didn’t really explain what else I think everyone should be doing that’s better than merely voting, and I referred vaguely to “my anti-voting friends” without naming them or giving them a voice. Helpfully, the two people I was mostly referring to both published excellent explanations of their stances, shortly afterwards:
Ella Saitta’s “Don’t Vote. Do.” is a better explanation of the inherent reasons why voting is inadequate than I am ever likely to write. I still don’t follow her all the way to the end of the argument, but only because a vote for the lesser evil still lessens evil; I agree with all of the premises she sets out. It’s a strong argument for not investing much time or energy into the game of politics, not expecting much from elected officials, and never mistaking the casting of a vote for adequate civic engagement. It also lists some of the key issues—gerrymandering, vote suppression, unauditable voting machines—that need to be addressed to make voting somewhat more relevant, but retains appropriate clarity that those won’t be enough either.
Quinn Norton’s “Don’t Vote” does more to elaborate what else we should do. Again we part company on the issue of whether the “what else” is instead of or as well as voting, but that’s dwarfed by everything I agree with in the piece. It’s so good that I’m going to quote a few paragraphs:
The magic of aggregate human attention is so strong that we can fix this world, we can exceed these troubles — but only together, not looking to leadership structures that have failed us again and again.
Humanity is amazing. It is the elemental magic of the world. You are the ground that can shake and rise under the fragile political structures of the Earth. You are the wrath of angry gods, you are the true storm a small and accidental system of power fears. As long as you keep believing you have to vote, and all your power is tied only to that vote, our leaders get to balance a pyramid on its tip and call it democracy.
Lay down the lie of the American ballot box, with its legal rigging, lobbying, revolving doors, gerrymandering, and even at moments outright fraud. You will have to ask yourself what is next? What do you believe, and how do you live out those beliefs? It is a scary and beautiful thing to live your beliefs.
We are on a fundamental level responsible for each other. We have incredible power, in fact we have all the power not reserved to killer robots. But it’s very hard and very painful. Coordinating, acting, having to be together with humanity after so many years of running away from it.
But I still want more specifics on what to do. I have some ideas, which I will try and write about over the next few weeks. They have a few strands in common. Each is more peer-to-peer than centralised, so none needs to wait for our hopelessly compromised government to do anything worthwhile. Each would be an empowering, satisfying thing to do in itself; no hairshirts here. Each has some short-term benefit that can be a good inducement to do it, as well as a longer-term, more systemic impact. None are even all that hard to do, once you think about them.
That said, everything I can think of, taken together, still falls short of either solving the most serious problems we face or somehow rendering the government entirely irrelevant. This is why I still maintain that casting a vote matters, and it’s also a reason I’m looking for more answers. I’d appreciate your ideas!
Not having a complete solution is no reason for inaction; no reason to be paralysed by despair. Let’s get to work.