an obession with first principles

Voting, a Response to Dave Winer

Posted: Sunday Jun 17th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Politics | View Comments

This is largely for Dave Winer since he said write a blog post and I’ll read it.The only reason I am actually writing this blog post is because I know Dave is a well reasoned person and a good thinker willing to hear what people are saying (Hi Dave). I hope that this post clears up my take on voting for others as well.

I happen to think that Winer is dead right in his depiction and opinion of the current state, and future, of journalism and the media. I want to use that as the starting point to understand his tweet. And there are two ways to take Winer’s tweet:

People respect power expressed in votes. If #OWS could turn out voters, people would listen.

First, that people respect votes because voting is intrinsically good. That is to say, voting amplifies a dignity and spirit which speaks of our common humanity. It enlightens us and stands on its own. I disagree with this on its face. Voting is the expression of a choice. But choice is not the bedrock of freedom. False choices exist, and it is my position that we are being, and have been for some time, faced with a false choice.

Second, that people respect the ability to bring together large groups of people in a single action of voting. That is to say, voting is an extrinsic good which has the ability, under the right circumstances, to make an actual difference. I believe voting is an extrinsic good and can change things for the better. Today, however, doesn’t match these circumstances. I can understand that some might think “Wow, this movement can get people to vote together on an issue.” And, to some, that might be a wonderful thing. But, I believe this is a waste of energy.

Winer suggests that you ignore political news. Why? Because its all recycled garbage in the form of “DYHWTAS == Did you hear what that asshole said!”. I take his assertion one step further. Not only political news — but politics itself is now DYHWTAS. Winer doesn’t (as I don’t) support Obama, and neither of us are going to vote for Romney. The differences between Romney and Obama are small and irrelevant when compared to the massive amount of change we actually need in our culture, country, and economy.

Both candidates support the capitalistic system of Wall St. where money makes more money at the expense of people actually attempting to care for their material necessities. This can be seen in the US housing industry, in corporate pension plans, in municipal bonds that are bankrupting cities, in European austerity programs, in Commodities and Futures markets that defuse any developing country from having a self-sustaining agriculture, in corporations along with IMF backing first polluting and then taking and selling people’s water supplies. It can be seen in all the United State’s military endeavors where corporate employees outnumber troops three to one, where native peoples are being employed by US corporations taking them away from potential activities of rebuilding their own nations — because the corporations benefit from weak states. I cannot vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. I cannot vote for a people’s bailout. I can only vote for bailing out financiers who created our mess, or austerity (which is no difference at all, bailing out the financiers gives them more money to continue and create opportunity for greater austerity in the future.) I cannot vote against the defense contractors which are building drones and missles that are killing innocent people all over the globe (which are labelled as military combatants now). And now these drones are crashing on US soil and are in the hands of police departments across the country, while we have over 60 US Air Force bases with drones stationed. I cannot vote to build the middle class and protect jobs. Neither party is willing to protect unions, while the GOP is willing to go after them openly. The unions are willing to donate to the Democratic party, but to what end? They are being systematically rooted out (starting in Wisconsin) and soon the Democratic party will have no basis for fundraising. And, as Dylan Ratigan often points out, the person who spends more money in a campaign wins 94% of the time. Winer understands what Roberto Unger says about Obama’s failure in office. I am, much less eloquently, saying the same thing Obama’s former professor is saying.

In summary — how is America going to have a third party when it doesn’t even have a second party? (Thank you @ChenguGold)

If I go over the two ways to take his reaction to questioning voting I am left dumbstruck. Voting is not an intrinsic good like dissent (not cynicism) is an intrinsic good. Dissent and the willful expression of true freedom — in the face of the illusion of freedom of choice between non-choices — by rejecting the options the status quo offers are the goal of Occupy. Occupy is not (sorry Bill Maher) the Tea Party of the Left.

There is not an extrinsic good valuable enough (to me, at least) to spend energy changing how people are going to vote. I, as one of many, refuse to present voting as a valid method of participation in changing the world. I refuse to give voting today a “blessing” of actual and true freedom. I refuse to imagine that focusing on getting people to vote is the magic solution. Conventional politics is definitively (thanks to Citizens United) an enterprise of the ridiculously wealthy and I refuse to construct the illusion that through voting we have the same power that the financiers who choose our politicians do.

Slavery in this country wasn’t ended through voting. Citizen voting perpetuated slavery was in economic and legal terms in the south after emancipation. The right of women to vote wasn’t enacted through citizens voting. The Civil Rights Act wasn’t enacted through citizens voting. The rights of unions weren’t enacted through citizen voting, nor were the rights that unions got for all workers over the years.

I fully support Lessig’s, Roemer’s, Ratigan’s (et. al.) hard work in getting Citizens United and reforming funding of elections in one fell swoop through a constitutional amendment. But getting such an amendment will never happen through voting. It is not in the financial interests of politicians (at least any politician on the national scene) to endorse and back this idea. Lessig is, of course, fully aware of this point. He thinks with enough pressure by the states, the federal legislature will be forced to move on this process. Now we’re seeing a massive increase of corporate money on the state level, and sometimes even local level, as well. The only thing powerful enough to accomplish this goal is shame. The shame of the people of the United States. It is evident today that politicians are capable of handling much higher levels of shame than they have in the past. This shame will not be accomplished by voting a few people out of office. I am fully convinced that this shame must be demonstrated in the streets.

As Unger proclaimed: “Obama must be defeated in this election.” He thinks that a loss by the Democratic party will redefine it. I, bluntly, don’t think it will. As Christopher Hedges points out in “Death of the Liberal Class”, the Democratic party was designed as a pressure valve between a Left party and a Right party. Ever since the destruction of a true American Left in the last decades of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th (thank you McCarthy) the pressure only runs in one direction — to the right. Which is why all policy over the last three decades has gone right, why the Supreme Court has gone right, and why the Democratic party has failed to have any news ideas that weren’t Republican ideas a decade earlier. What we have begun to believe, for lack of any other option, is that the Democratic party IS a leftist party. It was not, is not, and never will be.

Due to the lack of any leftist party why does voting make any difference? I contend it doesn’t. If we want to talk about “doing your civic duty” voting isn’t going to cut it. Doing your civic duty now means rejecting the false choices, rejecting the options the status quo gives you, and standing up for a free-er America that doesn’t terrorize the rest of the world while refusing the rights of its own citizens and acting against them in order to overflow the coffers of the unimaginably wealthy. This isn’t “take back our country.” This is “This is not my country.”

I am not naive. There are several good things that could happen if Obama wins. First, hopefully more liberal judges are appointed to the Supreme Court. But good luck getting that through Congress. Hopefully Roe v Wade doesn’t get overturned. Hopefully the rights for all the Other(s) in our society are broadened. But these rights will only allow people to exist long enough to be cogs in the machine of modern day capitalism. Are drones still going to kill innocents? Yes. Will we perpetuate terrorism at home and abroad? Yes. Will the middle class continue to be passively ignored, or actively given austerity such that they wither away? Yes. Will the financiers get richer? Yes. Should should I spend energy getting people to vote for this? I am glad people vote. But don’t hold it up as some holy and enshrined activity by which all progress it made. It isn’t.

Update

One of the tabs I had open when writing this was an interview of Sartre years after the ’68 revolution. One of his responses perfectly captures the feelings I have on the subject (again, I fail utterly at expressing myself):

“I have been convinced of the following fact for several years: those who want to do something within the system only end up by preserving it. He who wants to overturn the system by his vote is profoundly in error, since voting opposes the legality of a movement to its legitimacy, e.g., an insurrectional movement. All those who obtain power legally are exactly the same.” Sartre

I want to overturn the system. We all see something terribly wrong, and the conversation that needs to happen is between those who see it and don’t want to overturn the system, and those who see it and do.


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