In posting my last post Why I Don’t Vote (in national elections) to Facebook I received quite a number of responses, many of them critical of my stance. I wrote the following on Facebook to provide additional context to my last post and will repost it here:
Before I address my post I want to share a little about myself as many of you do not know me well. The past Presidential election was the first I did not participate in since being able to do so. I reached my majority in 2004 just in time to vote against Bush’s second term. I voted straight Libertarian (and Democrat when there was no Libertarian candidate). Though my thought has grown quite a bit since then, even back then I did not like the “System.” In 2008 I had planned to vote the same way but at the last minute inside the voting booth switched my vote for President from Johnson to Obama, swayed by the possibility of a candidate who might truly change things up. I was disappointed, finding Obama hardly better than any other politician. That being the case, I returned to voting straight Libertarian in 2012. Had Bernie been the Democratic candidate in 2016 I would have voted for him for the same reason I’d voted for Obama, on the off chance that he might actually be something different. But of course he didn’t win the primary.
I used to vote for the same reasons so many of you are telling me I should now. I’ve been on your side of this argument many times. My final argument when doing so was usually, “If you don’t vote, don’t bitch.”
What was different in 2016 was my perspective on politics in general. In 2012 I voted Libertarian mainly on the basis of their stance on U.S military involvement in the rest of the world, which is essentially that we shouldn’t be involved militarily in the rest of the world. I felt that by voting for Johnson I was voting against U.S. troops killing foreigners, especially innocent civilians. By doing so I felt I could then say, “At least it wasn’t me, I voted against our neoliberal foreign policy.”
But even then I knew that to be a cop-out. Despite my vote, it was really oil that drives the death and dislocation the U.S. has caused in the Middle East. Oil I was helping create demand for by driving a car, eating non-local food, and buying plastic products. Regardless of how I voted, my lifestyle was predicated upon the American Empire and the innocent deaths it causes. I was also by that same stint contributing to climate change, which I feel is probably the most urgent issue facing us as a species right now.
Perhaps this gives a window into my current stance on voting and political action in general. My vote for a third party candidate is meaningless in all but the most abstract sense. So much so that Vivian got quite mad at me leading up to the 2016 election when I told her I might vote for Jill Stein. She was angry I might “throw away” my vote on a third party candidate and gave me the classic “lesser of two evils” argument.
By then I had already moved to East Wind, and while we are most definitely still plugged into capitalism, I felt that I had changed my lifestyle as radically as I could to no longer support the destructive actions of modern civilization while still having a good quality of life. My guilt of complicity in the American Empire thus assuaged, I realized that not one of the Presidential candidates stood for a fraction of what I believe in, and in general I had no faith in the American political system.
This brings us to my post. As far as voting itself goes, I’ve already shared my thoughts on it. I think most people recognize that unless you live in a swing state, your vote in a Presidential election is pretty much only symbolic. For example, I live in the Red State of Missouri. Trump won the state by over 500,000 votes. Had I voted for Jill Stein as I had considered, he still would have beat Clinton by that same number. Had I voted for Clinton as my sister wanted me to, he still would have won by over 500,000 votes. I consider either scenario a meaningless difference.
I think where I differ from most of you who disagree with my post is that I try to take a global, rather than just national, perspective on politics. From a global perspective, I find the way we humans collectively live on this planet to be simply unconscionable. Approximately 9 million people die from hunger each year. That’s almost 25,000 people dying each day. Due to hunger. It’s not as if the food doesn’t exist to feed them – it does – but they can’t afford it. They can’t afford it because of our capitalist world-economy which unavoidably concentrates wealth in the hands of the few, leaving the many with next to nothing. So much so that they die from lack of food.
We are in the beginning of the sixth mass extinction event in the last 450 million years. According to the UN Environment Programme, we are losing 150-200 species every day; this is nearly 1000 times the “natural” rate. This is obviously not due to an asteroid, but is attributed to us humans.
We’re losing the rainforest. We’re losing the coral reefs. We’ve overfished the oceans. We are causing climate change which will be catastrophic for us and other species. And all of these trends look to be only getting worse as time goes on.
The driving cause of all of these – and many more – problems is how we humans relate to each other and our planet on a global scale – in other words, civilization. Now, did any of use create this system? No, we were born into it. But it is my position that if we do not work to correct it we are just as culpable. This brings us to the discussion of political action.
It is my position that by living inside this system one helps perpetuate it. I almost certainly at some point in my life bought an article of clothing made in a sweatshop. Was I aware of it? No. Did I still contribute to oppression and injustice? Yes. The same idea applies to virtually every facet of mainstream American life. We have the cheapest gas in the world outside of major oil producing countries because of our economic and military empire. A huge chunk, if not all, of the destabilization of the Middle East can be laid at our feet because of our interest in its oil. By buying gas and driving cars I feel we are complicit in that mass amount of suffering.
Are any of us in this thread doing these things directly? No. But I don’t see that as an excuse.
The best solution I’ve found to this problem is to stop contributing to this destructive system, to unplug from the Matrix. More than one person has called this “dropping out.” And they’re right. But they see it as me washing my hands of responsibility while I see it as stepping up and taking ownership for my part in our destructive world-system.
This brings us to privilege. All of us participating in this thread are incredibly privileged. We were born middle-class or better in the richest, most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Compared to so many others, we have it so easy, we have it so good. But privilege cannot exist without oppression. They are two sides of the same coin. Our nation’s vast material wealth comes at the expense of mass worldwide poverty and of the destruction of nature.
It is my position that by enjoying our privilege without working to remove it we are in a morally indefensible position. I have tried to cease being part of the problem. I live below the poverty line and receive only $150 a month for discretionary spending, and yet still benefit in so many ways from the suffering of others simply by virtue of living in America. Short of living alone in the woods, which I don’t have the skills to do, I’ve yet to find a better solution.
To address the issue of voting one last time, I do not feel that many Americans agree with my views. I think most of us like being the richest country on Earth. I don’t think I could ever do anything inside of the system to address the many problems I see in the world in a meaningful way, so I am instead seeking to create change from outside of the system. I no longer will vote because I feel the economic world-system that our nation, and every other nation, rests upon is irredeemably broken and by participating in it I would be complicit in perpetuating it.
Furthermore, a friend from high school, JP, informed me that the the Gilens and Page study I referenced in my first post has been debunked. I had not looked into their methodology until just now and agree with both their critics and JP in that their data does not support the conclusions they drew. That said, I still agree with their conclusions. I referenced that study because it succinctly summarized what will now require many more sources. One of the interesting things his link informed me of was that they considered the rich the top 10%, with a yearly income floor of $160k. I do not consider these to be “elites.” Perhaps oligarchy is overdramatic, but I don’t think anyone can argue that true elites, let’s go with the popular top 1%, have far more influence than the rest of us. I don’t have links ready to share, but I can mention books that have shaped my belief that the super-wealthy in many ways control the direction of society. Two books in particular were particularly illuminating: Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John C. Perkins and The Underground History of American Education by John T. Gatto. Another data point worth mentioning is that our central bank, the Federal Reserve is a private entity owned by member banks, which are owned by private citizens. While I have no idea who they are, I can’t help but imagine that there are some unimaginably wealthy central bankers who have an absolutely enormous influence on the world