Category Archives: Post-political

Why I Don’t Vote – Part II

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

Why I Don’t Vote (In National Elections)

This post is written mainly as a response to criticism from my sister Vivian, who thinks it hypocritical of me to advocate for political change when I did not vote in the Presidential election.Therefore I will at times be addressing her directly. This started when she took umbrage with me sharing the following photo on facebook:

First off, this Princeton University researcher sums up my stance pretty well: “I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.” [Update 8/20: I’ve learned that this study has been debunked. See my follow up to this post.] These “economic elites and organized interests” have been referred to as the Deep State. Real talk: America is not a democracy, it’s an oligarchy. And I’m not an oligarch.

For this reason and others, I have no faith in the American political process. I believe that working inside of the system is a waste of time. Vivian disagrees. She thinks that change is slow, but it is only possible by concerted, cooperative effort inside the political system. I think this view is naive.

By voting, you are implicitly agreeing that our system is just. It is a tacit agreement that the Way Things Are is acceptable, it is condoning the status quo. By participating in the 2016 Presidential election you agreed that it was a legitimate process to decide the leader of America. I don’t think it is. The French Revolution proved once and for all that the power lies in the people. When you vote in a broken system, you are handing that broken system your power. Furthermore, I feel that believing your vote has meaning actually dis-empowers you. By believing that your vote matters, you are less likely to engage in political action that does actually have an impact.

I’m going to even take this one step farther. You (Vivian) accused me of resting easy on my privilege. I going to actually flip this argument back onto you. You say that voting is meaningful. That working inside the system is slow and incremental but is what makes actual change. The very fact that you can afford to wait for slow, incremental change is what privilege looks like.

You’ve been more politically active than most people, but tell me, how many times have the changes you’ve pushed for become a reality? As I understand it, you’ve been on the losing side almost every time, even at the local level. How many hours have you spent demonstrating with nothing to show for it? You exercised not only your vote but also your right to demonstrate and speak and still nothing changed. Tell me again how voting is effective. The fact that you continue to support a system that perpetuates injustice simply does not make sense to me. Again, I will reiterate my basic stance that ordinary citizens no longer have any meaningful impact on the political process in America.

Here’s a brief list of political issues that I have feelings about: monetary reform, climate change, cutting down the rainforest, plastic in the oceans, ocean acidification, desertification, soil erosion, factory farming (CAFOs), monoculture agriculture, Monsanto patenting plants, Nestle owning water, fossil fuel dependency, economic structure (i.e. capitalism), American military atrocities in other countries, racism, fascism, gender inequality, wealth and income inequality, political corruption, police brutality, pollution, oil pipelines, human trafficking, ending the drug war, terrorism, NSA spying on all Americans, literal Nazis, the military-industrial complex, education reform and more.

Each of those issues have multiple people dedicating the bulk of their lives to righting those wrongs. And they’re losing. For every victory, there are five defeats. There will never be a congressperson, let alone a Presidential candidate, that will represent my stance on even a fraction of these issues. The US political system systemically precludes that possibility.

It’s too much. As an ordinary citizen I cannot make much of an impact on any one of those issues, much less all of them. It is impossible. The only solution I have been able to find is to cease being part of the problem.

I remember you arguing that while Hilary has her faults, she was the lesser of two evils. I don’t disagree. But that still doesn’t qualify her to lead the country. It’s a classic sales technique, that I learned as the “alternate of choice.”

The Alternate of Choice is a closing technique in the form of a question with two answers — and either answer is an agreement. The key is to give two solutions that both lead toward the sale. By giving two choices, one or the other is usually chosen. This is much better than what happens when you give one choice and the only other option is “no.” Here’s an example: “The way I see it, Mary, the only real decision we need to make today is how soon you can start reaping the benefits of our fine service. Shall we schedule our people out here tomorrow, or would the next day be better for you?” Once it’s scheduled, it’s sold.

“So Citizen, which will it be, the blue asshole or the red asshole?”

As if all of these reasons weren’t enough, there’s the simple pragmatic fact that my vote, should I ever cast it, would not count. And neither does yours.

I want to be clear that I am not against voting in general. In fact, I am very much for it. I am quite politically active here at East Wind. I attend, and speak at, virtually every community meeting we have. Not only do I attend them, but I have initiated our political process here by proposing meetings myself. I likewise vote on virtually every community vote we have. Furthermore, I regularly discuss community issues in my free time. The difference is that here at East Wind, because there are only so many members, every vote actually does count. When my vote counts, I vote.

I take a much broader view of political action than you do. I view every action as political. It is in this sense that I view myself as far more revolutionary than most people. For example, by living at East Wind I pay no taxes to the Federal government. This means I am not supporting the military in its killing of countless civilians in the Middle East. I am not paying for drone strikes. Anyone who does pay Federal taxes is. You are paying for those bombs, I am not. Another benefit of living here is that both my economic and carbon footprint is much smaller than the average American’s. I am thus that much less responsible for the devastation of our planet than the rest of my country. Lastly, I am in the process of writing what is ultimately a political book that I hope will have a far larger impact than my vote ever could.

If you want to pretend that voting makes a difference, fine by me. You didn’t hear me criticizing your naivete until now after you forced the issue. I direct my political efforts in other directions that I feel to be more meaningful. It is not apathy that makes me refuse to vote, but conscientious abstention. I wish you would stop criticizing me for trying to solve the many issues of our world in a different way than you choose to. Be happy that we’re both working to make the world a better place.

PRESIDENT TRUMP

I didn’t vote in the Presidential election. Aside from the fact that by dint of living in Missouri my vote doesn’t count, this was a deliberate and considered decision. Essentially, I view participating in the political system as tacitly endorsing it.

Before elaborating on that, I want to make it clear that I think the Donald will be an absolutely terrible President. Regardless of how his Presidency plays out, America has almost literally just elected Hitler. Because he will be President, things will be worse for almost every American, myself included, that is not a rich, straight, white male. This would not be as true had Hillary won.

But let’s take a broader perspective. As Trump is clearly a power-hungry, egomaniacal, ignorant demagogue, how could anyone – let alone almost a majority of Americans – vote for him? I mean, right?! Who even voted for him? The answer is poor people, that’s who. And, surprise, surprise, poor people now make up the bulk of America.

Now, I grew up in an upper-middle class household in the Blue State of New Jersey. Almost all of my friends grew up in similar situations. With the exception of my friends here at East Wind, my friends live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle in or near a city on either the east or west coast. Middle America is a different story.

At East Wind, I still live a very comfortable middle-class lifestyle. We call ourselves bougie here. But East Wind is in Ozark County, MO, one of the poorest counties in the entire country. When I first got here I volunteered a number of times at the local food bank. It was my first real encounter with poverty. If I’m honest, my main impression was simply dismay. I had never seen such beaten-down, broken human beings. It was hard to witness. And there weren’t just a few.

In America we have a national mythos, a collective story if you will, that anyone can make it. We call it the American Dream. For people like me who had never really seen poverty as anything other than a statistic and the occasional homeless person, the American Dream still rings true. But for a ton of Americans – again, now almost the majority – the American Dream is dead. But for those of us lucky enough to be born into the middle or higher classes, it can be easy to subconsciously buy into the idea that people are poor because they brought it upon themselves, that it’s their own fault.

I don’t believe that. I see widespread American poverty as a symptom of our world-system. A capitalist world-economy, especially when paired with a debt-based money system, will inevitably concentrate wealth in the hands of the few. As this happens, the many unavoidably become poorer and poorer. There is no way around it in a system such as ours. How else could there be widespread systemic poverty in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen?

What this means in everyday life is that a majority of Americans are living in constant fear of being unable to provide for even their most basic needs. When someone is fighting just to keep a roof over their head or doesn’t know where their next meal will come from, do you think they can have any empathy for people for whom a major concern in life is what pronoun that are addressed by?

A friend of mine, whom I very much admire and respect, ironically wore a “Make America Great Again” hat at Burning Man. But to the beat down poor of America that slogan is not a joke. What Trump was selling them was a chance to regain their dignity. Put yourself in their shoes. You know you’re a good person. You know you do your best. Despite all this, you can barely make ends meet. How could this be your fault? To you, Mexican immigrants are actually a very real threat to your livelihood, as they will accept less pay to do the scant work still available in your area. To you, building a wall to keep that from happening actually sounds like a great idea. You know that Hillary is a politician’s politician, and that under her nothing will be different for you. Things will only continue to get harder and harder. Trump’s not a politician, he’s an outsider. He’s never played the game and he’s promising to kick those fat-cat politicians right where it hurts (recall that Trump absolutely trounced the traditional Republican candidates as well). And he’s promising to make things go back to the way they were, when it wasn’t hard to find a job or put food on the table.

Except, of course, he’s not going to do that. But perhaps you can now see his appeal to poor people. The reason he’s not going to do that is the same reason life is so hard for so many Americans in the first place: systemic concentration of wealth creating widespread and systemic poverty.

Here and there leading up to the election I’ve broached some of these ideas in conversation, and consistently encountered the argument from my more conventionally liberal friends: “Yes, Hillary’s not perfect, but she’s infinitely better than Trump. Think of how women, minorities, and the queer community will suffer under a Trump Presidency. Clearly she is the lesser of two evils.” And they are, of course, perfectly correct. There will be pain and suffering under Trump that would not happen had Clinton been elected. It is a great sadness that this is so.

But let’s now step back even further. America is the global hegemon and even the poorest of us benefit greatly from this being so. We have cheap energy and material wealth such as no nation has ever known, nor is likely to see again. But this great wealth and power of course has come at a price. America has toppled democratic governments, supported dictators, armed warlords, assassinated heads of state, and killed countless innocent civilians in the process. We as First World citizens have also – less directly through the world market – created the economic incentive for sweatshops, the destruction of the rainforests, the spoiling of the Earth’s rivers, and have created the sixth Mass Extinction Event (called the Anthropocene – Age of Man – extinction) through our effect on the environment, losing up to 140,000 species a year. This suffering is magnitudes greater than any that Americans will face under Trump.

And do you know what the primary driver of the world-economy is? First World consumption. These atrocities happen every day so that we can make, sell, and buy $800 shoes or bottles of wine. The way we collectively choose to live our lives on this planet, what I have called our world-system, is the reason we have war, why countless species are becoming extinct, and why there exist enough disenfranchised people in America for Donald Trump to be President-Elect.

Now, as Billy Joel said, we didn’t start the fire. But if you’re not trying to put it out, you’re part of the problem. And if you live a First World lifestyle, not only are you not putting it out, your consumption is actively stoking it. Our world-system is bigger than the American Presidency. Everything I’ve just pointed out would still be true regardless of who won last night. Which is why I didn’t vote yesterday. A vote, even for a third-party candidate, is still an implicit vote of confidence for The Way Things Are.

As Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. I instead voted in a much more meaningful way – in actually what I feel is the only meaningful way – when this past January I left Babylon and moved to community. Not that East Wind is unplugged from the system, nor are we sustainable yet, but at least we’re trying.

Had Hillary won last night I can easily imagine what my Facebook feed would be like today. Everyone bemoaning Trump’s victory would instead be slapping themselves on the back for electing the first female President. As if she wouldn’t be President of the Patriarchy. Despite the meaningful changes she might have been able to enact regarding the rights of women, minorities, and the queer community in America, she would have continued Business As Usual with all its attendant atrocities I mentioned earlier. It just would have been more palatable. And those atrocities, I feel, are the far more pressing issues of the world today.

Up until last night, I honestly thought Clinton would win. However I was hoping it would be Trump. Not because I liked him or supported him in any way, but because a Trump Presidency will make heretofore hidden faults of the system show through more openly. It will be a very scary time. We First World citizens are addicted to our affluent lifestyles. Common wisdom has it that before an addict can recover, they must first hit rock bottom. I don’t think Trump will be rock bottom for all of us, but maybe he will be for some of us.

Trump’s base, the poor people of America, have few options available to them. The same, however, is not true of Hillary’s base. So if you’re reading this in America, and you voted for Hillary, I encourage you to consider what part you play in our global system. Perhaps you could hold up a mirror to your lifestyle and #checkyourprivilege.