“Democracy is to be construed as the right to choose among commodities. Business leaders explain the need to impose on the population a ‘philosophy of futility’ and ‘lack of purpose in life’ to ‘concentrate human attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of fashionable consumption.’ People may then accept and even welcome their meaningless and subordinate lives, and forget ridiculous ideas about managing their own affairs. They will abandon their fate to the responsible people, the self-described ‘intelligent minorities’ who serve and administer power–which of course lies elsewhere, a hidden but crucial premise.”–from a 2001 article by Noam Chomsky called “Voting Patterns and Abstentions”
“ZSP [a Polish anarchist group] is calling for a boycott of the upcoming presidential elections. Our dreams can never fit in a ballot box. We will not hand over our power willingly and will fight with our last breath to take it back. We call for a more conscious, popular resistance to the electoral process and the representative bodies which make up the state in general. People intuitively know that these bodies do not really represent their best interests yet many see no active, viable alternatives. We call on people to get active and create organizations which will be the foundation of a truly popular movement which can undermine the state.
“Noam Chomsky: do the right thing! Instead of supporting yet another authoritarian leftist leader, consider your support for election boycotts!”–from a 2010 post on libcom.org
A colleague of mine could see it written all over my face. It was November of 2012 and he asked me whom I had voted for.
“It’s Obama, right?” he said, his voice caked with disgust.
“Well, did you want Romney?” I said. “A vote for the Green Party would be a vote for Romney.”
“There’s no difference between Obama and Romney,” he said. “What’s worse is that Obama is killing innocent children in Pakistan with his drone strikes. You helped elect a baby killer. At least I voted my conscience.”
He had a point. In fact, a recent study by two big human rights groups revealed that “2,200 people have been killed in drone strikes over the past decade in Pakistan.” (According to a 10/22/2013 article in the Washington Post.) A great deal of them were innocent civilians.
So when the midterm elections were held earlier this month, it happens that I was one of the assholes who didn’t vote. “What’s the point?” I asked myself. “The system is rigged!” I also sympathized with Russell Brand, who notoriously sees no point in voting.
In the magazine Prospect, Robin McGhee wrote an article this past October called “No, Russell Brand, You’re No Noam Chomsky.”
Here’s an excerpt: “On several occasions, [Russell Brand] has professed his admiration for alternative thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, despite Brand’s anti-voting stance directly contradicting his hero’s arguments. Chomsky believes the corporate media fabricates narratives to suit the aims of the governing elite. The media’s job is not to inform the public: it is to massage them into being apathetic so the privileged can run the country in peace. While this conspiratorial message has been much derided, if anything proves it, it is Brand’s latest printed tirade.
“…For Chomsky, even in ostensibly hopeless situations, an individual can make a difference using existing political means. Without voting you have zero chance of changing anything. By taking action to exploit the system’s weaknesses, the chances are increased, at least somewhat.”
In the comments section skirting this article, someone identified as “J Mark Dodds” makes a crucial point: “The substantial problem is that there’s no proposition for how to make a revolution happen without using politics.”
However, a follow-up article in Prospect titled “In Defence of Russell Brand,” James Robertson writes that voting “didn’t bring independence to America. It didn’t bring the indigenous Zapatistas control over their land in Mexico. It didn’t bring women the vote or black people civil rights. These revolutionary moments were created by people engaging in a collective struggle for a better world–not by wandering into a local village hall and putting a cross in a box with an Ikea pencil.”
So, to vote or to abstain? Mea culpa. I made a dumb error. As long as people like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders are in politics, the system must be working…a little bit. In the meantime, it’s time for me to join forces with those who want to make a difference.