How can both of the following statements be true?
1. An individual placing a vote in an election affects nothing.
2. Political action is a legitimate means to affect change.
The first statement is undeniable. The change that one individual’s vote in any kind of election will change the outcome is next to zero. Whether you vote for any one candidate or none at all, the resultant universes would be exactly the same. The only decent response to this is that things would change if we all voted. Yet this is highly unrealistic. Besides, the question is about one individual’s actions. Only the individual acts, not groups of people.
Since a single vote doesn’t change anything directly, then defenders will resort to “but if you don’t vote, you’re giving up your right to a say. Don’t silence yourself!”. Well, there are many means to have your say on political matters. To the notion that voting is the only way we can ever have a say in what happens to us is preposterous. For my own say, please consult over 100 articles I’ve written, posted around the web. My electoral vote is only effective if I give up my right to secrecy and share my voting card on social media.
Yet then I could have just simply posted a Facebook status or a Tweet saying “I support such and such”. At least with that, I wouldn’t have had to bathe in Clorox for subjecting myself to the state’s most arbitrary ritual, and I would have more time for productive activities, like learning a new song on piano or admiring the curvature of my toenails.
Moreover, the state doesn’t care what I as an individual thinks. If the state cares at all, it cares about a wave of mass opinion that threatens it intrinsically. Otherwise, it’s gonna do what it wants. I promise you, no public official is losing sleep over my individual opinion.
Gaining Critical Mass
Yet what if we did manage to affect a mass wave of opinion that threatened the state intrinsically? That would really have a chance of changing things. The premise of French classical liberal Étienne de La Boétie’s book The Politics of Obedience is that the state only survives by at least tacit consent by the general populace. This doesn’t mean that the state is voluntarily accepted, nor that participating in the political process, or simply not emigrating from the country, somehow infers consent. It means that the state only survives so long as the majority of people are willing to put up with it.
So it appears obvious that no matter what way we want to approach political action, there must be an effort to change public opinion. If the entire country understood and accepted the philosophy of freedom tomorrow, the state would collapse. Even over time, as trust in the state decreases, that’s fewer people who’d accept government jobs, leaving them to less competent people, thus making policies harder to implement. People would find more ways to circumvent regulation and taxation, cutting off funds for appropriation, necessarily reducing the state’s impact. And too, elected officials would be more freedom-minded, and vote for less taxation, less regulation, and less war.
This seems to imply that political action will play at least a small part in reducing the state’s power. To what extent and how exactly it will play out, I don’t think anyone can say. Let’s not operate under the pretense of knowledge by assuming we can predict exactly what will happen in the future. As of the beginning of 2018, the institution that poses the biggest threat to government force is cryptocurrency. 10 years ago, nobody would have posited crypto’s existence, let alone its dominance in popular discussion (some people are still predicting it won’t be significant, whilst simultaneously observing its significance). Right now, day by day, it’s chipping away at the state’s power to tax and inflate.
Who knows what the future holds? A general rule of thumb when it comes to futurism is that the decades to come won’t be the current year multiplied by X. The 2000’s didn’t give us walking washing machines and multi-screen color televisions; we got the internet. Odds are, something will come around that nobody could conceive of, and flips conventional wisdom on its head.
However, the assumptions I’ve made about how state power reduces hold true. It just remains to be seen the ratio of which methods will turn out to be most effective.
I should say before I continue, politics is not my favorite domain. I find the process distasteful. It seems to attract the smarmiest and most wretched people. There is every incentive for compromise on principles. There seems little chance of winning, and there is little in the way of intrinsic reward for your efforts. Where in the market, if you don’t have the biggest market share in your niche, you could be satisfied with your modest profit, and the value you’re giving to people. In politics, it’s winner takes all – if you lose, you lose, and both you and your fans have to put up with bad policies at least until next election.
I personally resent the idea that political action is the only means by which we can achieve a free society. I feel my own skills are better suited outside the political process, through articles and other products, encouraging a revolution in people’s minds rather than through campaigns. I am quite satisfied if through my work I inspire, help people think differently, become that little bit less statist. I also try to encourage a mindset of personal growth and emergence, which I think is underrated in this wider battle for freedom.
Some, however, think this is all talk and no walk. Because I am not actively “fighting” the system, just criticizing it, I’m making next to no change. Presumably, instead I’m meant to be either protesting or fund-raising for candidates I like. I’m not impressed. Firstly, my personality is thoroughly unsuited to a life in politics. Secondly, it is absolutely essential that at least some in the movement are mind-makers. A change in our circumstance necessitates first a change in the intellectual.
It’s pretty obvious to me that we need both talk and walk.
Running To Get Fired
Political action as a way to reduce the size of the state seems like an anachronism at first. How does one challenge the status quo via the methods that are built up to maintain the status quo? Isn’t running for office ipso facto an act of aggression? Considering everything going against freedom-lovers in the political system, do we have a chance anyway?
These are all valid concerns. It does seem as if we are confronting an immovable mountain, and the option of renouncing politics altogether and focusing on other pursuits is tempting. The free society many generations off anyway. But allow me to ease these concerns a tad.
Seeking public office is not aggression provided you are doing it for one reason and one reason only: to reduce state aggression. Ideally, you should be running so as to eventually abolish your job. It’s like when a corporation buys a smaller business only to close it down. The corporation may hire a manager to oversee the dissolution process. This is what being a politician should be – a temporary position of release of control and the selling of assets. If you are worried about using tax appropriated funds to do this, there is nothing to stop you using crowd-funds or your own capital to sustain yourself.
Despite everything that stands in our way, undeniably huge obstacles that we have to recognize before moving forward, there is one key reason why we must keep political action on the table: there are injustices occurring right now. Small-business owners at this very moment need to have taxes and regulation lifted so they can stay afloat and provide value to their customers. Thousands of un-aggressive drug users are in prison that need to be released, yesterday. Thousands of innocent people are killed by bombings, through an institution that can choose not to. If it’s possible to use the political process to correct any small number of these daily injustices, it’s worth it.
In recognition of all that we have to face if we’re going to get into politics, there is something there, and we have to be in that arena.
The very running for office itself is a brilliant way of attracting attention. It’s a natural focus-gatherer and can give candidates a great platform for spreading their ideas. If you judge them by their ability to persuade and motivate, and not winning the Presidency, Ron Paul’s Presidential campaigns were a huge success. And even if you don’t have faith that a principled liberty-lover can win office, the candidate that does win has to contend with the public opinion that put him there. If there are enough people supporting the freedom candidate, that’s one large focus group all candidates have to at least appeal to.
Here’s another way to approach it: use the methods the state has permitted us to engage in political action that is as subverting as possible. There’s a difference between playing by the same rules as the state, i.e. fielding candidates, making compromises, gearing the message within the Overton window; and being in the same playing field and creating as much disruption as possible. We can be in the mainstream arena whilst also being radical. Ron Paul was the master of this – accepting the processes of the state political system whilst being a thorn in the side of the statists.
Also valuable is the idea of “No-President”, gaining ground on the political scene as an act of protest to the political system as a whole. We’re not looking for office to tell you what to do. We want to take on positions of power so as to remove that power. Relieve the incursions to your liberty that are always making your life more difficult. What a strong message!
In recognition of all that we have to face if we’re going to get into politics, there is something there, and we have to be in that arena. Let’s assume for now that we’re never going to win. Even so, our ideas have to be represented. We’re right, and we should take every platform that’s offered to us to express that fact. Everyone’s not going to agree, but we’re here, and we’re serious.
You can read more by James Smith on Think Liberty here.