Silence is Not Consent, and Not Voting Does Not Support the Status Quo

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The other day the Libertarian Party Tweeted, encouraging libertarians to vote for big L candidates when the time comes. This is expected, since the point of a political party is to win votes. It was the reply Tweet that caught most of the attention and controversy, for good reason.

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It’s one thing encouraging people to vote for your party, it’s entirely another thing to shame people into voting for your party by suggesting that not doing so makes one culpable in evil. Even if that were true, one might have thought whoever runs the LP Twitter account would be aware enough of the controversy of that statement that they would have put it a bit more delicately or positively.

It just so happens though that the Tweet is completely wrong. It takes the statist and anti-libertarian analysis of government at face value and expands it reductio ad absurdum, to a point where if you applied it to almost any other context, it would sound creepy and wrong.

The first thing many of the commenters did was cite the context of sexual assault – it is almost universally acknowledged that silence in the case of sexual assault does not qualify as consent. Anyone who brought “they didn’t say anything” as a defense would be roundly humiliated, obviously.

But the Tweet is even sillier than that. Look deeper into the point the LP is implying: it’s not simply that not speaking up is an act of consent, but not voting. In a word, “silence” doesn’t mean “silence,” it just means not participating in the electoral process. Writing articles, making videos, recording podcasts, running protests – these don’t qualify as speaking up to the LP, only voting for the LP really counts.

So nevermind all the articles where I call all politicians crooks, condemn the state’s raping and pillaging, and explicitly denounce the institution of government – that’s not a good enough signal to the regime that I don’t consent to it. The fact that I don’t vote for the LP means I’m not a libertarian at all, and I actually love the state and all its evil.

Now, there are contexts in daily life where one doesn’t need to provide affirmative consent for everyone around you to assume consent, say in the case of sitting down at a restaurant. We usually think it’s okay to assume that if you’ve done that you have consented to be charged for whatever you order, and it’s not okay to just leave without paying.

However, some kind of implicit consent has been given, namely, participating in the process of sitting down and ordering food. Although no formal contract has been drawn up, the process is so universally normative that everyone is expected to understand the rules of the game. The question then is: is non-participation in the electoral process a form of implicit consent?

Well, no. The electoral system is a broken and arbitrary ritual that the state itself imposes on us. It’s the thing that attempts to pull a legitimate air over something that is essentially criminal. If the rapist says, as they’re assaulting the victim, “If you don’t do a handstand whilst balancing a fishbowl on the soles of your feet, then I’m going to assume you consent to this,” would that be legitimate? That’s how nonsensical it is. We don’t consent to being pillaged by virtue of the fact we haven’t participated in the state’s stupid game.

Moreover, this is a question about rights. My getting food from a restaurant is conditional – I am only entitled to someone’s prior property if I perform certain actions. I don’t have a right to a restaurant’s food. I do have a right to have my person and property unmolested. I am not obligated to do anything to have this right honored. In the word’s of Michael Malice, “My rights are not up for discussion, let alone a vote.”

What is this status quo anyway? It’s fundamentally an institution of coercion – the point of the state is to violate people and take their property. The state is responsible for a manner of social ills, including enforced poverty, economic destruction, the break up of families and communities, and the decimation of cities, with others. Look at what the LP is accusing non-voters of here: by not marking an “X” in a box, they are consenting to all of the above.

I’m sure Iraqi children will be delighted to finally know the identity of the person responsible for their house being crushed with their parents inside it. It wasn’t, as they first believed, the drone pilot, nor the CO who made the order, nor the politician that urged for the bombing. It was Shirley Parker from Boise, Idaho, who hated the Democratic and Republican candidates in the running, and wasn’t enamored by the Libertarian candidate who was polling at 0.5%, and decided to water the garden instead of voting.

The argument would make more sense if it was adjusted slightly, from the non-voter “consenting” to the status quo, to merely doing nothing about it. But choosing not to vote doesn’t mean you’re doing nothing about changing things for the better. Many passionate libertarians choose not to vote because they believe, rightly, that their vote is insignificant, and their time might be better spent doing what they usually do to spread the ideas of liberty, such as educating or running their business.

The first Tweet is slightly more logical, as the aggregate of votes do have a small influence on politicians (how the 1.6% of voters that gave ‘em L is supposed to hold a candle to rich lobbyist influence, nobody can be sure). But it’s an entirely rational choice to abstain from voting when one’s individual vote has such a marginal influence that almost any use of that time would represent an increase of utility by order of magnitude. Yes, politicians respond to voters’ values in the aggregate, but the issue here is why any one individual citizen should vote for the LP.

Resorting to these tactics is indicative of desperation on behalf of the LP. Notice what a company in the private sector does if people aren’t buying their product: they cut prices, improve the product, innovate, improve customer service, invest in marketing, or downsize. One thing they don’t do, if they want to stay in business that is, is attempt to shame people into buying their product. When sales are down, Coca-Cola doesn’t usually run ad campaigns arguing that those that don’t buy Coke are complicit in degrading the state of Cola production.

The fact that so few people vote for Libertarian candidates is a very useful signal that party higher-ups should be paying attention to. This isn’t a case of citizens failing in their obligation to vote for the LP, it’s the LP failing in their ability to sufficiently attract voters. Maybe people in charge should be spending less time bashing people on Twitter, and more time addressing their party’s shortcomings.

Read more from James Smith at Think Liberty here.

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