Today I made the inflammatory statement that I will be refraining from voting in this American election that is soon to be upon us. I then received a wealth of responses on the matter, some objective and cool, while others heated and subjective. Thankfully most were cordial, which I’m not surprised at, knowing the type of user that participates on Twitter. However, I wanted to take some time to explain my thought process better, as 140 characters are not enough to explain something that’s been deliberated on for, literally, thousands of years. I will of course stay away from the time-honored tradition of proving that one vote mathematically means nothing, as that’s just a waste of both of our times.
I guess a good starting point would be the statement Obama made about Paul Ryan’s support of Ayn Rand and books like “Atlas Shrugged”:
“Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up,” Obama said. “Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that’s a pretty narrow vision.”
Source: Rolling Stone
Republicans would no doubt attach themselves to the teachings of Ayn Rand due to the fact that they’re business-oriented, and business is in many ways dominated by ambition, the drive to meet your fullest potential, unhindered by outside sources. In the current world we live in, people want to make money, and they want to achieve power. Republicans don’t want government controlling the capitalist world, so they trumpet small, uninvolved government. Democrats no doubt defend the common man, in stark contrast to Rand’s teachings, as well as in opposition to big business. They regulate business to protect the people from harm, and to create economic equality when Republicans know that success means raising themselves above the unambitious, and into the upper echelons on life. Republicans will no doubt cut socialist programs based on the fact that, to be successful, you must work. Success comes from the sweat on your brow, while they think Democrats will simply give people free rides, regardless of the economic situation.
Now, regardless of the facts behind people’s interpretations of how the world should work, I find it especially troubling that Obama simply pushed aside those interpretations, something that, while not completely agreeable, does in fact show a lot about how the world works. I think this is the very core of the problem, that people are too headstrong in their opinions that they don’t see the value in other truths. Do people seriously think they have it all figured out? Does the world think it can run on a Democratic or Republican viewpoint alone? Should there not be compromise, as well as the simple pursuit of knowledge? Does anyone know if small government works? Does anyone know if big government works? Does anyone truly know anything if all you’re basing it on is opinion and not contemplation and experimentation? And even if people did put effort into contemplation, would it seriously equate to complete and just ideals in a timely fashion? Can anyone be truly sure of themselves when there’s an infinite number of viewpoints to consider? Saying something definitive, in this case, is a rash action.
In Plato’s “The Republic”, Socrates (which is the leader of this particular dialogue) defines the ruler of his proposed Utopian society as a “philosopher king”:
“philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophize”
Again, he details more his idea:
“[A] true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship”
Now, in Ancient Greece the world was quite literally defined by these cosmic forces, so we have to abstract his thoughts on the matter to simply say that the ruler must contemplate everything to rule properly. Decisions of course have to be made, damning those that are in opposition to the edict, but everything must be contemplated. In terms of American government, I highly doubt Republicans look at everything before making decisions. From what I’ve experienced in my 29 years in this world, Republicans do not extend a hand for the purpose of exploring better ideas. They are stubborn, simply put. Just look to the last few years, where Obama has done his utmost to extend a hand with it only ending in uncompromising opposition from his political opponents. Obama seems genuinely interested in exploring better and better solutions, not just from his own camp, but the Republican camp as well. He’s doing his best to become the philosopher-king Plato proposed. Sadly, his recent comment, as well as his overall demeanor as of late, is starting to paint a picture that Obama is fed up with how he was treated in his first term and is going to start acting a bit more maliciously to get what he wants. I’m sure most would agree with the effect based on the cause. In an American political system, its naïve of anyone to assume they can change the system. You need to play the game of politics to win at the game of politics.
Now let’s skip ahead in history with a quote from Thomas Jefferson:
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
Now I will pull myself back and say neither Republicans nor Democrats are “tyrants”. We do not need to run to our local town hall with our loaded shotguns and start firing at the people inside. As well, Jefferson and the rest of the Founding Fathers lived in a time where people’s inalienable and inherent rights were being suppressed. I would rather like to look at it from the point of view that the government was defined by a king that didn’t listen to the wants of their people. Take this quote from Edward Holyoke, the President of Harvard during the time another Founding Father, John Adams, attended:
“All forms of government originate from the people… As these forms have originated from the people, doubtless they can be changed whensoever the body of them choose, to make such an alteration.”
Source: John Adams, by Page Smith, pg. 15
Throughout time, people have done their best to create a system that works for all. In terms of the world of antiquity, we’re leagues ahead. Tyranny in America is non-existent. People can have pretty good lives regardless of what’s going on in Washington, DC. But that doesn’t mean the system is perfect. Generally everyone knows it’s not perfect, but they say it’s the best one we have. But, is it the best when the people involved don’t understand that the world has not answered every question perfectly, that there will always be a need to discuss and to contemplate the effects of their ideals and decisions? No, it’s not. Truth is still elusive, and very few people seem to be interested in the exploration of it. Philosopher-kings, someone making decisions that is genuinely interested in the pursuit of wisdom (“philosophy” is Greek for “love of wisdom”), were created by Plato in 380 BC because it’s the best way to govern justly. Think of a world where the President strays away from solid ideals of his party and merely philosophizes. He goes on stage and objectively balances every point both parties, as well as the outlying parties, make. We would no doubt become heartened by his quest and follow him to the ends of it. If you simply discuss in an objective way, it’s my bet that most would reciprocate. However, in terms of history, it’s my feeling that politicians are simply in the business to fill the void that having a government creates. The Senate needs 2 Senators from every state, there needs to be a President, the Supreme Court has 9 seats, etc. But does that mean that the people that find themselves in that time and place to be worthy of the responsibility those positions entail? Doubtless, otherwise the system would work perfectly. Government is for the people, but it’s by the people, and people live on instincts that combat the very idea of rational thought, those that are trumpeted by the philosopher-king.
I will say that I’m trying my best to figure out as much as I can by reading what those before me wrote and by making rational judgments based on the actions of the people I have the pleasure of living with, but I will be the first to say that I know a modicum, less than 1% of the facts that it would take to make a properly educated guess in the world of government. I haven’t gone to law school nor have I taken very many philosophy classes (whatever I know is from my own personal endeavors at home). So with a naïve take on the world due to my lack of proper education, do I have the right to say anything? That is, do I have the right to vote? Being as rational as I can, I’d probably say no. I have no idea what “truth” really is or should be, and I would rather not experiment with the idea through a system that is long overdue for a serious reviewal. Truth is something that will be forever searched, forever elusive, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to discover its hints or become complacent. Most political decisions in America are primarily based on bias.
Now, there’s another serious thought to the matter, and that’s the social matters that are involved. Things like human rights: gay rights, abortion, etc. Obviously I am in favor of everyone having a happy life, to be successful in the pursuit of happiness that was defined 200+ years ago in the Declaration of Independence. And from what I can tell, the world is getting better and better in that regard. It’s far from perfect, but it’s on its way. Compare the world of 1950 to the world of 2012. We live in a more tolerant world, no one can doubt that. In that way I would vote in the affirmative, to keep that ideal alive, which looks to be a more Democratic stance. Romney, being Mormon, is no doubt going to abolish things like the right for women to have their pregnancies aborted if they so choose. As we know, religion has a pretty stiff agenda. It must be, or we are going to Hell, plain and simple. Sadly, the American governmental system is open to the idea that their policies can be dictated by dogma, even though its never outright been said. The term “separation of church and state” is not what people think it to be (it’s actually in a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in the State of Connecticut, mostly referring to the fact that government can never enact any laws that prohibit other religions from existing, hence a wall between church and state). If enough people think abortion is bad, then so be it, abortion is bad.
Now, this leads me to another point. The government is for the people, but are people, the citizens of this country, the kind of people that truly know what they want for each other? America to me is filled with people that demand personal convenience as well as consideration directed towards them over anything else. With things like fast-food strongly prevalent, does anyone know the value of personal betterment? It would be naïve of me to say the totality of America is filled with ignorance, but that doesn’t erase the existence of it. It does exist, we can be assured of that. And you can be assured that they vote, that they relish in the fact that they have a “voice” in this world.
There was an article in the NY Times asking why the hippies of the 1960’s didn’t change the world for the better when they had such a commanding voice during the time. The author determined that people had grown up, they had families that they had to take care of and a future to establish. As well, many studies show that, the further away from college one is, the more Republican they become. They become more interested in themselves than they do the “other guy.” Simply put, opinions change, truth is relative, and many people are, more often than not, self-centered. Again, why should I involve myself in a system that is occupied with people like that, where viewpoints are not created by philosopher-king mentalities, ones that search for wisdom and truth? The government is for the people, by the people, but a human is filled with irrational and blatant faults. They’re greedy, envious, lazy, self-centered, etc. Politicians don’t seem to understand the true purpose of government while the people vote for reasons that would embarrass the minds of old. How many of you voted for Obama because he was Black? How many voted against him because he was Black? Both are subjective viewpoints that have no right to exist in this realm of thought and discussion, but there it was. Subjectivity is the cornerstone of American opinion.
The idea of a vote is to give each participant the ability to mold the world into what they see as “best”, but as I said, we do not possess the experience to truly understand what “best” is, other than the common sense ideas, like human rights. There are countless books on the topic I have not read, countless discussions that I have not had, and countless classes that I have not attended. It’s the same for the people that I would be voting for, and it’s no doubt the same for the majority of the people that vote in this country, because as you know, we have things like work and family to attend to, and we’re no doubt going to selfishly defend those institutions, to the detriment of others. Government is introspective: the people involved are the ones that define it, but have we taken an objective look at ourselves lately? If we did, we’d be stalled by the process, because there is just so much to contemplate that we’d be 90 years old before we could make a proper decision on the matter of government, and sadly, a new election is upon us every 4 years.
Now, I’ve tried my best to explain my reasons for making the statement that I won’t vote this election: it’s a system that doesn’t judge itself, from all angles. It’s playing a naïve game and feels comfortable in doing so. Many have called me “voiceless”, but in fact my voice is alive, just in a different form. “Save the world from the lesser evil!”, they tell me. But can’t I simply say “stop nurturing two kinds of evils, one less than the other, and figure out, through contemplation, one that’s free from it entirely!” In the end however, I want to discuss these ideas at length with whoever wants to join me. I willingly ask you to prove me wrong and teach me, which is the point of discussion itself, to refine broken ideas into ones that work.
Through discussion and objectivity, we will hopefully meet truth.
PS. Some people called me lazy and/or selfish in their responses to my comments. I hope from this article that you realized I was trying my utmost to be objective, but I will say that I found the unwillingness to view my thoughts from my angle, at least initially, disconcerting. What does it mean to not vote? What does it mean to become apathetic to the current state of things? I’m not imploring you to agree with my word, but at the very least I want you to stop and give it a simple thought, with no subjective feelings present. Just philosophize, ruminate on the subject.