The “Voting is Immoral” Argument

A lot of voluntaryists and anarchists have enjoyed putting out the argument that voting is immoral and that one can’t call oneself an anarchist if one sucks on the pacifier of statism participates in the voting process. In fact, I’ve seen some surprisingly hostile statements from voluntaryists and anarchists about those of us who do not automatically agree. While hostility and aggression are certainly not the same thing, they are certainly cousins, and I think we should be skeptical of any anarchist or voluntaryist who so happily becomes hostile toward people who don’t agree with him/her.

If you vote, or support ANY politician, state, scribbles on paper or any other RELIGION, please get the FUCK OFF of my friends list. NOW.

That INCLUDES anyone with a fucking Gary Johnson endorsing avatar. GO FUCK YOURSELF, damn hypocrite aggressors.

You are NOT libertarians, not in the SLIGHTEST.

(EDIT:)
This also includes ANY welfare-whore, including ANYONE who works for stolen loot in the “public” sector.

Now, no one is saying this person doesn’t have the right to remove people from their friends list, or any of that other nonsense that people like to jump to. “But he has the right to remove anyone he wants!” Yeah, that’s irrelevant. I’m also not saying that this person has done anything wrong, much less done anyone an injury. I am only saying, “Look at the hostility in that.”

It contains a shitload of hostility: all caps eleven times. I understand that all caps often serves the role of bold on Facebook–though I tend to prefer two asterisks–but there is a bit too much of that here. “FUCK OFF… NOW” is also among the things said in all caps. “GO FUCK YOURSELF,” too. And then, in typical script, “…damn hypocrite aggressors.”

It’s fair to say that this person is angry. Why, though? Why is this person so angry? More specifically, what is this person so angry about?

Voting. He says it at the very beginning.

Now, to get to the real heart of the matter, it amazes me that a group of people who so readily accept the tenants of subjective morality and who typically reject the notion of objective morality would be so confused that they would point at any act and call it definitively immoral. If you support any politician, this guy considers you a “damn hypocrite aggressor.” If you engage in this act, you are immoral–that is the essence of the statement.

Except… that’s nonsense. We know that no act is moral or immoral by itself, and that it is always the circumstances surrounding an act and the motive behind it that determine whether an act was moral or immoral. To showcase this, I’ll share with you part of my book The Anvil, a brief flashback of a conversation between two druids:

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Being a Primal, she put all races and species on the same level and didn’t classify them as they did in Crinesti society. The Primals held everything in existence as equal with everything else in existence, and the only action that was truly a crime in the eyes of Primals was destroying something’s existence for no reason. Primal Law was entirely circumstantial, and each trial was done on a case-by-case basis; the druids held that the circumstances surrounding an action, and the motivations which led to the action, were infinitely more important than the action itself.

When she’d first joined the Coven of Wolves, Aradiant had disputed that notion and had openly questioned the druidic system of justice. But a druidess named Drusilia had clarified the position in a way that left it largely indisputable.

“Imagine that you are standing in a field,” Drusilia had said, “and that I am standing beside you. Suddenly, I push you over. You fall onto the wet ground and slip further, crash into a stone, and break your arm. Would you say that I had done you wrongly, that I had committed a crime? Would you say that I had assaulted you?”

“Yes,” Aradiant had answered.

“Now imagine that we are in that field again. A stampede of cows and bulls is barreling toward us and you, for whatever reason, are not aware of it. Or perhaps you are aware of it and you cannot move, paralyzed with fear. So I push you, you fall and break your arm, but you are out of the way of the stampede. Would you say that I had done you wrongly? Would you say that I had assaulted you?”

“No,” Aradiant had replied, “I would say that you had saved me.”

Drusilia had nodded. “Why? The action was exactly the same in both examples. In both cases, I pushed you, you fell, and you broke your arm. I acted in exactly the same way both times, and you faced the same consequences both times. Why is it assault in one instance but not assault in the other?”

“Because in the first you were doing it just to do it, and in the second you did it to help me.”

“Exactly,” Drusilia had nodded sagely. “In the first, my intention was just to commit the action itself: to push you. In the second, my intention was to help you. In the first, my motive was to bring you harm. In the second, my motive was to push you out of the way of harm. The exact same action took place in both examples, but in one I was wrong and in the other I was not. The only thing that changed between the examples were the circumstances—my reasoning, my intention, and my motive. That is why druidic law focuses on intention and motive and generally ignores the action itself.”

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It’s worth mentioning that this copy/paste came from the first draft, as this entire passage was removed from the final draft, so…

Anyway, stuff like that is the reason I called the first draft of the novel a “Handbook on Nihilism.” It was a veiled attempt to pull an Ayn Rand–to spread the message of nihilism (one could say objectivism, since nihilism is nothing more than a definition on the scope of emotions) in fiction form. I’m still okay with that, but it wouldn’t have made a good debut novel–and didn’t–so I scrapped the whole thing and rewrote it. Anyway.

No act is, in and of itself, moral or immoral. These are valuations made after the fact, based on the result of the act. We can’t say whether something was morally good or morally bad until we are looking at it in the rearview mirror and until all of its consequences–short-term and long-term–have come to fruition. Because we cannot even identify all of the consequences, it becomes impossible for us to say whether anything is good or bad. The classic example is Hitler and going back in time to kill him.

Almost all of us would agree that it is morally good to go back in time and kill Hitler before he could start the Holocaust–at the very least, we would agree that it isn’t morally wrong. Yet imagine that we returned to 2016 after killing Hitler and found that someone else, someone even more brilliant, had taken hold of Germany after Hitler’s death, and the result is that, by 2016, Nazism had conquered the globe and the Jews were utterly exterminated. Suddenly we would all agree that it was morally wrong to go back and kill Hitler, and that the only morally good thing to do would be to go back and make sure that Hitler lived.

It’s not just a thought experiment; it shows us the folly of our moral values. The best we can do is identify the consequences of an act and determine whether we think those consequences are good or bad. However, by what metric do we determine whether those consequences are good or bad? Perhaps we can fast forward to the year 2600 and find that humanity survives to populate the Milky Way Galaxy, only after we have killed Hitler and allowed the extermination of the Jews. Perhaps we find that, if we kill Hitler and allow the Holocaust, the Jews still exist in 2016, but because of complex causalities that no one can adequately explain, by the year 2600 the entire human species has gone extinct.

This all may sound a bit too theoretical. Good. That’s the point.

This is precisely what we do when we say that something is “morally good” or “morally bad.” We’re just so damned good and quick at imagining these hypotheticals that we don’t even realize that we’re doing it. If someone says “I pushed a man out of the way of a moving car,” we immediately conjure up an alternate state of reality, where someone was hit by a car, and compare it to our own, where that consequence was prevented. Again, we don’t often realize when we’re doing this, because… we really are that good at it. This imagination is precisely why homo sapiens have a concept of morality, but other animals do not.

We see an action and its consequence, and we wonder what might have been. A cat is unlikely to even be able to connect the action and its consequence, much less to ponder the infinity of possible variations. I’ve watched my cats sit on the countertop and smack shit into the floor for no other reason than because it was sitting there, and then look at me in surprise when it fell into the floor. Their eyes almost scream, “Hey, I didn’t know that was going to happen.”

All of this is to say that, for the most part, voluntaryists and anarchists agree that no act is inherently moral or immoral, and that the consequences and circumstances of the act are what determines the valuation we ascribe to it–until we discuss voting, at which point, many people suggest that suddenly this one act is inherently immoral.

No, that’s nonsense.

It is not voting that is immoral. It is voting for someone who wants to do immoral things that is immoral. It is a false equivalence to say that “voting” is equivalent to “voting for someone who wants to do immoral things.” I’ll agree that there’s not much point in voting for someone who doesn’t wish to do immoral things, but that’s irrelevant. I’ll probably one day write about the reason that I do vote, and the reason that I’m going to vote for Darryl Perry and John McAfee, but it’s mostly a way of rebuking that oft-heard remark, “You can’t complain if you didn’t vote.”

We live in a society where you are granted one dollar to spend wherever you want. Most people choose to spend that dollar supporting someone who wants to do immoral things. Some of us–a very tiny percentage of us–choose to spend that dollar supporting someone who rebukes using that money to do immoral things. Criticize the people who support the notion of people doing immoral things, for sure. Have at it. But that’s not even remotely equivalent to spending that dollar at all.

votingAnd before the voluntaryists and anarchists get started–yes, they are precisely the same thing. Capitalism is simply voting with one’s wallet, thereby allowing an individual who has more wealth to cast more votes. We’ve discussed this before. The fact that society provides you with only one dollar to spend doesn’t change the nature of what we’re looking at–we’re looking at people who choose an action and who choose to spend their money voting for someone. That is what you are calling immoral, simply because the biggest percentage of people choose to spend that money voting for someone who will do immoral things. This is an obvious fallacy–a false equivalency–and no more should be said on the matter.

The act is not synonymous with the consequences simply because 99% of people commit the act with the intention of causing immoral consequences.

It’s like you’re arguing “Shooting a gun is wrong because 99.99% of people only shoot their guns to kill other people.” Assuming for a moment that these statistics are true, would it make “shooting a gun” morally wrong? Even if 99.99% of people only shot their guns with the intention of killing people, would the simple act of shooting a gun suddenly become morally wrong?

Of course not.

It would obviously be a false equivalency to say that “shooting a gun” is morally wrong because 99.99% of people only shoot their guns with the intention of hurting people. Even if we pump that number up to 99.9999999%–No, even if we pumped that number up to one hundred percent, shooting a gun would still not become, in and of itself, immoral.

3 thoughts on “The “Voting is Immoral” Argument

  1. Couple of things. Fundamentally, sure, I mostly sort of agree with your conclusions.

    But (first) I’m not sure I buy (pun intended) the implication that a vote and a dollar are even vaguely similar. Might be a conclusion hidden in the premise. Is a vote in fact of any value? Is it, perhaps, harmful even to own? I could make an argument. Then there’s the “voting is immoral because it’s thinly-disguised thuggery by its very nature, and inimical to the notion of living via consensus” thing, which I felt you glossed over.

    Second, I personally find the notion of evaluating the goodness/badness of an action via its purported real-world consequences to be less than useful in practice. First, the idea of an objective evaluation makes me giggle. Second, it’s not helpful at the time decisions are actually made. We all create models of reality in our heads. They’re all going to be…well, let’s just say “imperfect.” The non-aggression thing is a useful rule of thumb, and I’m okay with folks’ tending to accept it as a general rule, but we’ll also never agree on what is or isn’t aggression. Which is–in my mind–exactly as it should be. Distributed systems are more resilient and responsive to circumstance than centralized systems. We don’t actually have a central authority capable of identifying “correct” behavior and attitudes, even after the fact. You make this point yourself, but I’m not sure you followed it all the way home.

    So there’s that. The value if any is up to the reader. {8′>

    • A vote has no more inherent value than a dollar does. In fact, a vote works exactly like any other currency: the more votes there are cast, the less value each individual vote holds. If there are three of us, then my vote is extremely valuable. If there are three million of us, then my vote is substantially less valuable. So its value is, in fact, exactly like a dollar’s.

      I’ve discussed the comparative nature of morality and value statements plenty of times. My point here was to address the false equivalence that voting is aggression. You say “thinly-disguised thuggery,” and that’s true–if you vote for someone who will inflict thuggery. Voting is no more aggressive than is spending a dollar at Wal-Mart. But what if you spent that $1 to hire a hitman to kill someone? Does that make spending your money / using your money / casting your money immoral? No. It makes using your money to hire a hitman immoral. It’s a false equivalence through and through, by assuming that we *must* vote for a person who will inflict force, violence, and coercion.

      The argument, ultimately, stems from narrow minds that have become unable to fathom the idea of voting for someone who won’t use force, violence, and coercion to achieve their aims. This is something I’ve intended to address at some point, and will do so, but if those people had their way we would never see anarchism take hold. The state isn’t going to abolish itself, and the longer we go without pulling back fascism the more convinced people will be that the state is necessary for their very survival–already we are at that point. If we want to convince people that anarchism will work, the reality is that we have to show them that libertarianism can work. I’m not saying we have to work within the state to dissolve the state, but we absolutely do have to convince the masses that anarchism won’t result in rape gangs, and they won’t just take our word for it; they have to be shown, and libertarianism is the only way to show them that.

      I voted for John McAfee and Chase Wilson and “Anyone Else”. According to their false dichotomy and false equivalence, that was aggression. That’s utter nonsense. Voting is not aggression. Voting for aggression is aggression.

    • I would go even further, in fact, and say that NOT voting is aggression, because, by not voting, a person is knowingly and willfully allowing candidates who will use force, violence, and coercion to win. We *know* that most Americans will vote. Yet instead of voting for peace, a non-voter turns a blind eye to it, complicit in it and an accomplice to it. Even if Trump only won one single vote in each state, the non-voter’s passivity would have allowed it to happen, while my vote for McAfee would have caused a direct tie with a candidate who absolutely would not do such things.

      So we can’t act like refusing to vote is the only way to eschew aggression. In fact, the ONLY way to avoid being an aggressor or an accomplice to aggression IS TO VOTE for a candidate who will not use aggression. If a person doesn’t want to vote, that’s fine, and I totally understand their reasons for it. But I’m not going to let them sneer down at me and accuse me of aggression when my vote for McAfee did more to prevent aggression than their being a silent accomplice to Trump ever did.

      Now, do I really believe all that? Do I really believe that not voting makes someone an accomplice? Not really, but the argument can absolutely be made, and it doesn’t rely on a false equivalence as the “voting is aggression” argument does.

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