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COUNTERPOINT: Why I don't vote — and it's not because I'm too lazy or fussy

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MATT MacDONALD

In her Oct. 19 column, “Why I vote,” Pam Frampton said she considers voting to be “a responsibility and an obligation,” and goes on to cite the women’s suffrage movement as an example of people who “suffered and fought for our right to vote.” 

This is basically just a rehash of the old refrain that “the veterans fought for your freedom to vote, so how dare you question it?” First of all, if the veterans (or the suffragettes or whoever) fought for my freedom to vote, then they also fought for my freedom not to vote; unless you think they didn’t, in which case you have no business calling it “freedom” to begin with. Second, the implication here is that, if you’re one of those sinners who don’t vote, then the pangs of moral guilt should guide you back to the path of righteousness. However, the thing about guilt is that it’s never a good motivator. In fact, when someone tries to guilt me into doing something that I really don’t want to do, it usually just strengthens my resolve to do the very opposite.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don't vote. My reason for not voting isn’t based on laziness or apathy and isn’t because the current candidates aren’t to my liking. I don’t vote because I’m a strong believer in individual freedom and the very notion of political “representation” has long struck me as a subtle form of coercion. The problem isn’t that democracy is somehow “broken” and needs “fixing.” The problem is that democracy, even when functioning as it was intended to, is fundamentally based on a falsehood: the idea that individual people are merely component parts of a “body politic” possessing a “general will” that is represented through the institutional mechanism of the state. The phrases “body politic” and “general will” are not my own. They are taken directly from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, a key text that inspired the French Revolution and the broader transition from feudal monarchy to liberal democracy in Europe.

The bottom line is that I have no desire to be “represented” by someone else who has the presumption to claim that they act on my behalf. The only person who acts on my behalf is me, and anyone who stands between me and my capacity to act on my own behalf is an impediment to my freedom rather than a guarantor of it. Whatever superficial differences may exist between the “right” and the “left,” both sides are united in their common acceptance of such concepts as political representation, the body politic, and the general will. The fact that certain people pay lip service to the primacy of “the individual” in the marketplace and then turn around and extol the virtues of “national identity” is an irony too absurd to be taken seriously. 

Furthermore, the argument that other people in the world have it far worse is hardly a rousing endorsement of democracy, whatever kernel of truth it may contain. It’s a lot like arguing that you should eat McDonald’s every day because there are people in the world who are starving. Yes, constantly gorging yourself on McDonald’s is better than starving to death, but it carries its own set of problems that will eventually prove hazardous to your health.

I’m not out to proselytize in the hopes of winning anyone over to my way of thinking. If you want to vote, then vote. I just want to clarify for the record that some of us who don’t vote have reasons for it that run deeper than that we just can’t be bothered. People are free to say that I’m shirking my civic duty or that I have no right to complain if that’s how they truly feel, but it doesn’t mean that I’m going to change my decision or keep quiet about my reasons for making it.

Matt MacDonald lives in Green Hill

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