July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
It is election time, and because it is a mid-term election, turnout is generally not as high as the over-hyped hysteria of Presidential elections. So it is not unexpected that in an effort to increase voter turnout, the above fragment is uttered again and again, with possibly slight differences in the latter part completing the sentence with whatever dire consequence is sure to follow. Nonetheless, both sides of the political aisle as well as those indecisive, trendy, ‘independents’ agree that your choice not to vote is a reprehensible one. The pundits, the preachers, the entertainers, the teachers, join the frenzy, and often you hear the sentiment bellowed most confidently as follows:
“If you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to complain”
This mantra is repeated with the self-assured certainty characteristic of true believers, religious fanatics, teeny-boppers, and every other type of simple-minded buffoon who enjoys preaching unfounded dogma to the eager echo of the choir. The truth of this proclamation is taken at face value, like a ‘law of nature’ – and we may be tempted to simply swallow it whole and accept that we do indeed run this risk.
But… do you?
By now, loyal readers of The Chronicles surely expect a less-than-full willingness to follow along with oft-repeated and well-accepted ‘truths.’ We are here to reassure the silent majority who, if not by words but certainly in deeds, show that such statements do not reflect their views.
In short, any attempt to argue that by not voting you somehow give up the right to express political dissent is utter nonsense.
This is a scare-tactic of sorts, not so much to encourage democratic participation, but to further the interests that benefit from a more deeply entrenched two-party, winner-take-all system. This will become obvious later, but for now, let us examine just what the moron who repeats this idiotic phrase really is saying, beginning with this vague ‘right to complain.’
What is the reasonable interpretation of this ‘right to complain’ we are said to ‘forfeit’ by not voting? A right, it is often said, is accompanied by a corresponding obligation on the part of someone else. A right in a vacuum is non-existent, and a right without the means to exercise or enforce it is hollow. The right to complain, it would seem, is accompanied by the obligation of others to tolerate one’s complaining without fear of reprisal or sanctions. By ‘forfeiting’ this right, perhaps the short-sighted dimwit who likes to repeat this statement is making something of a veiled threat:
If you do not vote, your ‘complaints’ will not be tolerated, because your right to make complaints and our corresponding obligation to tolerate your complaints magically disappears
The tone of this statement is as threatening, vulgar, and ugly, as it is glaringly deficient in logic.
But what is a ‘complaint’ for our purposes, anyway? Surely the intended meaning is any expression of negative political opinion, with regard to elected officials. Complaining implies the expression of grievances, or at least a petition for redress of some wrong. A lawsuit generally starts with the filing of a complaint, which is the legal term for seeking the ruling by a plaintiff (the one making the com-‘plaint’) against a defendant. But we need not look to technical usage; the everyday meaning of ‘complaint’ works just as well.
So, it would seem, this is an attempt to lend the illusion of loftiness to a semblance of an argument propped up by the shaky foundation of fallacies that runs something like this: because you did not participate in the political process, you are barred from subsequently voicing your disagreement with its results, namely: elected officials, and the policies they pursue.
This argument might hold more weight in a system of proportional representation, where the number of votes determines the percentage of representation. The issues an nuances of proportional representation v. winner-take-all were recognized long ago, as illustrated by Mill’s Considerations On Representative Government. That may require more of an investment many of our readers are willing to make, so for the WikiPedia-pseudo-philosophers out there, just read the summary.
Even so, there may not be a political candidate that represents one’s views, and not voting might be the best expression of that sentiment. But in a winner-take-all system, where the only viable candidates are representatives of one of two parties, the failure to vote may be an even more appropriate expression of political opinion and a statement that amounts to: none of the above. Why should a voter be forced to choose what represents the lesser of two evils?
But let us not gloss over the crux of the ‘argument.’ It is rooted in an allegation of some sort of necessary dependence between the ill-defined ‘right to complain’ and exercising another right; the right to vote. Is there any such relationship?
There is absolutely no basis for the notion that political expression necessarily depends on political participation, specifically by way of casting a vote. There are other means of civic engagement which may well be more meaningful and more effective than voting. Indeed, ‘complaining’ might be just one example. Purchase decisions, organized protests, boycotts, lawsuits, discussion forums, and many others are examples of other ways to ‘get involved’ politically. A good argument can be made that not the vote, but the act of complaining is the root from which democracy grows. The vote is simply one avenue of expression intended to influence policies and behavior, and whether it is effective is questionable.
In the interest of brevity, we will not engage in discussions regarding the effect of one vote, whether one vote counts, nor the question: what if no one voted? Rest assured, these ‘arguments’ have all been considered, and dismissed.
For now, just ponder the logic of the utterly nonsensical but completely self-assured statement that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain. Whenever someone brings up this kind of hogwash, simply ask for an explanation:
In response, you may be faced with a jumbled mess of conceptual garbage that bears little resemblance to an actual argument, and reassures you only of one thing about the speaker’s capacity for logic and political engagement: this is a person who should not vote.