The Case for Conscientious Non-Voting


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It's "silly season" again. That time when some of the populace of the United States is all a-twitter about voting. One word you will hear repeated by the candidates in this election is "hope." In fact, Barack Obama even has a book entitled The Audacity of Hope. I have taken a lot of flack for advocating conscientious non-voting over the last four or five years, and I expect I'll get even more for this latest installment subtitled, 'Blissfully Hopeless.'

Why am I blissfully hopeless? Shouldn't I be hopeful? What is hope? In the realm of politics, hope is the a) desire for an improved, future state that is b) based on the actions of others. The American candidates are offering hope; Marx offered it. Religions offer hope too. For this discussion, let's call religions and politics "hope concepts." In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Buddhist. I approach Buddhism as a philosophy, instead of a religion. It is not a hope concept; it's just cause and effect.

All hope concepts propose to deliver a 'new and improved' future state, but can they deliver it? No, of course there is no guarantee. Politicians and preachers keep promising a better, future state of affairs, and then invent excuses when hope doesn't materialize. After all, who can predict the future? Why does the public still buy it? Does the public want to be lied to or is it a genetic flaw? Shouldn't we be leery when someone promises an unknowable/undeliverable future happiness? Shouldn't that be a red flag? Happiness in the here-and-now is the only realistic goal we can achieve. Do politicians promise happiness-in-the-moment? Do the Abrahamic faiths offer relief from immediate suffering?

When anyone says, 'I'll promise to do such-and-such in 2 years to make your life better,' your first response should be, 'What if I die tomorrow?' Other examples include the generals, politicians, and reporters who say we should stay 'six more months' in Iraq . It is worth noting that General Petraeus is now saying we may not know we have had success in Iraq until six months after it has occurred! What a worthless statement.

The vast majority of the population has been conditioned to accept the future happiness argument without question. It is sad, especially when hope seldom materializes. I am not advocating hedonism, just a guaranteed happiness in the here-and-now instead of an unknown future.

The second false proposition of the 'hope concepts' is that your happiness depends on the actions of others. That is, of course, absurd. Marx said that the working class should band together throughout the world. Utopia could only be achieved through solidarity, he opined. In February 2008, Rush Limbaugh said that liberals must be defeated, not reasoned with. Aren't Rush and Karl Marx saying the same thing from different ends of the political spectrum?

Politicians say they will change the world if enough of us will come together and vote for them. Doesn't this thinking necessarily create a class of 'others'? What does Rush Limbaugh propose to do with defeated liberals? Kill them? Eat them? Has he never heard the term blowback? Gandhi (and most Eastern religious/philosophical figures) advocated the transformation of your enemies to your position. That way we don't have to worry about killing them, or eating them, or blowback. Who will go down in history as the greater man, Gandhi or Limbaugh?

Think of this simple question: How many people can you control? The answer is one of course, yourself. No matter how much we try, we can't control our spouses, friends, children, or our political leaders. We are only setting ourselves up for frustration if we try to control others. In truth, your happiness is dependent not on others, but on your response to ever-changing conditions. Nothing stays the same for two consecutive seconds. We must adapt to these changes, or we are doomed to be unhappy.

The 'hope concepts' toss this reality aside. In essence, practitioners of hope theorize that only 'the tribe' can make you happy. No matter how innocent it starts, this thinking soon degenerates into 'us' vs. 'them' thinking. Democrats vote against Republicans; Proletariats clash with the bourgeois; Christian believers try to convert non-believers; Islamic faithful warn against associating with the infidels. Do we attribute this phenomenon to the fact that we are herd animals, or is it another flaw in the human DNA ?

Creating a class of 'others' is extremely dangerous. How many wars are fought against 'others'? The simple answer is all of them. Humans have a hard time killing unless the elite can create a class of 'others' in the minds of the public. How many elections have turned violent? The Democrats and the Republicans killed each other in this country from the 1860s to the 1960s. The Ku Klux Klan acted as the militant wing of the Democratic Party in the southern US for a hundred years. Kenya 's recent electoral violence is another example of tribal/political violence.

When the mind creates separateness between any living being and/or the environment, the seeds of war are sown. In reality, the universe is one enormous life form with many parts. It is inter-related; each action affects everything else. There is nothing permanent except our actions and the results on our actions. However, our guaranteed happiness consists of 2 parts: a) immediate and b) individual. Bliss lies in our reaction to ever-changing conditions.

Sometimes hopes come true, but should we base our entire lives on hope? Many anti-war folks voted Democratic in 2006 hoping to end the war in Iraq. It did not end. Their hopes were dashed. Wouldn't it be better to lead a non-violent personal life? Wars could not exist if enough people were pacifists. The first step is always ours to take, not the group's. Frankly, society's problems are far greater than politicians can solve. I am a man of reason. I reject all things unreasonable, from monotheistic religions to horoscopes. 'Faith' is the opposite of reason. Hope falls into a similar category, and I reject it as well.

If a candidate offers hope to me this election season, I will thank them and explain that I am blissfully hopeless, and I wish all living beings (including the politicians) the same.

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Joey King's picture
Columns on STR: 3

Mr. King is a Tennessee activist and writer.