"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
As I noted in my recently posted root-striking debut, I went ahead and voted in this past election in spite of my conviction that to vote at all is morally dubious at best. However, I followed my plan to vote only for libertarian-minded minor party candidates (all three of them). It was one last, final and admittedly self-indulgent expression of contempt for the whole shameful, deceitful fraud that is Government in the only language that It understands.
Now that I've had one final fling with that false god known as 'Democracy,' I am now giving up voting for good. Never again will I follow the ridiculous 'Choose Your Master' philosophy so mindlessly propagated by the all-too-subservient MTV generation. Never again will I allow myself to be so arrogant as to think that I have any right at all to petition for any candidate or political party to rule and lord over my friends, family and countrymen.
But I have an embarrassing confession to make. As I walked home from the local polling place after casting my protest vote, I was suddenly afflicted with a horrible feeling of guilt that perhaps somehow, just maybe, the 'Vote or Die' movement had been right all along. What if every single vote really does count? What if my one vote for a minor party presidential candidate with absolutely no hope of winning had just single-handedly plunged all of Western civilization into a bottomless abyss of eternal misery and horror?
What if by not voting for John Kerry, I had just condemned the nation's working poor to a lifetime of dead-end burger-flipping jobs and without any means to pay for their health care, leaving them to die diseased, destitute and helpless in America's alleyways by the hundreds of thousands? Or worse yet, what if Bush were to win, and right in the middle of his victory speech, he announces that simultaneous U.S. invasions of Iran , France and Canada are already under way?
Or what if by withholding a vote to re-elect Bush, I had somehow just thrust up the white flag of surrender for Osama bin Laden and all his fundamentalist Islamist terrorist minions to see? What if because of my vote, vast hordes of Islamist invaders slay our grandmothers, feast on our children and generally mock our recipe for apple pie? Oh my God . . . maybe Dick Cheney was RIGHT!!!
I sank to my knees, and tears streamed down my face as the awful feeling that one way or another, I had just sentenced all of humanity to a thousand years of darkness gripped my very soul.
'Oh my God, what have I done?!' I screamed to the heavens.
I stayed there, on my knees, rocking myself back and forth like a lost, lonely little motherless child for what seemed an eternity until finally it hit me . . . so clear and so obvious that I couldn't believe that I hadn't already thought of it before. I was hungry.
I picked myself up, dusted myself off and walked home and made myself a sandwich. Had some chips, too. Then I washed it all down with a nice, cold cr'me soda. Man, that was refreshing.
And then I took out my phone book and flipped through the Yellow Pages. There had to be some kind of mental health professional who could help me with these horrible feelings of guilt! I thought that surely in a land so abundant with self-help and twelve-step recovery programs such as ours, there had to be at least one that could help me deal with my particular neurosis.
And that's when I saw it: 'Voters Anonymous,' read the ad. 'Helping Recovering Voters Since 1964.' Exactly what I needed.
I attended my first group session the very next evening.
'For those of you who may be here for the first time, I'd like to welcome you all. My name is Dr. Mencken, and I'm the group leader,' said a nondescript, bespectacled man. As was usual with such groups, we were all seated in a circle.
'Remember, whatever you say in this room stays in this room,' he said in his soothing, reassuring voice. 'Who would like to start? Jack, how about you?'
Jack (not his real name), seated immediately to my right, looked absolutely distraught and on the verge of tears. His whole body was quivering.
'Go ahead and introduce yourself, Jack.' The poor guy could barely stand.
'Hi, I'm Jack . . . and I'm a . . . I'm a . . . (sob!)'
'It's okay, Jack. It's okay,' Dr. Mencken softly reassured him.
'I'm a . . . vote-o-holic!!!'
'Hi, Jack,' everyone droned.
'Oh my God, I voted again!' blurted Jack. 'I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I just couldn't help myself!'
'Jack, it's okay,' said Dr. Mencken. 'We all have our moments of weakness.'
'Oh, God . . . I voted for Bush!' The man was inconsolable. 'I just couldn't help it! It was the ad with the wolves that sent me over the edge! I had nightmares about them. They had turbans on their heads and long, black beards, and they kept telling me 'vote for Bush or we'll rape your dog' over and over again in this thick, Arabic accent. I'm so ashamed that I voted for him out of fear! And now it looks like he may have actually won! Everybody's going to hate me for the next four years!'
'Got to be a real special class of retard to vote for Bush,' mumbled a young woman to my left.
'I'm sorry, Jill, did you want to say something?' asked the doctor.
'Huh? Well, I, uh . . . .' stammered Jill (not her real name).
'What did you do yesterday, Jill?' asked Dr. Mencken.
'I uh, well . . . I, um . . . Oh, alright! I voted! There, I admit it! You happy? Yes, I voted!'
'I thought as much,' said the doctor. 'If memory serves, your particular addiction is . . . Democrats. Correct?'
'Yes,' she admitted sheepishly.
'Nearly unlimited redistribution of income to feed the poor, house the homeless, free education and cheap health care for everyone who can't afford it . . . all that warm, fuzzy, feel-good stuff, am I right?'
'I know, I know . . . it's silly and immature to think that government can realistically provide all those things, or that it should even try, and even the Republicans have themselves enacted programs for so-called 'social goals,' too. But those aren't even the reasons I voted for Kerry.'
'That damn cowboy wanna-be's destructive foreign policy, that's why! Okay? I just couldn't stand the thought of one more of my tax dollars going to shoot or bomb any more people in some distant, Third World country.'
Dr. Mencken sat back and heaved a huge sigh. 'Jill'' he started to say.
'How many times have we been over this?'
'How many hours and hours of discussion have we had about this?'
'But you don't know that!' she blurted. 'It might! Maybe it will! You don't know, maybe once Kerry was sworn in, he'd actually start listening to the anti-war activists in the base of his own party!'
'Jill, Jill, Jill,' said Dr. Mencken, shaking his head. 'I suppose the next thing you're going to say is that he'll demand a full repeal of the PATRIOT Act or something.'
She paused a moment. 'Maybe?'
'Jill. Senator Kerry helped write the PATRIOT Act. He wouldn't even try to get it repealed, believe me.'
'A girl can dream, can't she?'
'That's all it'll ever be . . . a dream,' I chimed in.
'Ah, we have a newcomer,' said the doctor. 'Go ahead and introduce yourself.'
I stood up. 'My name is Bob, and I'm a vote-o-holic.'
'Hi, Bob,' everyone droned at me.
'Tell us why you're here, Bob.'
'Well, um, for the first time ever, I voted for a minor party presidential candidate yesterday because I finally came to my senses and realized that all politics and government is merely a fraud and a masquerade for the greedy and power-hungry, but after I cast my vote, I became overwhelmed by these irrational feelings of guilt.'
'PVSD,' volunteered Jack. 'Same thing I have.'
'Excuse me?' I asked.
'Post-Voting Stress Disorder,' explained the doctor. 'It's a neurosis common to many people immediately following the act of voting, regardless of their political ideology. They become overwhelmed by thoughts that somehow they may have just unwittingly collaborated in the perpetration of a tragedy of historic proportions.'
'Well, whatever it is that's ailing me, I think I'm cured already.'
'How so?' asked the doctor.
'By sitting here, listening to these people! You're all driving me nuts! Like Jack for instance''
He looked up at me, still dabbing the tears from his eyes.
'How could you actually fall for that neocon claptrap? Don't you understand that they want you to believe the absolutely ridiculous notion that America would somehow be plunged into the Dark Ages if we don't continue to give Bush nearly unlimited power? Don't you recognize emotional and intellectual blackmail when you see it?'
'Well, I, uh'' said Jack.
'Shut up, Jack,' I said. 'And you, Jill . . . didn't Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention teach you anything? Or his statements in the debates? He thinks the maiming and killing of foreigners is all hunky-dory just so long as the U.S. government has a great big UN stamp of approval to do it! As long as there are a few extra countries to join the U.S. in the grand imperial adventure, it's all just A-OK as far as he's concerned! Doesn't that strike you as a rather cosmetic difference from Bush's foreign policy?'
She sat silently, and then suddenly stuck her tongue out at me.
'Dr. Mencken, how can you sit here and listen to this nonsense week after week?' I asked him.
'Drugs,' he answered placidly. 'Lots and lots of drugs. I find that being heavily sedated is the only way I can deal with these self-deluded nutjobs.' They all looked at him; some hurt, some angry. 'Well you are all self-deluded nutjobs,' he calmly reiterated to them, opening a pill bottle he removed from his pocket. 'Vicodin, Bob?'
'No thanks,' I said. 'I probably could have used it yesterday, but I think I'm alright now. Look, I know I'm being really harsh on you folks, and perhaps a little unfair. After all, the reason I came here was that I was experiencing my own feelings of voter neurosis. But I think actually hearing all of you articulate these crazy ideas out loud was just the fix I needed to clear my mind. I've never been more certain than I am now that this whole voting thing is just a great big scam to trick people into consenting to servitude to The State. So for that, I guess I owe all of you a great big debt of thanks. Good luck to all of you.'
I picked up my jacket and put it on. There was dead silence. I don't think I've ever felt so alone in my life as I did at that moment. I started to walk out of the room.
'Bob, wait!' called out Dr. Mencken. I turned around. 'Got a couple of extra Darvocets here,' he said as he rattled a bottle of pills. 'Sure you don't want one?'
'Nah. I'll be okay.'
I walked out of the room and down the empty hall. It was dark; a couple of the overhead fluorescents needed replacing. An awful shade of mint green paint was peeling of the walls in some places. The building had that disturbingly clinical feel to it, a distinctly One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest type of quality. I was relieved when I finally came to the door that led outside.
I stepped outside and breathed in the cool, crisp, liberating night air. I walked home, and I never looked back.