On Failing to Vote

Bianco Luno


A qualm with Thomas Hobbes' fifth law of nature which is

"...COMPLEASANCE; that is to say, that every man strive to accommodate himselfe to the rest. For the understanding whereof we may consider that there is in men's aptnesse to Society a diversity of Nature, rising from their diversity of Affections, not unlike to that we see in stones brought together for building of an Ædifice. For as that stone which by the asperity and irregularity of Figure takes more room from others than it selfe fills, and for hardnesse cannot be easily made plain, and thereby hindereth the building, is by the builders cast away as unprofitable and troublesome: so also, a man that by asperity of Nature will strive to retain those things which to himselfe are superfluous, and to others necessary, and for the stubbornness of his Passions cannot be corrected, is to be left or cast out of Society as cumbersome thereunto. For seeing every man, not only by Right, but also by necessity of Nature, is supposed to endeavour all he can to obtain that which is necessary for his conservation, He that shall oppose himselfe against it for things superfluous is guilty of the warre that thereupon is to follow, and therefore doth that which is contrary to the fundamental Law of Nature, which commandeth to seek Peace. The observers of this Law may be called SOCIABLE, (the Latines call them Commodi); The contrary, Stubborn, Insociable, Froward, Intractable."

Chapter XV,
Of Other Laws of Nature

If I dropped from the sky in the center of the Pacific, unnoticed by anyone, would I cry for help, knowing well the smallness of my voice and the incomprehensible vastnesses between it and any ears?
Could I stay self-possessed enough to quietly go under whimperless or would I flail and scream until the water rushed my mouth?

I can only imagine what I would do.
In the end, I think it would have little to do with either reason or dignity.
But certainly I could be wrong.
(Do people always cry out when they fall off high places as they do in films?)
If a hundred thousand or a million or a hundred million others joined me in my moist predicament, might not our combined pleas produce result?
I am almost forced to think that our numbers could not fail but make a difference and the din reach ears on some shore.
At least, one could reasonably say, we would own a chance.
Our sheer magnitude and press certainly would educe sympathetic forces and we could soberly expect that some (though never, of course, all) of us would be saved, each thinking, "Yes, and I might be among them."

The two situations strike us differently: In the second, my specific cry could have effect and be rationally defended only as it contributes to an effort beyond any within my sole power.
In the first, the cry can be reduced to some biological act, a reflex.
Surely more than contrasting noise levels distinguish the cases—but exactly what?
And how significantly for a given individual?

What I am asking is necessarily very selfish:
Assuming I am rational and that my self-interest is at least a match for any altruism I might boast, should I make my voice heard with the rest?
I take it, most would answer, "Of course, what have you got to lose? And you would have a chance of winning!"
I want to respond that there is something to lose, and that the chance of winning is more slight than usually suspected—enough that the loss needn’t be very substantial to outweigh it.

To the extent I flaunt my highly individuated sensibility, I will exact a matching capacity for discrimination from those I am willing to accord power over me.
But to possess a "highly individuated sensibility" implies having had a history of setting myself apart from others; it is to preclude membership in a majority formed from that great plurality.
Those most basic human characteristics, I undeniably share with them, are not, as a consequence, the ones upon which I have founded my dignity.
What I share with them is not valued enough by me to foster with them an intimacy of politics.
I have, so to speak, priced my soul out of the market.
In light of this, what does participation in the democratic process offer me?

But supposing myself a very much more regular sort, can we right away infer I should be at home in the process of massification?
Majority rule, when I have never experienced alienation from the grand extended family of those who embrace as tightly my interests, would seem to be a political arrangement made in heaven for me (rather, for us, since it is less pertinent to fuss over the specificity of indirect objects).
Then, I exist as a part of an organism with interests that determine and encompass those interests of any importance that I, as an individual, may have.
In effect, I have no interests apart from those we need to take account of.
If interests peculiar to me could be imagined as emerging against this prepared canvas, one might begin with the notion that, out of concern for economy of effort, I should pass on the opportunity to participate, owing to the circumstance that because my interests are identical with yours—and the lot of you so diligently watch over them—why duplicate your efforts?...
But, of course, once generalized we see plainly how the lot of us couldn’t possibly sustain a freeloader’s position.
Thus, we conclude that one of our interests is that each of us not be suckered by an easy notion of economy.
More than simply a question of each of us pulling his or her own weight, we are obliged to consider slacking on my part or yours as actually augmenting the burden on the whole of us.
Only one idea need permeate my head (or yours): PARTICIPATE.
To think around that idea, look for its basis, for reasons against (or even, amazingly, too carefully for reasons for) is to be guilty, at a minimum, of taking time out from the act of participating.
It is neither required nor (perhaps) desired that I have a personal stake in our decisions so long as it is clear we are choosing the right path for us.
After all, ex hypothesi, I am a regular sort with regular likes and dislikes—and our political arrangement is nothing if not regular.

Not like the constituents of a chord but like the overtones of a single note, my decisions and actions resonate with those of the group to the extent that even where they might diverge in the slightest so all the more they add depth and richness, and a measure of sophistication to those of the collective.
The group homeopathically tolerates—even nourishes itself—on these token doses of poison.
Hence, the marvelous stability of majority rule: the system co-opts the affections sans the values of its dissidents.
For these, faced with the choice between being loyally opposed and the extreme impolitic of terrorism, are high-mindedly duped, like a character from Molière, by wearing the fragrances of civilization...

What I stand to gain is a place, a cell in a matrix.
In a group photograph this would manifest itself as a prop for my neighbor’s enveloping arm.
A brick in an edifice, the structure might collapse without me—or it might not—but all the same there I would be: a presence—more noticeable as a void were I to be remarked elsewhere.
A place to stand and smile, this is what is promised me.
And maybe, with some difficulty, I might manage to work up a lust for it...
At what price!
Alas, I am lost to this cause, it moves me so little.

For what I stand to lose, opprobrium aside, is so precious to me.
I can’t fully explain why: the language of excuses was developed more with an ear to adjusting our orientation toward than to honor deviations from the norm.
The loss is too great; it seems to amount to all that I have made of my life.
I am being asked to drum up respect for a vision that I don’t in fact feel anything for.
I want to say because my feelings have become so constricted in the homogenization process, it falls to those that can still be felt a great responsibility to be true.

You are asking me to participate, saying the good of all is great and worthy of my love, and I can only lose the arrogance of my loneliness.
I respond that when I am dead I shall enrich the soil that will grow food for your children, real or imagined.
Thus, you are assured, in any event, of my participation.

[In response to a quibble from an otherwise stone-faced audience:]

Too often those of us who don’t vote are charged with apathy, selfishness, laziness and all manner of mindlessness.
I ask for a little indulgence.
There are good reasons not to vote...
"But even if you are right, people motivated by your arcane reasons are the rarest. And hardly representative of most deadbeats."
I fear you are correct.
But what of those who do vote?—because of peer pressure, because they have been brought up to behave a certain way, because of its social inclusiveness...
Uncritical mindlessness is general.
Inertia on the one hand, momentum on the other.
The concepts are mechanical and nicely explainable with a minimum of cognition.
I am grateful I am not the woman in Somalia asked to choose between a quick death by lead from a machine gun and a slower one hacked with a machete—depending on how much she could afford to pay.
Unlike her, I have a luxurious option.
Many times the lesser of two evils is still a third: the refusal to choose.

A "proposed lecture" appended to Notebook VIII, this piece dates from the period 4/14/92 – 9/8/93. [vm]

Copyright © 1998 Bianco Luno and Victor Muñoz

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