I’m often confronted by people who insist that it’s my duty to vote. When I respond that voting, to me, is irresponsible since it only reinforces an irreparable system, they say, “Well then what do you do?” My response usually elicits guffaws of disbelief: I say that I engage in the discussion of ideas, in the exploration of what kind of situation would best establish order in society.
People don’t seem to understand that one’s fundamental ideas are of utmost importance and that everything flows from them. What looks like building castles in the air is actually putting a floor under our feet, and it would be foolish for me to do something—like voting—that would undo my other efforts. The pragmatic man does not see this problem; he thinks that he’s solving the problems right in front of his face. The difficulty I have is that most self-described pragmatic men don’t stop to think about whether an entire situation actually works. ”This is what we’ve got to work with,” they say. They are expedient, not pragmatic, and in the process they perpetuate the Samsara cycle of State-sponsored rule, since voting is the certificate of legitimacy in a democracy.
There is one weakness in my argument, since it presupposes that people will actually listen carefully in a conversation. I don’t see much evidence of this these days, and this kind of selective deafness probably contributes to poor leadership. Voters cast their ballots in secret, and, similarly, a kind of hush descends over the American political debates: vast swaths of political possibilities are all but prohibited from discussion by peer pressure. A prevailing prejudice against philosophical discussion also contributes to this. We are stuck at the sensate level, and we are paying the price for it.
But the only way forward is to continue discussing ideas. No one will change if we just give up. No one will see a different way of looking at things if those outside the inch-deep mainstream don’t speak up. And with that happy thought being said, I’ll close with a cynical thought from Mencken:
“Now and then, in a human body otherwise apparently healthy, certain lowly varieties of cells run amok and begin assaulting their betters: their aim is to bring the whole body down to their own vulgar and incompetent level. The result is what is called a cancer. In the social organism the parallel phenomenon is called democracy. The aim of democracy is to destroy if possible, and if not, then to make ineffective, the genetic differences between man and man. It begins in the political domain–by setting up the doctrine that one man’s opinion about the common affairs of all is as good as any other man’s–but it always tries to extend itself to other and higher domains. In a democratic society it is more hazardous than elsewhere to show any oddity in conduct or opinion. Whoever differs from the general is held to be inferior, though it may be obvious, by any rational standard, that he is really superior. People who live under democracy tend to wear the same kind of hats, to eat the same food, to laugh at the same jokes, and to admire the same mountebanks. They become, as the phrase has it, standardized. Their laws lay heavy penalties on any man whose taste in reading, in drinking or in any other private avocation differs from that of his neighbors. Life tends to be regimented and unpleasant, and everyone is more or less uneasy.”