Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Why It's OK Not To Vote

I'm always bemused when I hear people say "You are morally compelled to vote: people died for your right to vote, and it is outrageous if you choose not to use it". They also say things like "You've no right to moan about the politicians in power if you abstain from voting". They are popular opinions, but like many popular opinions I think they are wrong.

On the first one - even if we ignore the fact that the odds are astronomically stacked against your vote making any difference whatsoever, the majority of people who died for our liberties and freedoms didn't die for our right to vote, they died for our right to the privilege of choice and autonomy, of which both voting and abstention are constituent parts.

And on the second one - not only do your freedom of choice and autonomy give you every right to praise or bemoan to your heart's content, the fundamental truth here is that if you have no political parties you would support then the ability to vote means little when the variety of options on offer fundamentally depart from what you want to be on offer. For the people to whom that applies I see no reason to expect them to be any less vocal - one may even expect them to be the most vociferous critics of all.

Here's an illustration to show what I mean. Suppose a friend of yours has been sentenced to death in a State that allows it, and yet you are against capital punishment. Someone asks you to vote on how your friend is put to death: electric chair, lethal injection, hanging, a bullet to the head, or being starved to death slowly.

Given that I am opposed to the death penalty I want to campaign against my friend being put to death at all. If you tell me I'm morally impelled to vote on how my friend dies, I'd certainly say that the lethal injection option is a less bad option than being starved to death slowly, but my vote is only an adjunct to what I feel is a bigger issue about the inhumanity of capital punishment.

Similarly, in politics my vote for the Conservatives, UKIP, the Lib Dems, Labour, or whoever would only be an adjunct to what I feel is a bigger issue - that I'm a Christian libertarian that isn't being represented by any of the parties for whom I can vote. Thus, my vote would only be a vote for the least bad party - but when you combine that with the fact that that vote is almost certainly going to make no difference to the outcome, then not voting becomes a perfectly rational thing to do.

You're probably very accustomed to how the party political system has manifested itself over the last century or so, and you're so used to the kind of choices you're being asked to make that perhaps you don't know what it's like for those of us for whom the choices in front of us are so many miles away from what we'd support. A fact you may know is that dinosaurs were actually alive on earth for over twice the length of time than the time between their extinction and now. By a similar measure, the ideal party I'd like to see in government is probably about twice as far from the Conservative Party (the most electable party by a country mile) as the Conservative Party is from, say, a far left party like the Green Party. If you can understand where I'm coming from there, you should have no trouble understanding why, as things stand, I just don't see voting in the same way that you do.

Even if you can't swallow all that - and I'd be at a loss to understand why ever not - then at the very least you should respect my right and decision not to vote, just as I respect your right and decision to vote or not vote as you see fit.