Mind your business.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Thoughts

Alexis de Tocqueville said:

Our contemporaries are ceaselessly agitated by two conflicting passions: they feel the need to be directed, as well as the desire to remain free. Since they are unable to blot out either of these hostile feelings, they strive to satisfy both of them together. They conceive a single, protective, and all-powerful government but one that is elected by the citizens. They combine centralization with the sovereignty of the people. That gives them some respite. They derive consolation from being supervised by thinking they have chosen their own supervisors. Every individual tolerates being tied down because he sees that it is not another man nor a class of people holding the end of the chain, but society itself.

Under this system citizens leave their state of dependence just long enough to choose their masters, and then they return to it.

At the present time, many people fall in with this type of compromise between a despotic administration and the sovereignty of the people and they think they have sufficiently safeguarded individual freedom when they surrendered it to a national authority. That is not good enough for me. The character of the master is much less important to me than the fact of obedience.

Dear American voter,

Know this: voting has no moral value. Sure, it has practical value. Votes get added up to decide who gets power. But voting does not justify any use of that power. Voting is only a system of choosing leaders. It cannot justify what those leaders do. Democracy is morally impotent. No doubt voting is practically necessary, but when did we delude ourselves into thinking that the practical means of putting someone in power has any power to justify the actions of the people who win?

What will or will not justify actions of rulers is the more fundamental question of what is the proper role or function of government in society, a question we've long since abandoned in favor of discussing the "issues" devoid of any deeper considerations of a grand scheme in which individual issues are all related parts. Voting is perhaps the least important political action you can take. Real change doesn't happen in the ballot box. Real change happens in workplaces, in homes, in classrooms, on the phone, and on the internet. Real change is changing minds and hearts, not changing regimes. Real change happens in conversations that go deeper than individual issues, deeper than pandering sound bites, deeper than the noise of media coverage, and delve into the real questions. Real change takes time. Real political activism isn't holding a sign, putting a bumper sticker on your car, and voting. Real political action is having a conversation with your friends that steps outside of the partisan bickering, leaves behind the petty talk of current events, and asks fundamental questions about government and what it is and should be. Real political action is about talking not yelling, about reaching truth together not making the other side look foolish.

Some folks will stay up all night worrying about who will be elected. I've got more important things to do. I've got classes to attend, blogs to write, music to create, people to talk to, papers to write, a blog to contribute to, and a billion other things to do. I'm too busy with real change to pay attention to election coverage.