Why I Didn’t Vote (In This Election)

Things are important or they aren’t. That’s a binary and reductive statement, obviously, and things can be relatively important or unimportant based on their context, but in general, as with most generalities, the statement holds true. Things are important or they aren’t. Words and language – important, or not important. Actions – ditto. History, society, virtue signaling, violence, family – yes, yes, yes, yes.


Voting is important or it isn't. I think it is, so I didn’t vote this election. I prepared not to vote by leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent in 2014. I did this because I understood that my favorite potential candidates in the Democratic Party – doesn’t matter who they are – were getting sidelined in favor of Hillary Clinton, a person I’d thought since 2008 was a lousy human being, and therefore a lousy candidate for president—exceptionally lousy in the context of the Democratic Party (maybe not as much as a Republican).


I prepared not to vote, hoping I’d be given a reason to vote in spite of my intuition. I was offered some reasons to vote, and more reasons not to vote, by all candidates. So I did not.


The way to vote
A vote is an endorsement of a political philosophy. When one votes for a thing—like, say, the invasion of Iraq—one owns the consequences of that action. Protesting or refusing to offer one's endorsement is a morally viable act.
Principles are important. If everyone developed a set of coherent principles, we’d live in a more principled world. Principles aren’t all important, because bad groups have been principled, but with bad principles. Ditto ethics, though in my estimation, the most compelling arguments around ethics claim that the best ethical frameworks are “good” ethical frameworks, and that a responsible investigation of ethics will result in “ethical” people standing for ethical frameworks that benefit not just themselves but the people around them.


So the “good” ethical, principled framework I think should apply to leadership: that it be scrupulous, generous, accountable, accessible, transparent, and capable of inspiration – this was entirely absent from our presidential election. As it was absent, I could not in good conscience offer a positive vote for any candidate. Anyone compelling me to vote against my ethically generous scruples based on arguments for the common good runs into the problem that if everyone good always votes against their scruples, the common good will never exist. Compromise with evil does not create good, good creates good.


This is related to the proliferation of “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” in guiding what many describe as morally responsible actions such as the requirement to vote.


The Prisoner’s Dilemma, for those who are unfamiliar with the idea, is a thought experiment in which two people, facing the possibility of prison or freedom, are incentivized to work against each other. It is a hallmark of realism in political science, and also seems to characterize democratic elections in the two-party system. Any situation where there are two groups with competing interests can safely and more or less profitably be compared to the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a game in which altruism never works.


Complaining about a system in which evil and competition is encouraged and rewarded is one thing—choosing not to endorse it and figuring out ways to change the system another. I have not yet discovered a way around our system and probably insufficiently clever to do so, but this is not an argument to then “go along” and knowingly participate in relatively minor immoralities because it’s convenient for me to do so as a guard against greater immoralities, or with the unrealistic expectation that in so doing, eventually the small-immorality folks will become ethical, scrupulous, and inspiring.


I didn’t vote in the last election, and I’m proud of that fact. If I could do it over knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t vote again, either. I hope that those friends of mine with whom I share intellectual and emotional affinity (as well as my friends and family) understand and respect this. My decision not to vote followed the same logic I used to protest the war in Iraq, and, ultimately, to serve in the military.

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Adrian Bonenberger

Adrian Bonenberger is an author, essayist, journalist and provocateur. He published his war memoirs, Afghan Post, through The Head and The Hand Press. He believes that logic based on indisputable facts is a good intellectual’s shield, and humor based on an emotional understanding of those facts is the good intellectual’s sword. He has had many adventures over the course of his time on earth, and enjoyed most of them. Past lives include Ernst Junger, “Sir” Philip Sidney, and that guy at the round table Arthur’s Knights were always telling to shut up

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