Voting for artichokes

For some reason there’s been a lot of talk about voting. My understanding of voting is (predictably) rather instrumentalist and flat-footed: since there is no more rational way of deciding things, we make our preferences known (show of hands, cast ballots, computer clicks, etc), and let the question be decided by whatever side gets more signs of support. (Optional variation: rig up an electoral college so that each individual vote matters less to the result.) One would think that’s all there is to it. Apparently not.

can-i-give-my-dog-artichokes-264x300Many people seem to believe that voting is an expression of one’s own moral character – so that voting for an odious candidate pollutes one’s moral character. These people believe it is better to vote for a likable candidate who has no choice of winning than to vote for an odious candidate who is less odious than the other candidate. Voting is a deliberate action, and deliberate action reflects one’s moral character, so one shouldn’t act in such a way as to reflect a bad moral character. That’s the thought, as best as I can tell.

But overall, voting is ridiculous in direct proportion to the number of people voting. When it is on the scale of hundreds of millions, voting is about as effective as wishing. If I stand in my backyard and wish for world peace, I have done as much for politics as I do when I cast a ballot. (Yes, yes, “almost as much” would be a more accurate thing to say, since a vote does contribute a tenth of a grain of sand towards an outcome.) So I guess making a wish for an unelectable candidate is about as meaningful as making a wish for an electable one – or, for that matter, making a wish for a candidate who is dead and gone, or who is captain of the starship Enterprise.

But if – despite this – one takes voting seriously, and views that tenth of a grain of sand as meaningful, then it is hard for me to enter into the “my vote reflects my soul” mindset. Imagine a smaller situation in which an individual vote does matter: there are five of us trying decide on cheese vs. pepperoni, and is is up to you to cast the deciding vote. But you lean toward veganism. Add another supposition to make the example work: suppose that a pizza will be ordered, whether you vote or not; and that ordered pizza will be either cheese or pepperoni. Now you might think that cheese and pepperoni are equally bad, and find yourself simply unable to decide. That makes sense; you shake your head, and say, “Sorry; no can do.” But if you think that making cheese entails less animal suffering than making pepperoni, or that eating cheese is less wrong than eating pepperoni, then – given the admittedly artificial circumstances I’ve described – why on earth would you vote for artichokes?  It simply isn’t an option, and you’ve missed out on the chance to make the dinner a little less worse.

“Because I cannot order even cheese without besmirching my moral character.” Really? Well then, in this case, your moral character is stained (possibly) with pepperoni. That’s something you did, by casting your stupid artichoke vote. Or can one enhance one’s moral character merely by intending impossible results? If one can, then why didn’t you vote for a pizza with “no animal suffering ever again” as the topping? What’s that? It isn’t possible? But didn’t you vote for artichokes despite the fact that achieving it was impossible? Why not “go large,” as they say, so long as we’re in never-ever land?

On the other hand, it may be that in order to have a functional democracy, there has to be a widespread belief that voting matters, and that voting one’s conscience is the right thing to do – even if neither of these beliefs really stands up to the light of reason. If individuals take their voting seriously, then there emerges at some level – a level far beyond the one at which individual votes really do matter – something resembling a rational, deliberative voting mass. But perhaps you can’t get that emergent result without some illusion at the level of individuals. If this is so, then if one thinks a functional democracy is a good thing, then one should swallow the blue pill, and vote away. I can understand this, but I always find it hard to swallow blue pills. At least, knowingly.

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
This entry was posted in Meanings of life / death / social & moral stuff. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Voting for artichokes

  1. Emerson Isaac says:

    If the protest voters are looking for moral purity, politics is most likely not the best place to look for that. Politicians are called on to weigh the stakes held by the populace, and hopefully make the most ethical decisions that they can. Unfortunately, with so many conflicting stakes and the scarcity of resources, politicians must routinely make decisions similar to that of the Trolley problem. There are of course more optimal ways of making these decisions, but many people don’t realize that no matter what course the Trolley takes, politicians will be held responsible.

    Hillary Clinton came under fire for claiming to be both a moderate and a progressive. Although coexistence between those two things can seem paradoxical, the way that I view it is that sometimes being moderate, or making compromises between stakeholders, is a better way to make progress. By weighing the stakes and backing policies which make a compromise and can actually get passed and be implemented realistically, progress becomes more feasible. Being uncompromising on values isn’t always as morally pure, much less healthy, as some may think, which you highlighted in your post.

    As for the effectiveness of voting, there are some blocs of voters that place voting at high importance, and these groups are represented disproportionately in elections because of how low voter turnout is in the United Sates. An ethic of voting among the other blocs of voters would be necessary for their voices to be heard, and while it’s discouraging to think about how little a single vote counts, I’m a proponent of encouraging people to vote no matter their political views, because our current voter turnout itself does not represent the voting-age population as a whole.


    • Emerson Isaac says:

      It’s been eating at me that I didn’t qualify “held responsible” or otherwise phrase it differently. I don’t mean held responsible in that they experience the consequences; I mean that given a greater locus of control, they have some measure of ethical responsibility for all within it. In addition, there will be people who consider them responsible, regardless of their ability to hold the politician responsible.


  2. Mike says:

    I think it’s best to think of voting as a minor thing you do and especially when you’re faced with two terrible options you have to start thinking about other things you can do to make it so that’s not the case in the future. Voting in the primaries and giving money to the people you believe in gets you a bit more clout. Activism may give you even more (and may allow you to put pressure on both sides) and when things get truly terrible, that’s when you start non-violent or maybe violent resistance or other types of subversions (e.g. smuggling Jews out of Nazi Germany).

    Once you’re at the point where you have to move beyond voting as your main path to impact political change, voting for artichokes or not is more of a question of how that relates to your other tactics.


  3. Alex says:

    They’re aphrodisiacs, you know. Sacred to Venus. King Henry VIII cut off the heads of artichokes and slurped them down with plums for precoital inspiration. A sexy decollation. An erotic pharmakon. A légume de Barry White. It is a strange vegetable that is responsible for the reproduction of tubby little monarchs. Look in Mary’s hand; it’s proof that an artichoke leads directly to absolutism:

    But cheese-morality as you’ve described it is nothing but ressentiment. “I may have no power, but at least I have my character!” A deceptive way to make oneself into an authority without actually being one, a sort of child’s toy-room Napoleon. And if the world burns, it will sound like a flute.

    People who choose artichokes based on their moral inspiration are never found in the field with a pitchfork and manure growing anything. It’s all just talk. They’re on the street screeching about artichokes, artichokes, artichokes, and asking me to sign up for something or other. All I want is to get to Domino’s without someone on the street screeching at me about what I should believe with a catchy sign and hashtag. I never see anybody acting like liberals or conservatives, I just hear a lot of screeching.

    My ressentiment is much nastier. I know that Americans like me don’t really have any moral character. I have nothing to resent in politics except my own laziness and inaction. I never take part in politics; why should my piddly little opinion on Trump matter? Trump trump trump. When was the last time I actually acted like a liberal, rather than just talking about one little tiny vote I’m going to cast? One cannot moan and groan about artichokes until having set foot in the field with a spade and hoe and attempted to grow something.

    As a proper American voter I’ll keep my morality confined to the election. That’s easy. Cuddle up with me, America, in my La-Z-Boy with my six-hundred-dollar phone and Nike sneakers, complaining about One Percent and the corruption of politics while corrupting myself, confident in my captain’s ability to steer the international ship with just the slightest exertion – one day every four years – while aspiring only for the next good grope on television.

    With my beer resting on my belly,
    protruding into the starward future of the human species
    like a little aluminum Enterprise.

    I shall proudly vote for Captain Kangaroo this year out of spite for myself.


  4. Alex says:

    OK, that was too dark even for me. Yes, I’ll probably end up voting for Good over Evil, but I do seriously consider Captain Kangaroo in the meantime. This election year brings out the worst in us all.


  5. Huenemann says:

    Leave it to Alex to unearth the ideological connotations of the artichoke! Your observations connect with Mike’s: that voting can best be seen as a relatively minor tactic within a broader campaign – provided I can get out of my La-Z-Boy! I like emerson’s point as well, that encourage the voting “illusion” might be a lynchpin in getting a younger bloc to get involved in their political futures.


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