As in years past, the weeks and months leading up to the 2004 presidential election have been laced with stern reminders about the importance of voting. But while every citizen has a right to vote on election day, none has an obligation. In fact, morally, many have an obligation to stay out of the voting booth altogether.
One of this year’s most melodramatic messages of civic “duty” comes from rapper P. Diddy (a.k.a. “Puff Daddy”). His trendy organization of vote-Nazis, Citizen Change, pumps its edgy “Vote or Die” slogan into the skulls of the brain-dead MTV crowd with regular campus rallies, guest appearances, and the alluring midriff of sexy R&B star Mya. Citizen Change brags that its inner circle, dubbed the “Coalition of the Willing,” is an amalgamation of “luminaries” including seemingly testosterone-deficient Leonardo DiCaprio, grammatically challenged “50 Cent,” and apparent perpetual stoner Ashton Kutcher. And, of course, Drew Barrymore; look out, Mensa.
P. Diddy and his crew are not unique in their mission to shame citizens (especially the young) into voting. Between “Rock the Vote,” “Declare Yourself,” MTV’s “Choose or Lose” campaign, and professional wrestling’s “Smackdown Your Vote,” one would think that voting–not voting for anything in particular, but the act itself–was capable of curing cancer and ending poverty if only more people would bother to participate in this sacred ritual. But casting a vote is not akin to performing a rain dance. Voting can have very real political consequences; just ask one of the millions of Germans who elected Adolf Hitler. Contrary to P. Diddy’s mantra, it is very possible to vote and die simply by voting carelessly. Despite the demonstrable danger posed by hordes of supposedly “empowered” voters regurgitating fashionably unreasoned opinions into the ballot box, few citizens stop to ask why “getting out the vote” is allegedly so critical to the nation’s survival.
There are only two psychologies that would consciously advocate voting qua voting: one is disastrously ignorant, and the other is downright evil. When dabbling in the arena of politics, the more innocent vote-Nazi simply punts on problems of epistemology and defaults to the belief that the majority is always right. Though convinced that political decisions are important, he lacks certainty of his own conclusions (or the process by which he reached them) and is content with any outcome so long as most other people seem to concur. To him, how others arrive at a conclusion is irrelevant. Since he has no clear standard by which he judges his own opinions, he likewise has none by which to judge the opinions of others. If the whole town thinks his daughter is a witch, then burning her at the stake is fine by him. The more people that vote, he reasons, the better: psychological safety lies in numbers.
The more vile vote-Nazi has an indefensible agenda and is counting on mobs of mindless voting drones to help achieve it. Although Citizen Change is supposedly non-partisan, it is safe to assume that an organization focused on lamenting “denial to proper health care” is counting on a plethora of P. Diddy puppets to pull the donkey lever on November second. The tactic of trolling for partisan votes under the guise of non-partisanship is not limited to Democrats. Republicans do it, too, albeit with much less support from MTV. There is nothing wrong with having a political agenda, but there is something ominously suspicious about a political agenda that is advanced by urging otherwise apathetic, uninformed people to immediately run out to the polls and vote. When one holds a well-reasoned, morally defensible position, thoughtful, rational, interested people are likely allies. But thoughtful, rational, interested people are also likely to vote–without any prodding from Drew Barrymore. The good does not benefit from mindless voting. It is the irrational, morally reprehensible agenda that relies on ignorance to succeed, and people cajoled into voting just for the sake of voting provide plenty of it.
Voting in America is a right, not an obligation. Obligation arises only if one chooses to exercise the right to vote; a voter is morally obligated to make informed, rational, and independent decisions before casting a ballot. One who shirks this responsibility and votes for whatever and whomever he feels a vague, untraceable affinity is sacrificing himself to the unexamined demons of his subconscious. Ultimately, it is this voting zombie that bears responsibility for cannibalizing a free nation and enslaving the populace. P. Diddy is correct on at least one point: voting is a life or death matter. So for everyone’s sake (including your own), if you are planning to vote on Tuesday simply because you want to “participate,” please stay home. MTV’s Real World will be on at six.