I’m told there was a debate last night, between two of the candidates for President of the United States. Only I know that’s not true. It can’t be true, because there are no political debates on nationwide television in this country. Not real ones. There is no place in the national discourse for issues of real substance to be debated. The whole purpose of televised “debates”, and of mainstream political discourse more broadly, is to establish the limits of acceptable topics of discussion; to decree, by the very act of posing the questions, what may be questioned and what may not.
So no, there wasn’t a debate last night. There were two Total Statists standing on a stage (I don’t know - did they stand?) disputing the finer points of how best to wield Total State power over the lives of everyone else. Will we deport all Muslims from our country and build a wall to keep them out? Or simply continue bombing them in their own countries? Will we continue to extort money from the Citizens in order to finance our wars of aggression all over the world? Or will we extort money to build a high-speed coast-to-coast monorail that only stops at national monuments and runs on cheese fumes?
There was a debate once. To this day I’m not sure how it slipped through, but eight years ago, one of the Republican presidential candidates stepped across the line of acceptable discourse and challenged the Status Quo at its heart. He challenged the very mainstream - and very “reasonable” - view that the U.S. military had every right to violently intervene in other countries all over the world. Worse, he uttered the unthinkable: That the reason foreign terrorists had attacked our country on 9/11 was because our government had been attacking theirs for decades.
The Status Quo responded the way the Status Quo always responds when anyone so much as pokes a finger over the line that separates those things that may be questioned from those things that may not: With ridicule. And when that didn’t work, it responded by manipulating and even breaking its own rules to ensure that the man who asked the Bad Questions had no chance of ever becoming the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. And it’s a good thing for that man that it worked, and that the Status Quo was able to stop there.
That was eight years ago, and it was the last time anything of any significance came of a presidential debate in this country: A liberty movement was born - one that is still alive, and one that may actually help to change things for the better.
But not today. And certainly not last night. Last night, a whole bunch of people gathered around their TV screens and their computer monitors and they chose sides and they screamed and yelled the way people do when they watch their Sports Games. Many of them opined that the other side’s candidate wasn’t qualified to head the Total State - and they meant it as a bad thing.
Many of those who watched, I’m guessing, came away even more convinced that THIS TIME ESPECIALLY it is so very important to vote. If not to get the right person in office, then to keep the wrong one out. Many of them, I’m sure, went to bed determined to vote harder than they ever had voted in the past. Because this time it was So Damned Important.
And I just don’t even know what to say.
Because the things that need to be debated aren’t. And the people who most need to listen won’t. It is no longer hyperbole to say that we live in a police state: Every week brings us a new installment in the serial tragedy of police officers murdering people who are not violent and who pose no threat to them and who most likely the police had no legitimate business interacting with in the first place; Every week another officer is acquitted of all charges - if indeed charges have even been filed - for a nearly identical incident; Our country has the highest per-capita prison population in the world - beating out dictatorships like China and possibly even the former Soviet Union; A great many of the people wasting away in prison are not guilty of any crime in the real sense of the word - you know, the kind where there are victims; Oh and yes, there are special, very scary prisons for political prisoners.
I could go on about all the things that, without even having seen it, I can guarantee weren’t up for debate in the debate: Ending our government’s military aggressions overseas; Freeing up the healthcare industry so that people can choose the treatments they want (or DON’T want), allowing competition in that market so we can stop mortgaging our homes every time we get sick; Ending, once and for all, the idiotic, deadly and destructive War on Drugs and the Prison-Industrial Complex that accompanies it…
I could go on, and on, and on, about all the things that desperately need addressing, solutions that desperately need to be considered, but won’t be. Because in the world of politics, the only solutions that make it to the table of Things We Get to Talk About, are solutions that involve more politics, not less - more of the counterproductive meddling that nine times out of ten caused the problem in the first place: More intervention in our economic affairs and personal choices, more government funding, more favors, more back scratching, more regulation, more laws to be broken and more “lawbreakers” to fill the prisons - never less. Because less politicking isn’t what keeps the politicians and their buddies fed.
Which is why voting - appealing to politicians to fix these problems - is not going to produce solutions. It’s just not how this particular game works. The way this particular game works is that things happen when they benefit politicians and their cronies. Things don’t happen because it makes a lot of sense that they should happen, or because we can see from history that they have worked well in the past. The only things that happen are those things that feed the people who feed the politicians. To paraphrase Emma Goldman: If voting were going to change any of the things that need changing, it wouldn’t be getting pimped all over national television as the most important thing the average Citizen can do to Make a Difference.
Voting for politicians is not the way to make a difference*. It is not a way of exercising power over one’s government. Voting is a way to make people feel as if they are making a difference and a way to redirect some of the energy that might in fact have gone into making a difference. If people think they are making a difference by choosing between options selected for them by someone else, then they are less motivated to seek ways to actually make a difference. It keeps people content, satisfied that they are doing what they can, when in fact all they are doing is granting legitimacy to a system that will crush them if they get in its way.
What Edward Snowden did is how citizens exercise power over their government. What Chealsea Manning did is. What Ross Ulbricht did is. It is worth noting that the people who actually do exercise power over their government don’t end up doing so well at the hands of their government.
I didn’t watch the debate last night, but I can tell you who won: The Total State won - one shade of it or another. And I can tell you who will win the election in November: The Total State is going to win that too. And anyone who believes that voting is going to change that either doesn’t understand the nature of the problems we face, or isn’t familiar with how this particular game is played.
There are those who believe it is “cynical” not to believe in voting. But it’s no more cynical than not believing you can use nitric acid to bake a nice cake. It’s just the wrong tool. And there’s nothing cynical about recognizing that.
*I feel compelled to make the distinction between voting for candidates and voting on local referenda - the latter can and has been used to make some steps for increased liberty, not least of which is the decriminalization of marijuana. For more about this kind of thing, see the heroes over at the Tenth Amendment Center.