Voting is not a right

The next time you hear someone going on about the “right to
vote,” remind them than voting is not a right – it’s a coercive power wielded by
the voting minority over a society.  Rights
denote the extent of action men may take without initiating force against
others.  Voting is force, the power to compel others at the point of a gun.  Media campaigns that attempt to “rock the
vote,” are advocating putting guns in the hands of more people, usually those
least motivated to make informed decisions about whom their ballots target.  The ultimate purpose of the democratic process is to redistribute the moral responsibility of the group with the most guns to the entire electorate.

Voting is the worst kind of political apathy

Most economists agree that from a cost-benefit perspective,
the cost of voting far outweighs any material benefit. For example, in a
presidential election, your vote is one out of 120+ million. Your chance of
casting a tie-breaking vote is infinitesimally small, so small that you could
win million-dollar lottery jackpots
thousands of times before casting a
tie-breaker. This is especially true in states dominated by a single party,
such as Texas, New York, or California. Even in the 2000 Presidential election,
your Florida vote would only have changed Bush’s 537 vote margin to 536 or 538.   Politicians do care about their margin of
victory, but from the perspective of the individual deciding how to best invest
his limited resources, his impact is so infinitesimal that it does not have any
practical value.

Furthermore, even if your candidate does win, all you “win” is a bag of mixed promises
which are not always likely to be kept, and even less likely to be actually
achieved. In the 2006 general elections, the Democrats were sworn into power
due to public discontent with Bush’s policy in Iraq. Despite Democratic
promises and their congressional majority, they have not enacted any of their
promises. Whatever the reason, it is clear that electoral victory alone cannot
guarantee the achievement of campaign promises, and certainly not from their
power as individual politicians. Even the president has relatively limited
power in a democratic system.

Some might argue that if everyone else evaluated voting in this manner, things
might be different.  But the fact is that
people do continue to vote by the tens of millions.

None of this is to say that electoral victories are meaningless
or inconsequential, or that political activism is not important or practical.  Interventionist governments have a tremendous
impact on our lives, and thanks to technologies like the Internet, we have more
opportunities than ever to engage in intellectual and political activism.  However, of all the means we have to
influence the political process, voting is one of the least effective, second perhaps,
to swearing under your breath as you give away half your income to the state.

As a form of political activism, voting is not only ineffective,
but is in fact a form of apathy. The value of any single vote is so
infinitesimal that the sense of self-importance and influence in the political
process that people get from participating in the electoral process is entirely
illusory. Yet the illusion of participation excuses many people from taking
real steps to influence policy by arguing for their ideas, writing letters, or supporting
advocacy organizations.  The people who really
make a difference are those who take far more intellectually challenging and
uncertain measures than punching one of two buttons – they attempt to change
the intellectual and philosophical climate of their society.

If you vote because of the psychological benefit it
provides, such as a feeling of having met one’s patriotic duty, there is
nothing I can say to you.  But if you
actually want to influence the political state of the country (and given that
sad state, that is more crucial now than ever) it would be far more productive
of your time to donate the resources you would have spent researching
candidates, going to the polls, and even donating to candidates in more
efficient ways. 

Washington lobbyists are very expensive, yet they can be
more influential than the votes of millions of individuals, and they will argue
for your cause regardless of which candidate is victorious.  Ultimately however, the fate of any society
is shaped by the fundamental ideas of its intellectuals.  All the votes in the world are meaningless
next to the fundamental ideas about society that shape policymakers actions. 

If you are concerned with the threat of theocracy, your
enemy is not George W. Bush, but the aspiring theocrats teaching the next
generation of policymakers, cashing in on the void left by the destruction of
reason and science by modern philosophy. 
If you are concerned with the threat of the welfare state, your enemy is
not Ted Kennedy, but the intellectuals teaching the next generation of leaders
that they do not have a right to their own life. 

Politicians are rarely capable of coming up with original
ideas – they depend on the intellectual elite of a society for their
initiatives.  As intellectual elite changes,
so do the ideas they feed to politicians.

No such thing as a right to happiness

A recent court ruling awarded a father $11 million due to the
“emotional distress” caused by Wesboro
Baptist Church
members who picketed his son’s funeral.  The
defendant’s attorney presented the case as an issue of free speech.  While the ruling is a violation of rights, supporters
of both sides demonstrate a misunderstanding of rights when they present the
issue as a case of privacy versus freedom of speech.  There is no such thing as a “right” to
privacy, speech, or a certain emotional state. 
Much of the confusion over rights today is due to lack of understanding
of property rights.

Most people understand that there is no absolute right to
“happiness.”  Such a claim would mean
that anyone could turn everyone around them into slaves by demanding their
labor or property in order to be “happy.”  Rights define the actions men make take in a
social context, but do not impose any obligation, except to respect the same
rights of others.  This is why the U.S.
Declaration of Independence declares the right to the pursuit of happiness, not
to happiness itself.

Despite this, democratic governments enforce a “right” to happiness
through the formation of a contradictory set of “fundamental” rights.  By “rights” they mean both freedom from coercion
(negative rights), and “rights” to various goods and services, which are paid
for by coercion (positive rights).  To
clarify: rights include the right to be free from coercion as well as the power
to coerce others.  Democracies hide this contradiction
by the pretence that allowing citizens to participate in elections qualifies as
consent to the coersion.  In fact,
elections only give individual voters a miniscule power to choose the people who
decide who gets to rob whom.  Democracies
are a civil war in which votes are weapons, “positive rights” the cause and public
property is often the battleground. 

All “public” property ultimately benefits individuals.  There is no such thing as a collective mind
or a collective stomach.  “Common
services” like welfare, schools, and parks are consumed by the unemployed, students,
and nature enthusiasts.  In democratic societies,
most of the debate over conflicting “rights” comes from attempts by groups
with conflicting values to use the same public property.  For example, the debate over prayer in schools
exists only because public schools are used by people with conflicting
religious beliefs.  No such issue exists
for private schools – parents simply send their children to schools whose
teachings they find acceptable.  The “right
to privacy” was invented primarily because states started monitoring and interfering
with the consensual behavior of adults.  Likewise,
the need to protect a right to speech is only necessary because people with
conflicting values demand to use the same public spaces to express their ideas.  Over time, the right to speech has come to
mean not just the freedom to express ideas on publicly-owned property, but the
power to regulate private property by forcing property owners to permit or
forbid certain content.  Controls on
speech on private property include “equal time” requirements, censorship of “immoral”
content by the FCC, campaign finance regulations, restrictions of commercial
speech, and laws against “hate speech”
and “hate crimes.”

The solution to the morass of contradictory “rights” is to
re-establish the principle of negative rights – that is, to define rights
solely in terms of property rights (including ownership of one’s own body.)  For example, in the Wesboro Baptist case, the
only relevant question should be –  did
the protester’s actions constitute trespass? 
If the protesters were on cemetery grounds against the owner’s wishes,
or were shouting from a neighboring property, the issue can be handled as a
case of simple trespass.  However to criminalize
merely putting someone in a state of “emotional distress”  criminalizes any speech or action that might
potentially offend someone.    This is nothing less than a right to happiness
– which means the right to use force against anyone to fulfill one’s whims.