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[liberationtech] Freedom in the face of power and a vanishing vote

Michael Allan mike at
Thu Sep 22 11:37:47 PDT 2011

Dear all,

I'm posting to ask if anyone has heard an argument like the following.
I know that the rationality of voting is sometimes questioned from an
economic standpoint of cost and benefit [1], but I never before heard
an argument that puts that benefit at exactly zero, or draws the moral
conclusions with regard to individual freedom and the legitimacy of
state power and laws. [2]

   I used to believe that I was free because I lived in a democracy
   and had a vote; but the truth is, I have no political freedom at
   all.  Whether I vote or not, and regardless of who I vote for:

     (a) the candidates are chosen ahead of time, and I have no
         influence over the choice;
     (b) the course of the election is unaffected by my vote;
     (c) the outcome is the same, regardless;
     (d) state power is unaffected; and
     (e) the laws are unaffected.

   If I disobey (d) state power or (e) the laws, then I am brought
   into submission by force.  The powers that affect me are unaffected
   by any comparable power of mine.  In regard to my political
   freedom, I might as well live in China or Saudi Arabia.
   Disobedience is my only freedom, and yet the cost of exercising it
   is physical confinement or worse.  In this regard, it follows that
   I am a slave.

   By a corollary, state power and laws have no moral authority or
   legitimacy.  In embodying a disregard for my liberty, which is the
   most fundamental of human rights, they forfeit any claim to
   reciprocal recognition.

The conclusions are difficult to swallow.  But the argument as a whole
seems solid, and I think this comes from its rigid focus on the
individual.  Has anyone heard this argument before?

  [1] Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.  2005.  Why Vote?  A
      Swiss Turnout-Boosting Experiment.  New York Times.  November 6.

  [2] The argument was developed in these discussion posts:

      It continues in these (which are temporarily inaccessible):
      (see Writing a charter)

Michael Allan

Toronto, +1 416-699-9528

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