This is a post my friend Jeff tried to leave in the comments section under my piece on voting. For some reason the comments section on this blog is not working, so I have re-posted this below:
Well, now it has been a few months, and I am curious on how well your experiment has turned out. As Gillian Rose points out, “we need to take the risk of identity without the security of identity,” which is, I believe, what your existential protest was a form of. Yet what remains after the risk has been taken? Is there anything left after logic and argumentation – after theoretical abstraction? I would like to see a phenomenology of your abstinence. In return I offer one of my own:
I spent a week during my summer with some – albeit, a little queeny – Franciscans. After falling asleep reading Kierkegaard’s Work of Love, I was awoken to some yelling downstairs and a priest knocking at my door, inquiring if I knew any bee sting remedies. I came down to find one of the brothers had been stung after accidently disturbing a wasp nest next to a door. I suggested (rather ignorantly) that they should perhaps try to use some mud to cool the sting. I was somewhat surprised by the over-reaction of frantic Franciscan. He was very shrill and panicked, even for someone who had never been stung by a wasp before. However, amidst his cries, I discerned that the panic was not induce by the physical pain, but the mental: he had no health insurance, and he was afraid he might be allergic to bees. You see I was in the United States, where health care is not as universally offered as it is in Canada. Not having coverage, if the swelling on his arm didn’t stop, it would mean personal bankruptcy, or his death. Luckily it did.
Perhaps it was the mud, or the mustard that the priest mixed into the mud (a home remedy I gathered). Either way I learned a fact that day which had never occurred to me before: how you react to a bee sting might depend on where you were born. Or, said differently, in what political community you find yourself in.
I tell this story to point to what I see as the limitations of your logic. You choose the passivity of not voting (or so I understood) because you wanted to express your discontent with a system you believe has failed, by refusing to recognize it. While I do not disagree with your concern about the limitations of parliamentary democracy, I cannot help but wonder if your alternative expression, your risk, might have been a right step in the wrong direction.
It turns on the question of identity and law. The laws of the political community in which you find yourself have been structured in a way that results in injustice, and indeed, was structured by injustice. You feel alienated by the laws of the political community which you did not make and so you protest it by refusing to negotiate yourself with those laws, by withdrawing yourself from them, and refusing to recognize them. But as Socrates noted, the laws are what give you birth, what develop your agency. Your very ability to reject the laws is predicated upon the existence of the laws in the first place. In other words, and to invoke Rose again, I fail to see how your response is not a form of “despairing rationalism without reason.”
Criticism of parliamentary democracy and its role in liberal capitalism is not a bad thing and is very much in need. But that criticism cannot be based out of a refusal to negotiate one’s identity with the law – that is just an attempt to grope towards a New Jerusalem which doesn’t actually exist and cannot be brought into being.
Its also one sided. As Hegel might have pointed out, the cornerstone of the social and economic laws which structure our society are founded not on parliamentary democracy, but bourgeois property ownership. A radical rejection of the liberal capitalist system would begin in renouncing one’s private property, not merely refusing to mark a ballot; that doesn’t actually cost you anything. However, as we both know, this requires a kind of political commitment which challenges most us far too deeply, so we leave that for the Franciscans.
And as that Franciscan, who had radically renounced his private property (including health insurance) might have realized, not being faced with a decision between bankruptcy and death because of a bee sting – a social, economic, and political luxury that only came about through the hard work of negotiating with the laws – is a reality we in Canada can take for granted.
Just because change in which political party happens to be ruling will feel marginal at best, does not make it true.