Thoughts on Voting, Methods of Persuasion, and Bringing About a Free Society

G. Stolyarov II
December 14, 2008
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Here, I offer a continuation of my discussion with Mr. Kyrel Zantonavitch on voting and related issues. For readers who would like to see prior installments of this discussion, I refer them to the following resources:

Why I Voted for a Third-Party Candidate and Why You Should, Too – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Comment (#14) on Mr. Stolyarov’s Video by Kyrel Zantonavitch

On Voting, Dissent, Violence, and the Path to Freedom by G. Stolyarov II

Voting Responsibly and Morally: A Reply to Gennady Stolyarov II by Kyrel Zantonavitch

Mr. Zantonavitch writes that “the issue being discussed — that of voter responsibility — is complex and subtle,” and I agree. I also concur with Mr. Zantonavitch’s statement denying that “the Republicans (my bete noir!) or Democrats are benevolent or well-meaning organizations.” It is correct (and increasingly correct) to state that a large fraction of the Republican Party’s agenda would create a theocracy if implemented, not a limited constitutional government. Particularly disturbing for me is the Republican Party’s increasing willingness to endorse basic individual rights violations – such as torture, random wiretaps, and invasive searches – as well as many of its members’ obsessive desire to integrate church and state. The Democratic Party, of course, has been in the business of growing the size and power government since at least the time of Woodrow Wilson. Both of these parties are a genuine plague on the United States and are responsible for the current political mess. What is worse, they receive special government protections and subsidies while being able to exclude third parties from any real competition by determining the criteria for getting on various ballots.

Mr. Zantonavitch writes:

Altho’ Mr. Stolyarov is generally right to attribute ‘honest error’ and ‘sheer ignorance’ to most of today’s American voters — that is, those who choose to support the two major monster parties in the voting booth — at some point the reality is ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ This means ignorance of Natural Law — or the universal law of Aristotle, Cicero, and others demanding liberty, justice, and individual liberty — is invalid. If you do evil by accidentally championing welfare statism and destroying freedom, you’re still doing political evil. No excuses allowed for advancing slavery on this earth. Get an education, dolt!

While I certainly believe that those who exhibit such political ignorance as to consistently support damaging policies should get an education and reform their views, the key question for me is what would make such an education possible. Currently, many people experience considerable institutional stumbling blocks that obstruct a genuine political education. Consider, for instance, how many people are taught from early childhood in the public schools that government is benevolent and can solve a vast array of social problems. One can expect no less from government-owned and government-funded schools, after all.

Certainly, abundant and excellent information is available in books and on the Internet which can powerfully communicate the value of freedom. The costs of becoming politically enlightened are lower than ever. People such as myself and Mr. Zantonavitch are striving continually to add to the amount of materials that can attract more people to liberty in original ways. However, even a free good will not be consumed by people who do not perceive it to be a good. No matter how many opportunities there are out there for an education in freedom, it is first necessary to convince those who need to be educated that this education is sufficiently attractive and desirable as to overcome all of their predispositions against it. It is important to remember that all of their schooling, culture, upbringing, and peers have inculcated in them false notions about the role of government and even basic cause and effect in society. Many of the people who have been so indoctrinated have genuinely good intentions but pursue means that are completely counterproductive, given their goals. Yet everything in their environment tells them that those means are just the right ones. This phenomenon can be seen as a long-standing, self-reinforcing collective delusion.

Next, then, we should consider what approach would enable people to “snap out” of this collective delusion and begin to seek out information about what approaches to promoting progress, prosperity, and justice actually work and what approaches fail miserably. Mr. Zantonavitch proposes the following approach: “my strategically choosing to openly morally damn them may not ‘alienate’ them, as Mr. Stolyarov imagines, but rather shock them into rethinking their views. My way here may be more direct and efficacious. Maybe the voters, in all their admitted nitwitery and sliminess, deserve more credit.”

My issue with this way is that it only works in one venue – fundamentalist religion. This is the only kind of enterprise that successfully (from its own standpoint) extracts money from people for instilling fear, guilt, remorse, and self-loathing in them and by constantly condemning them as worthless sinners – breaking them down in order to build them back up in its own image. Most people even today, however, are far too smart and self-respecting to embrace this kind of self-abnegation. The more moderate forms of religion today (which are by far dominant in the Western world) are quiet, civilized affairs where people sit down for a few hours every week and listen to someone give a somewhat mistaken but mild and respectful ethical lecture in the name of God.

Whenever the spreading of ideas becomes one’s goal, one necessarily moves from the realm of concepts into the realm of business. Not all business has to involve transfers of money – but all business involves providing some kind of good or service. Certainly, organized religions are businesses, as are political activist movements. The spreading of pro-liberty ideas is likewise a business – where most producers are generous enough not to charge money for their products, but they do hope to get other values in return – such as a change in people’s behaviors and in the overall society for the better.

In most businesses, fundamentalist religion aside, doing anything to displease or shock one’s customer inevitably turns him off. If someone were selling you a toothbrush by alleging that you were immoral or evil for using a competitor’s toothbrush, you would walk away, no questions asked. You would also tell your friends and acquaintances how pushy and obnoxious that particular toothbrush seller is.

In any business, the rules for getting repeat customers are as follows:

1. Never insult your clientele. On the contrary, emphasize the virtues of your customers and attempt to convince them that your product will help them to become still better and to achieve their goals with greater ease.

2. Create a welcoming, respectful atmosphere for a wide variety of customers. You never know exactly who will choose to stick with your product, so try to be as accommodating as possible to anyone – within the bounds of principle.

3. If your product is meant to solve a problem, distance the problem from the customers themselves and assume the best about your customers’ motives. For instance, many ant infestations are likely aggravated by people occasionally carelessly dropping food in places from which it is later difficult to retrieve it. However, services that offer to combat ant infestations do not condemn people for instigating them; they simply provide affordable, functional solutions. As advocates of liberty, our service is to turn around the culture, economy, and political arena so that everyone in the world could live better. To do this, we will need the cooperation or at least the non-intervention of many people. We will not get either by condemning them.

4. In business, it is sometimes possible to instill new tastes and preferences in one’s customers, but this is much more difficult than taking existing tastes and preferences and explaining how one’s own product fulfills them more optimally. Fortunately, the vast majority of people on some level favor wealth over poverty, progress over stagnation, and life over death. I believe that every person has some existing value which can be used to convince him or her of the importance of freedom.

I believe that there are two kinds of what is commonly known as “pride”. The first is the kind that Ayn Rand rightly praised, one’s pride in one’s genuine accomplishments and merits as a human being. This pride can only lead to good. The second kind, however, is more appropriately known as touchiness and is epitomized by the “gentlemen” of past ages who would choose to fight to the death over the slightest insult to their “honor.” This kind of pseudo-pride can only lead to ill, but many people unfortunately still have it to a greater or lesser extent. Dealing with touchy people is like walking through a minefield, and if one attempts to deliberately shock or insult such people, one will make enemies for life. Some of this is inevitable, as even the most civil person with the most generous assumptions about others will still offend someone. But minimizing such effects is desirable; we already have plenty of genuine opposition and do not need to invite more. The only effective way to deal with touchy people is to praise them in whatever areas legitimate praise is deserved and ask them to maybe, possibly consider ideas that they could find attractive if they only looked at them from a certain perspective – again appealing to their virtues in an attempt to get them to adopt such a perspective.

Mr. Zantonavitch writes: “I still tend to think voting is a physical act, not an expressed opinion. It predictably and almost ineluctably creates law which is a power of force.”

However, the results of a vote, no matter how they turn out, do not alter physical reality. All they alter is the perceptions of politicians and other people about how the majority of people want them to behave. Politicians et. al. still have the free will to choose to do otherwise. For instance, if 95% of the people voted to require the President to kill the other 5%, the President could still refuse to carry out their wishes. To do so would be illegal, but it would be supremely moral. I believe that when the results of an unjust vote are implemented, the ultimate blame should be put on the people implementing them, because they had the choice to refuse.

I am glad that Mr. Zantonavitch agrees “that evil actions are properly physically punished, while evil speech is not.” However, I ask him to consider that when people vote for a particular candidate or party, they often do not know what that candidate or party will actually do in the future. Politicians have a tendency to systematically break promises and often to defy the wishes of those who elected them. For instance, who among the voters for George W. Bush in 2000 could have imagined that Bush – who campaigned on a platform of fiscal conservatism and restraint in foreign policy – would start a worldwide “war” on “terror,” turn the federal government from running mild surpluses to running a trillion-dollar deficit, and advocate bailing out anything under the sun? This kind of behavior was not expected from Al Gore, much less George Bush. Most voters never get what they actually wanted when they cast their ballots. Their vote is more akin to a tacit and limitedly conditional moral sanction for the behavior of the candidate they elect. But many of them can (and do) legitimately claim that the behavior of the candidate they elected is the exact opposite of what they intended, at which point they can be accused of repeat stupidity for failing to catch on that this happens regularly in contemporary democracies (although such accusations, again, are not prudent with regard to actually persuading them). But they cannot be accused of deliberately standing behind and advocating everything that deceitful and incompetent politicians do.

I do think that voters who have been misled by politicians for whom they voted should do their best to resist those politicians when they are in office and if those politicians promote legislation contrary to the wishes of their constituents, the constituents should intensely lobby the politicians to do otherwise.

Finally, I would like to respond to Mr. Zantonavitch’s comments that “[t]here may also be a bit of inadvertent pragmatism found in various parts of the different Stolyarov arguments. If so, a strict adherence to principle may be more appropriate, and may be ultimately more practical. We shouldn’t all be held hostage to the lowness of the common man.

Pragmatism to me seems to be the adoption of whatever means seem more expedient at the time they are adopted, without regard for whether those means are consistent with the goals one seeks to accomplish or for clearly defining those goals. If this is pragmatism, then I at least try to stay away from it. My goal – a society free of the initiation of force and populated by prosperous, comfortable, intelligent, industrious, continually progressing, and preferably immortal beings – is highly ambitious and can only be reached by a series of steps over a long period of time. Every step I take should be a step in that direction, not a step away from it. I refuse to accept, for instance, any kind of idea that one must take “one step back in order to take two steps forward later.” However, I do believe that any means that can effectively achieve this goal should be used – provided that the means do not violate the underlying principles behind the goal itself. Some of these principles include the non-initiation of force, the desirability of preserving every innocent individual life, the desirability of continued improvements in technology and standards of living (this is why I would never ask the Atlases of the world to shrug), and my strong personal preference of peaceful and genial persuasion over any kind of conflict or violence.

My own suspicion is that all of us freedom advocates will have to sneak liberty in on the majority of people who would neither understand or appreciate it if it were put up for a general vote. It will take a long time for the majority of people to become sufficiently educated as to understand such ideas as negative rights, constitutionalism, checks and balances, natural law, separation of church and state, monetary theory, the Austrian theory of the business cycle, ethical egoism, and societal heterogeneity as a check on majority oppression – among many others. In the meantime, we who do understand these ideas simply need to work hard to convince whomever we can and maneuver around whomever we cannot. Some of us need to attain positions of prominence in business, the arts, academia, popular culture, and even politics (Ron Paul is an excellent example of this). Using the resources in our disposal, we need to create as many genuine goods – each in our own way – so as to make life more pleasant and prosperous for us primarily but for everyone else secondarily. (I, for one, have gotten into the habit of giving away vast amounts of higher educational materials in exchange for only slight advertising revenue and some reputational gains. This is not an altruistic act on my part; I want to give more people the opportunity to become better informed about a variety of subjects so that they will appreciate the value of knowledge and will be guided by better ideas in making their everyday decisions. This, I expect, will marginally improve the state of the world and may do so dramatically over time – with the benefits trickling down to me.)

If Mr. Zantonavitch, I, and anyone else who wishes to join us create enough real goods for people to enjoy independently of the government, then the very necessity of large, interventionist states will begin to come into question for many people. The reason why so many people today appeal to the state to help them is because genuine inabilities to fulfill many basic human needs – such as shelter, health care, and transportation – still abound, and many economically and politically ignorant people hope that the state can solve these problems. If, without asking permission from anyone, we can find ways to cheaply provide all of these needs without using the government, then most people will begin to demand much less of the government. People voting in undesirable ways is but a symptom of the underlying malaise, which will continue until virtually everyone is prosperous, well-educated, and extremely long-lived. Until then, we must do our best to move the world in such a direction, using to our advantage whatever good things we can find already in existence.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.