Doing something is unlikely to work but not doing anything definitely doesn’t work.
Ancient Greeks had a point. In ancient Athens they regularly voted against the most unpopular/dangerous politician and he got temporarily banished from the city state. It wasn’t a vote in support of a beloved candidate. It was a vote of disliking.
I am not going to argue that we should start practicing ostracism. In real life, and in political units larger than a city state, it would give a pass to the greyest, least visible thieves, the sneakiest bastards in politics – while the more visible politicians would get a lot of votes against them simply because they are more visible.
But there is something to notice here. Ostracism is the practice of voting against someone. Today’s elections, on the other hand, are framed as votes in support of candidates.
But that doesn’t make it possible.
Arguably, voting against something that we know right now is a more grounded vote than voting to support something we do not know – like a challenger candidate. General elections should be interpreted as referendums against the incumbent government, especially in non-two-party systems, rather than a support vote for either side. At any rate, being critical is a healthier approach to politicians than supporting them.
The Lesser Evil Argument
There are calls not to vote for the Lesser Evil just to be rid of the Greater Evil because the Lesser Evil is not perfect. Those who are arguing that often do so in support of the actual Greater Evil candidate. But better not say it out loud. Just stop at pointing out the imperfections of the Lesser Evil and leave it at that.
Splitting hairs over the failures of the Lesser Evil candidate distracts from the gigantic failures of the Greater Evil candidate. (There should be a name for this specific type of moral failure, not seeing the greater evil by forcefully focusing on the lesser one.)
The argument not to vote for the Lesser Evil also quietly presupposes that an Angel Candidate also exists somewhere, because that’s when you supposedly have to vote. One must only vote if the Angel manifests itself on the ballot sheet.
It is obviously absurd, but only when you say it out loud. When it is left unsaid, when one argues that the Lesser Evil does not deserve your vote, and lefts it at that, it is easy to forget that no politician is perfect, by definition.*
Every four years we are called to cast our vote of support for a candidate. This presupposes a few things and thus confuses voters. It presupposes that one must support a candidate to vote for him. It also quietly implies that whoever gets into power is supported. None of those are true.
Firstly, voting against the incumbent or not voting against him would make more sense than voting in support of either the incumbent or the challenger. We do not know what the opposition would be doing right now if they were in power, we only know what the incumbent is doing right now.
Secondly, asking to vote in support of candidate makes some people deduce that only a perfect candidate is worthy of their vote (hence the prevalence of the do-not-vote-for-the-Lesser-Evil fallacy). This problem is getting more and more prevalent as divisiveness trumps moderation everywhere.
These false premises manifest themselves in a number of fallacies:*
- That a perfect candidate must exist. It leads to wishful thinking that tries to vote in an angel.
- That no one deserves our vote because no candidate is perfect. It leads to cynical passivity.
The first is the fallacy of true believers who suffer from side-ism (believing that left and right are the only two sets of opinions about the world, the universe and everything – and one is definitely right). Instead of delimiting state power, they agitate to vote their angel in. It is a form of political religion. Irrational and aggressive.
The second is the fallacy of the moderate who is just too pure to cast his vote. The moderate is thus passive and loses.
Both types are a form of virtue signaling. And both are wrong.
Moderates often feel too pure to vote
For one thing, no one is addressing them. But their own, named reasons can be 1) that the election system is jilted towards Fidesz to the point that one Fidesz vote is worth three non-Fidesz votes (true) and 2) that the opposition is unacceptable (also true).
Asking them to vote in support of any of the current opposition parties (or all of them together in the form of a rainbow coalition that includes liberals, lefties and nazis alike) is a tall order. Those parties have either proved to be disastrous and corrupt (12 years ago), or unacceptable in their rhetoric (nazis for liberals and vice versa), or haven’t been in power yet.
When moderates are hanging their smart heads and tell everyone they will not vote because of the above, it is their sense of helplessness talking, arguing that they don’t want to vote rather than admitting that they feel helpless. The problem is that their adopted mode of feigning control (to themselves) compels them to make others to not vote either. After all, what good is to be righteously right and purer than pure if one can’t convince others? Misery loves company – and the sense of helplessness feels less terrible if it is also confirmed by others.
Also, they are lapping up the do-not-vote-for-the-lesser-evil fallacy by ignoring the gigantic failures of the Greater Evil and focus on the imperfections of those who are not in power. It is safer to focus on that.
The problem is, we only have three options.
- Continued Orbánism
- Trying to replace it via unfair elections (and with an incompetent opposition)
- Violent coup
Moderates do not want violence, nor do they want Orbánism to continue. So we are back to square one of the dilemma:
Doing something is unlikely to work but not doing anything definitely doesn’t work.
Naturally, I am arguing to vote for the Lesser Evil. We can only fight one evil at a time and there will never be a time when no evil is presented. And arguably, the evil that is wielding state power is the greatest threat at any given time. Once Orbánism is out, I will be happy to trash the stupidity of the next government, in great detail. That’s a promise. I am actually looking forward to it.
But at the moment, dissecting the programs of those parties that are still naïve enough to publish programs would be nitpicking the lesser wrong and implying that the greater wrong should thus remain in power. Those who publish programs today are actually encouragingly naïve and well-meaning. We need more naïve, and fewer shrewd power-seekers. The ruling Fidesz has not published a program in a decade, so that it can’t be attacked on that basis. We are left with two-word hate slogans and emoji campaigns (literally) to figure out what they (supposedly) believe in. (Nothing. They believe in nothing. They have no principles, only whatever it takes to stay in power.)
Parties that still publish programs are actually more civilized. It is a vague hint of accountability. Analyzing and criticizing their programs would be deeply unfair at the moment, when the fact that they have one is a huge gesture towards us, voters. (Plus, there is barely any chance they could pull off a program as it is, even if they get into power. If nothing else, because they will be in a coalition.)
Voting is not a method that can produce right (or the correct answer). Not least because we will always disagree on what is right. Voting can only produce might and it should be treated as such: a very dangerous thing.
Politics is not about perfection and not about choosing the Perfect Candidate (we don’t choose, we just vote). Everything in politics needs constant checking and control or we won’t remain free for long. Shoot me the day I support an other dude in everything and for ever. Not just in politics, but in philosophy and in life. No one is right all the time and no one remains right forever.
And apologies for the cliché, but if you don’t want to deal with politics, it is still going to deal with you, so we don’t have a choice but to coexist with power-seeking politicians for the time being.
At the moment we have one, huge ostracism to be done. That won’t be a vote of support but some mistakenly regard it as such.
* Wanting to gain power is the definition of wrong and every candidate wants exactly that. The correct answer would be limiting state power so that not even the other side’s Greater Evil candidate could do much damage, but no one is thinking along those lines and this post is not about that.