(1) If you were stuck in a prison camp, and the guards let you vote on whether you were to have gruel or prime rib for dinner, would you be “consenting to the system” to vote for prime rib, or would you simply be doing the best you could under the circumstances to improve your material condition? (I owe this argument to someone but can’t remember where I got it from. Roderick Long, maybe?)
(2) Many Americans won’t consider even listening to a point of view that barely registers on the political radar screen. Whether out of intellectual laziness, cowardice, whatever, they just won’t. So it hurts us if Ron Paul gets 1% of the vote. But if he gets solid double digits, those people who might be faint of heart might realize they aren’t totally alone in supporting him, and will be more willing to do so. Yes, this is ridiculous and unjust, but that’s how it is. That’s why I think it hurts the cause of the free society not to vote for Ron Paul.
Before I begin, I want to make the following clear:
- I like Tom Woods, as a thinker at the very least and as a person I would like to think (I don't know him personally so I can't know for sure)
- Ron Paul is alright (by this, I mean, this is not a Ron Paul hit-piece, nor is it a Ron Paul-support piece-- this might seem hard to conceive given the subject matter but I don't think Ron Paul should have anything to do with this but rather it should be the principles, not the person, that guide our conclusions in this matter)
- My aim overall here is to further the thought experiment, not start an argument or attempt to draw blood
With that, my response...
In regards to the first point, I enjoyed the metaphor but I think it misses the point. It accepts the prison conditions as given. The reason the (average) anarchist doesn't vote and suggests others do the same, or not do the same depending on your perspective, is because the anarchist believes that voting is one of the means by which the political elite arrive at the desired ends of imprisoning all of us.
In effect, the prison conditions are not a given. They are a choice. And they are chosen, in part, by voting. Voting is the means by which the great mass of people are deluded into thinking there should rightfully be someone else above them wielding the kind of power the voted-for politician wields. Voting is not, as Tom Woods characterizes it, the means by which the already imprisoned choose gruel over prime rib.
This is tangential to this point but, I am not sure why a person would endeavor to give his prisoner a choice over gruel and prime rib when he's gone to the trouble to imprison him in the first place. Maybe he's just that sadistic? The assumption, however, is that the political elite have designed a system which is most beneficial to them and that life is not a video game where you figure out the one weakness the "boss" had control over engineering yet left open for you, the player, to strike, and to strike mercilessly, in this case that weakness being voting. If voting really offers us the choice between gruel and prime rib, we have to assume that the people in charge of the political process left us this choice on purpose, in which case making the choice serves their purposes, or by accident, in which case they made a serious blunder that they have yet to figure out the danger of after hundreds of years of experience with this particular form of imprisonment.
In short, the prison is not a given, or rather, it doesn't have to be. If it is, what are we bothering about trying to get out of it for? We're stuck.
With regards to Mr. Woods's second argument, I can't say too much other than that I am uneasy with the consequentialist tone of it. Liberty should not and can not be built on the logical edifice of consequentialism-- it is an intellectual foundation known to be lacking in affirmative, lasting architectural support.
It seems rather simplistic, as well. This is it? The reason Ron Paul and the ideas of liberty are unpalatable to the average person is because of a series of accidents of history which resulted in the current political "dichotomy" being mainstream while Ron Paul-libertarianism is not? People won't vote for it, because people won't vote for it, and people won't vote for it because people won't hear of it, and people won't hear of it because people won't vote for it? Somehow communists and other radical programs get on the ballot and get into the public consciousness in other societies and at other points in time whereas before achieving these relative states of awareness they had none, but somehow this is a limiting factor for these ideologies only in the American political system?
I can't help but wonder if there isn't a little bit more to the equation than that, as tantalizing as the potential consequence of action here may be?
Those are my few thoughts on Mr. Woods's, for the time being. And in the meantime I'd like to plant seed for a future tree of debate, a sapling which hopefully will be watered by Mr. Woods himself in due time, that being:
- If we were not to vote for Ron Paul (because he didn't exist or were no longer interested in running for office), then who?
- And if the answer is, "Nobody", then why? (That is, why is Ron Paul uniquely qualified for compromise in this regard.)
- And furthermore, if not Ron Paul and if not anybody else, then what? (What could and should we all do in the absence of a qualified candidate worthy of our vote, anarchist and non-anarchist alike?)
The answer or answers to the last question is or are potentially most interesting to a person of my disposition, as the time to engage in such strategies is afforded at all present moments, not just those corresponding to the willful candidacy of a "Ron Paul", and, I would like to think, being derived from something more closely resembling a set of eternal and immutable principles rather than contemporaneous consequentialism, has the highest potential of being something which is a verifiable truth. I find most comfort and most success in the truth because the truth is intimately connected to reality and furthermore, as it was said, "The moral is the practical", so I like to begin there whenever I can.
I invite further comment from ladies and gentlemen alike, especially and most hopefully from gentleman scholars such as Mr. Woods.