The case for spoiling my ballot

I have never cared more about the general election than this time round.

To date, I have only actually voted once.  Up until the last general election, I stayed at home, not feeling compelled to join in, but nothing deeper than that.  Last elections I did cast a vote, a kind of “anything but those last bastards” kind of vote.  I was surprised at the sense of betrayal I immediately felt – self-betrayal at first, like I had just participated in something unsavoury.  Then as time progressed, a betrayal of the people and places and beings that suffer directly at the hands of the system I had validated.  Staying at home feels too passive to me, so I’m exploring the option of deliberately spoiling my ballot.

“People fought and died so you can vote.” “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”  These common comments are part of our conditioning, to heap ridicule and suppression on the disobedient.  They serve to create the illusion that not only is the current system the only one that is right, it is the only one there ever can be.  So the only question for such people can be how to participate inside the matrix – and so the only question is ‘who do I vote for?’

I saw a McDonalds billboard advert the other week when I went to London: a huge image of a Big Mac, entitled “The gherkin debate”.  Mainstream culture does not wish to discuss animal welfare, habitat destruction or obesity.  No, we shall focus on the gherkin instead.

gherkin debateIn a similar way, the whole political debate is about the surface and never about the roots, about policies and parties rather than about regimes.  Self-serving institutions would never allow their existence to be morally challenged – that would make no sense (such challengers would be labelled terrorists).  Those in control are just fine with the way things are – accept this or you do not belong.  So the debate sticks to the surface, between people who usually seem nice and usually are nice; they as individuals are not the problem.

WW2 soldiers most likely fought against the idea of oppression (unless they were forced by their country to fight and had no choice).  I doubt anyone fought for a system (an enduring system, not a particular leader or government) that sells over £12bn in arms to known repressive states.  Or one that knowingly accelerates towards known emissions limits.  Or one that, by design, enriches its top 5% at the expense of the 95%.  This is something to act against daily, regardless of whether a brainwashing voting ritual is entered into every 4 years.  Why would I vote for that?  Non-participation in something filthy is the most important first step, surely.

Fracking, TTIP, tax evasion, expenses, climate change denial… have you ever looked up for a moment from whatever unsustainable device you’re holding, grabbed a handful of your hair and shouted “Hang on a minute, what the FUCK is going on?”  The official debate excludes the most critical conversations – the roots are left outside the realm of discussion, in the same way an organisation excludes “external costs” like pollution and social consequences from its accounting practices.  In this way, all are free to believe the system actually works.  This orthodoxy is morally outrageous – and increasingly, as the truth becomes more difficult to obscure, so is the act of legitimising the orthodoxy.

The Greens might express a similar outrage, but they are powerless to change it if they choose to act through a system that is deeply conflicted against making fundamental changes.  But it’s great that they are giving it a go; each to their own, right?  At least they’re trying to get past the gherkin layer.

You can’t vote for change anyway, as the change lies outside the borders of where voting operates.  Change lies in the wilderness, on the margins, beyond the current viewpoint.  As in stories like Parzival, Jesus, Theseus or Dorothy in Oz, to have any chance of finding the truth, every person must disengage from orthodoxy and the immediate issues of livelihood, acknowledge ignorance, surround oneself with possibility, and return to the community with a more whole vision.

Return to the community.  The whole issue of voting-democracy is itself merely scratching the surface.  A spoiled ballot is merely symbolic, not any real action.  Real action lies away from national orthodoxy.  Until recently, the only viable way for humans, and still for every other organism, to live was through subsistence (the way of Enough rather than Growth), and through resilient communities (as being subsistent and alone usually means death), and through the absence of superstructures, apart from the governing laws of nature.

Rather than a grounding, ancient, nature-based ethos, I instead have shopping and business and competitive self-advancement.  And while my head is kept looking down, the system I am pressured to vote for and legitimise promotes the National Interest through business deals and arms deals under an insane growth agenda.

Baby steps can only be taken towards a sustainable, subsistence, community-led way of living – or whatever other system real democracy chooses, that does not eat the future.  But the first step, surely, is to actively withdraw participation in a system that does.


2 comments on “The case for spoiling my ballot
  1. Natasha says:

    I am very torn about this topic Mr Packe… to vote or not to vote. In recent months I have been erring towards voting – I am particularly heartened to see the vote swapping sites. But a rock and a hard place come to mind. None of the main parties represent my values and cares – particularly around the environment and supporting alternative ways to live in the UK. I wonder which is the most effective action or non-action to take and whether actually neither really matters and I should just carry on passing the flame on the ground as best I can.

    a big furry bear hug to you, Natasha x

  2. Abbie says:

    I have come back to your post here time and time again and have wrestled about whether or not to write a response, but I decided that yes I would! I cannot deny that in this post, I am not only trying to persuade you to agree with me but possibly to put yourself up as a candidate in the next election… expect the following to contain mixed metaphors, some contradictions, enthusiasm and much love.

    I am with you on the frustration and irritation with the current political system. I do not support the way it is run, the method of representation, the ingrained rich-white-maleness of the whole thing, the undercurrents of big-business- everything that you’ve said.

    But I strongly disagree not voting and disagree with spoiling your ballot.

    In reality we are a tiny part of a huge, complex social organism but we are very attached to the importance of our little lifetimes and expect change to come at the speed at which we live and maybe over-estimate the importance of our individual beliefs and annoyances. We can effect change (even if painfully slow) through voting. Whilst a vote for the underdog in the 1st past the post system may not change our MP, it may contribute to a growing movement and awareness of an alternative viewpoint. If the Greens (for example) get large proportion of the vote (even if they only get one MP), the story begins to change and once the story has changed enough, change will come. But we have had hundreds of years of this system – it’s not going to die quickly. Contribute to the story and it might just help change things long term, even if no change is apparent by May 8th 2015.

    The advertisers get it wrong when they try to persuade us to vote by forcing it down our throat that our individual vote will change everything. They sell it to us in the same way that they sell us hair dye or weight watchers – they tell us to vote to see immediate results. Our vote will not get us instant results. That Slimming Pill will not make us lose 10 stone in the blink of an eye. These things take time and hard work. Think of the current political situation as an overweight child who only understands the immediate satisfaction and comfort of gratifying junk food. Their behaviour will not change over night, but to walk away from that child will be to leave them to their demise. What’s really exciting now, is that there are new ways of engaging that child (am I getting carried away with this metaphor yet??) to educate them about the truth of their actions – the internet and mass media has its downsides but it has helped thousands of people engage with issues that matter. Now, more than ever, the proportional results will be broadcast and they will make a difference to the story the country is telling.

    Voting matters. Not voting doesn’t matter – it is simply opting out of something but not opting in to something else. The people who did not vote last year would have changed the story today. I truly believe in engaging, even when things seem hopeless. The wonderful hermits and ascetic lifestyles that feature in many stories have wisdoms to teach the Great Human Organism if they engage, at some point, with society even if their beliefs drove them out of that society.

    I can’t say I agree with you that reminding people of what it means to have a vote is wrong. Within the last 100 years, women have died because they put themselves in danger to ensure women could be a part of the system. As a result of opening up the vote, women and children’s lives have improved massively. Even if my vote means less than I wish it to, it still means something because of the story and stream of history that I stand in as I cast my vote.

    Up to this point, spoiling a ballot fits as an acceptable alternative. If you don’t agree with Green Party stuff then a spoiled ballot registers a protest to the options available. It means you are engaging with the system and possibly (if enough people spoil) that the toxicity will rise in the current-system-political-beast and it will die quicker than hoped.

    But I still don’t agree with spoiling ballots.

    I work in the public sector, specifically with teens with special educational needs. They all have social workers and many are in care or adopted. They all have incredibly complex needs and will find day-to-day socialising and education very challenging. These children are dependent on the system – without it they would be in even deeper waters than they are already forced to navigate. Who is in government, locally and nationally, immediately affects their lives and well-being. My sister is a social worker and her clients are dependent on the system; dementia patients who are directly affected by the government’s policies. I might not like the system, but I won’t turn my back on it because so many people are enmeshed (positively and negatively) within its net.

    So I’m going to use your phrase (which I whole-heartedly agree with): Return to the Local – what does your community need that the system can provide or stop providing? Which candidate is most likely to respond to the needs of the community? Meet them, chat to them and make up your mind whose voice is most valuable in Commons debate. It might just be their voice in a key debate that sways the last few ‘ays’ in the direction of more funding for youth services or increased spending on dementia research. We will have a strange, chequered parliament debating issues for the next 5 years – it’s time to get voices in there to keep if not all of the issues we believe in, then at least some of the causes we believe in on track. There are millions of people out there who do not have the choice to opt-out of the system; what could spoiled ballots or missed votes mean to children in care in local schools? Someone will be getting into power and I cannot go into work and look my students in the eye if I haven’t at least tried to get rid of the local MP fighting for them to lose their funding. I spend my time convincing them to try in the face of continued failure (whether it’s their grammar or their continued attempts to engage appropriately with their peers)so even if it is painful and frustrating, shouldn’t I do the same? It is much more painful for them to try to spell than it is for me to vote and my preferred candidate lose.

    For the first time in my life, I have joined a political party (can you guess which!!). Their policies aren’t all perfect, but they are offering a genuine alternative (whether the public are prepared to change is another issue)and I want to do what I can to support this new green shoot growing in the polluted brownfield of politics. Although I won’t be standing for election myself, if there had been no viable candidates I hope I would have stood up to the mark (nature abhors a void and all that). If there is no-one in your locality you can believe in to contribute a valuable, life-changing voice to debates in the commons, then why not stand?

    We walk through this life on a tightrope paradox between two eternal truths – the universe was made for us and we are a tiny grain of sand on an eternal shore. It is a spiritual and social truth. One man’s voice might count for little in the vast world of politics, but one man’s voice is all that is needed to bring that world to its knees.

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