Abstention is Still a Choice: The Power of Negative Voting

Abstention is Still a Choice: The Power of Negative Voting October 31, 2012

Atheists go nuts when they stand accused of believing in something, despite their unbelief in the existence of God. Theists usually make this accusation in a simplistic, easy, and clumsy way, deserving all the distain that atheists have for it and more.

But there is another way into this argument that ought to disturb atheists and theists alike: negative theology. The dark, apophatic path to God.

Hold that thought.

Alongside this thread, there is another conversation going on. Have you heard? An election looms thick and heavy and close. We can almost touch it. Early voters already have had their foretaste.

I just wrote about the nihilism inherent in the popular idea that one must vote, no matter what, regardless of who one votes for. The whole “the only wrong choice is not to vote” bit of nonsense. That was a total, and perhaps too hasty, apophatic denial on my part. There is also room for a perhaps more constructive version of the same, negative approach: abstentionism, negative voting.

Everyone knows that there are more than two options in every legitimate parliamentary or democratic election, regardless of the “choice” being made: yea, nay, and abstain. There is nothing new about this, abstention was not invented recently — so why is it abused by the sanctimonious, “I Voted Today” election-nihilists as the only wrong choice? Imagine a meeting where a vote comes around and the parliamentarian declares that no one is allowed to abstain. It would completely undermine the integrity of the process!

Why is “abstain” not an option on our ballots? Why is the act of abstention not honored as a choice equivalent to the yeas and nays?

The silence on abstention reveals part of the bankrupt process and system behind our national elections. It rings a clear, hollow, and defensive note. It is necessary though. If voter turn-out is low, if people abstain from the polls, the entire structure becomes questionable. Democracy and modernity itself are put on referendum through the act of inaction.

Yea and Nay votes declare the same thing: total buy-in. Abstention is not absence in the strictest, ontological sense. In fact, it is in many ways more present and threatening than the other two. In the act of abstention there is a denial of the option itself, a rejection of the false binary, a negative affirmation of something else that is being left out.

In truth, there are only two options: to vote or not to vote. No matter who you vote for, you are also affirming the structure of the vote. Romney and Obama and third-party votes all count as a single “Amen.” If you choose not to choose, if you abstain, you are voting against the vote itself. You are displaying a far more subversive political possibility: the exception. The power that only wins through total defeat.

Consider more than the nihilism of idiotic, sentimental outcries begging you to vote. This is a mendicant and beggarly voice that is easily dismissed. What’s next? Vote through abstention. Cast your vote against voting through the vote of not voting — the option that no one seems to be talking about. The silence that tells us something very disturbing about the insecure state about the politics of our modern way of life.

Back to atheism:

The problem with atheism nowadays is not that it denies the existence of God. No. Of course they don’t! The root problem with the scientistic, moralizing atheism de jour is that it mimics the most shallow pieties of its theistic counterparts. Together, they spin into a pissing-match so rancid, it leaves the false impression that everything is rotten. Both sides take all the oxygen in the room. They force everyone to become atheists or a theists, without exception.

The truth is that todays atheists and theists are kindred spirits, slow-dancing their way to the polls arm in arm, whistling a singularly pleasant, apocalyptic song in the key of IBM.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!