WHY I 'STILL' WON'T VOTE IN THE AMERICAN
INTRO: This is a 2009 reposting of an email that I wrote to John Perry Barlow in 1996. I reread it again as I pondered the Obama administration and wanted to post it - mostly to goad
my mom as, after 13 years, my opinion has not changed all that much, but also, especially as
I have been away from the US for more than a decade, I wanted to hear what other people
were thinking on the subject of American politics and Third Wave Society and whether
Obama could make a difference.
I’m now posting it again in 2013 because I watched the Russell brand interview and it
reminded me of the position: http://gawker.com/russell-brand-may-have-started-a-revolutionlast-night-1451318185
WHY I AM NOT GOING TO VOTE IN ‘96
A Response to John Perry Barlow's Article in WIRED:
John Perry Barlow wrote:
"I would like to hear what going all the way would have looked like. What should I
Selena Sol responds:
It was in late August that I attended my annual mother's-side family reunion in New Jersey.
My maternal relatives are a motley of intellectually aggressive, atheist, socialist Jews. Some
of the males of the oldest generation fought in the Spanish Civil War and all, young and old,
have been active in the labour movement and active in other left wing political campaigns.
Political junkies all!
As you might imagine, the upcoming presidential campaign was a hot topic.
I remained silent and listened to the wonderful tapestry of political philosophy that was
woven for me, as it is every year - until, they asked me for my opinion. I said that I had
decided not to vote at all.
It is a comical scene to watch a dozen septuagenarians triple take at once.
The debate ensued. Me against the entire room. The chorus tried all of the usual tactics used
to re-indoctrinate all the Political Science undergraduate sophomores who have been slapped
in the face and disillusioned by the real American Democracy.
Even if the parties are similar, the appointment of supreme court justices makes the vote
worth it.... Voting is symbolically important... your vote can affect the votes of others in a
positive feedback snowball effect... we can "use" the present political process to achieve our
revolutionary goals... etc.... I know you know these.
No, I said. You are debating about how to dress up a corpse. It's all a morbid spectacle. The
American Democratic political system is an anachronism. We (1940-2012) are living through
a period of intense cultural transformation equivalent to the move from Hunter/Gatherer to
Agriculture or from Agriculture to Industry. We are witnessing the birth of Cyberia.
(More likely, the birth of a new, sentient, post-sapiens, life-form: the "Hive", the
"Gaia", the "Network")
In this era, industrial-age institutions like the nation state, democracy, individualism, privacy,
intellectual property, the atomic family, the academy, and especially political parties and their
platforms are all meaningless. Or, in your words, "The political system we've got is too
tangled in the parasitic undergrowth of the last two centuries to process or understand what is
being created for the century to come."
In fact, the institutions (governmental, academic, economic) are probably more than just
vestigial, they are probably dangerous.
(Dangerous to the continuation of homo-sapiens. I don't think the hive much cares.
Gaia will continue with or without us. I am worried for homo-sapiens)
The reason they are dangerous is that the longer we focus ourselves on them, the greater we
increase the level of violence spawned by the inevitable evolution beyond them.
(Very few of my relatives accept this "radical evolution" stuff, so the debate was
mainly an exercise talking past each other. I only include it here because I think you
will at least entertain the idea since you are quoted in every damn book I read and
since it is an important foundation underpinning my decision to not vote)
IMHO, There is nothing which will prevent a violent transition from industry to information.
There has never been a social transformation on this level throughout all of history across
cultures without great violence.
Though I do not believe in laws of nature, if there was one, it would certainly be that
institutions (structures, bodies, societies) will go down fighting. It seems odd to think that this
one will be any different.
In your words, "There you have it. From the netizens point of view, it comes down to a
choice of enemies...We behold here the opening phase of a deep conflict between two
societies.....It [industrial society] knows its own morbidity and is trying to erect a fortress of
control while it still has an army to do it with. That which can no longer be held by popular
consensus must soon be held by force."
So, to be very clear, I make two assumptions going into this election season.
The environment has changed and old institutions are COMPLETELY (not sort've,
not mostly, but completely) inappropriate.
Those institutions WILL go down fighting.
Which leads me to my decision not to vote.
I will not contribute to the dead system in any way because I feel that any contribution
will increase the violence inflicted later (even to the point that it might "cripple" the
emerging cyberian system) and because any participation is demeaning to both Cyberia
as well as industrialism. I will not vote.
It seems to me that the longer one patronizes the old, the worse the eventual separation is and
the less profound and revolutionary the new, tainted as it will be with the crimson of the war
against the old.
I would repeat what I said before.
The more we hasten the demise of western industrialism the easier the transition will be. It is
like a love affair that has been over for a year but which has been continually resuscitated by
the two ex-lovers who fear the pain of ending. Such a relationship decays into a disgusting
morass of pain and suffering which is a greater evil than a quick and mature break up. I seek
a mature and rapid break up with western industrial society.
(By the way, I fully accept the wisdom and relevance of compromise and the benefit
of working within the system. Such methods are very appropriate during the
consolidation and maturation phases of the life cycle of any social technology like a
government. It is appropriate within its sphere like Newtonian physics is appropriate
if you are playing pool. But we are not in a consolidation or maturation phase. We are
in a transformative or quantum phase and those methods are weak and impotent)
Worse yet, the sour break up that we allow ourselves now can have drastic negative affects
on future relationships (to beat the metaphor into oblivion). If we are truly in the period of
initial conditions of the emergence of a new social system, then "sensitive dependence" is
dramatically powerful. That is, how we choose to act now whether it is with morality and
strength or fear and self-doubt, will deeply shape the emergent creature springing forth.
Compromise and realism are appropriate sometimes, idealism and action are appropriate at
Let me also be very specific about what I mean by violence. There is no doubt in my mind
that we will see an intense sweep of Fascism in the next 20 years. I accept Robert Reich's
arguments about the division of the classes and society's inability to deal with global systems
with local institutions and that as long as we try, we will intensify that gap.
That is, no matter what, whether Clinton or Dole wins this year, we will see a Fascist US
within my lifetime. My vote is utterly meaningless even if I were playing the game. In my
mind, there is "one", bad, conclusion to this story regardless of the specific plot we come up
with to fill the body.
However, I believe that the duration of the Fascist regime will be proportional to the length of
time that we allow the old institutions to arm themselves, to prepare themselves and to
dominate us. Cybernetic systems, like societies, are sensitive to negative feedback and
imbalance impacts directly on the swing to the other side.
(More than just causing a more drastic swing, there is also the possibility that by
grasping onto the old we will affect a devastating "positive" feedback cycle which
will destroy the system altogether. I know, that is far-fetched, but hell.)
Don't get me wrong. I am no militia member or anything. I am not going to bomb the capital.
I just won't associate myself with it. I consider myself more a disciple of Ghandi rather than
Randy Weaver. I will simply, actively disobey.
(Disobeying industrial society means a lot of things of course. Many of those will hurt
me physically, economically, or socially. For example, I will not claim intellectual
property for anything I produce and have not for many years. I also do my utmost to
push myself to reject privacy and open myself to the web, however difficult that may
be. Many others I may even be incapable of disobeying because of my social
conditioning like privacy as above, like true love, like individualism.)
But as far as voting is concerned, I do not consider myself an American anymore. I do not
consider myself a democrat. I do not even consider myself a self. I am a Cyberian,
(A label which I tragically will never understand, having been indoctrinated all these
years by the old system. I consider my generation minus two plus one to be the tragic
figures of history caught between worlds not belonging to either)
I do not owe allegiance or support to industrial institutions and I will not demean myself or
those beautifully constructed systems by pretending that I am.
I will not vote.
In the end, none of my relatives were convinced, though they could not sway me either.
So when I saw your article in the September issue of WIRED I dropped everything and
intently read the text which I knew from previous experience would be a distillation of my
own embarrassingly rough intuitions in the form of a beautiful, poetic crystallization of sense
It started out with the question I had asked myself and had failed to answer satisfactorily.
"Should the netizen bother to vote? If so, for whom and on what basis?"
I continued to be impressed with your build even though I thought the whole TV thing was
not powerfully supportive of your point (it almost seemed like two essays mixed together).
Until the end.
You said, "The bottom line: We still have to bide our time...That doesn't mean we should turn
our backs on [the political system]. I do think we should vote..."
WHAT!!!!! How could you say that?! How could you undermine the entire system and then
say that we should participate anyway?! How could you spend ONLY three paragraphs of a
four page article actually answering the question asked in the first paragraph?! Like I said, I
felt cheated, like the guy in the line who is volunteered by everyone stepping one step
backwards on either side of him. But I still liked the article a lot. :)