With the presidential election coming later this year, and one that I might not vote in, I thought it was an appropriate time to respond to a criticism I’ve received in the past but never answered adequately.
“If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”
Here are three reasons why I think that’s wrong:
1. An individual vote doesn’t matter.
In 2012, the United States had 129 million people turn out to vote. Even if we divide that by 50 and account for some of the differences in state sizes and voting procedures, it’s still clear that your vote is a nearly infinitisemal part of the total. The truth is that your vote only counts in the case of a tiebreak. If there is no tiebreak, even if you hadn’t voted, the results would have turned out the same.
Why is this relevant? Because it doesn’t make sense to say that unless you did something of symbolic value, with no real impact, you have no right to complain. The argument’s plausibility rests on you being able to do something about your situation, and if it loses that, it loses its basis.
2. If a person’s views are outside the box, those views can’t be furthered by voting.
Imagine a box of opinion in mainstream politics. Anything within this box is votable – there is some candidate or the other that represents the opinion and is willing to fight to make it reality. But what if your views are outside the box? If your views aren’t represented by a candidate with plausible chances of becoming president, then they simply can’t be furthered by voting for existing candidates. Once again, voting turns into an action without consequence. (In reality, presidential elections are worse than the box analogy makes it seem: you actually have only two distinct points to choose from, and any view outside, and also, in between, is not votable – I could add more nuance to this, but I’ll leave it there for now)
3. There are other ways to advance a political cause than through voting.
The biggest fallacy the argument exhibits is its overwhelming emphasis on the importance of voting, as if there exist no other means to change a society one lives in. You can start a blog, talk with your friends, talk to strangers, start an organization, donate to an organization, educate yourself, live your ideals, join a protest, etc. etc. Even complaining itself is a way you can advance your cause. And with that, I think the argument is fully demolished.