» Uncategorized » What Do You Mean I Can't Complain?

What Do You Mean I Can't Complain?

I don’t vote. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part, I choose not to vote in any local, state, or federal elections. It isn’t because I’m lazy or too busy. It’s because I think the system is broken and find almost every option on almost every ballot so terrible that I would feel overwhelming guilt and remorse if I voted for any of them and they actually won.

Every politician is going to do something during his or her time in office that makes life worse for someone. I don’t trust politicians to do what they say they’ll do, and in general, I’m insufficiently educated to know what kind of impact most policies will have on the real world. I’m incapable of figuring out which one is going to be the best of the worst, so I usually sit it out altogether. I can’t stomach the thought of helping politicians ruin lives.

My decision not to participate in democracy angers many people immensely. Otherwise calm and reasonable people become furious. It strains friendships, especially when friends find out I regularly encourage others not to vote. The level of frustration in people who disagree with me tends to rise in direct correlation with age, though my non-voting royally pisses off people of all ages.

Almost always, people are mad at me for not voting because they want me to vote for something or someone they support. When I tell them I disagree with them and would probably vote against their preference, they become supportive of my decision not to vote.

I’m not going to bother laying out my entire no-voting philosophy here. Instead, I just want to address the worst reason people give me for why I should vote: “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” I hear that a lot. There are all kinds of mildly compelling reasons for why someone should vote, but that isn’t one of them. It doesn’t even make sense.

If you vote, you are participating. If you lose, it’s your fault because you participated. You played the game, and it didn’t work out so well for you. No complaining allowed. You lost, suck it up. On the other hand, if you didn’t play the game and still somehow managed to lose, you deserve sympathy. You were just minding your own business, not participating. You have the right to complain.

What if Adrian and I got together and decided we would vote on whether we get to take your car? Would you complain if we came and took your car after reaching a unanimous decision? On the other hand, what would happen if you and Adrian and I all got together and decided we would vote to see whose car the other two get to take? I can guarantee Adrian and I would vote that we get your car. You’d vote to get one of our cars, but you’d lose. Would you complain if we came and took your car? In which situation would you be more justified complaining?

The way I see it, you can only really complain about the outcome of something if you didn’t participate in the flawed system that let it happen. That’s why I hate the you-can’t-complain argument, and I have yet to hear a good argument for why I’m wrong. If you have it, please let me know.

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7 Responses to "What Do You Mean I Can't Complain?"

  1. Steve says:

    I agree completely. It really tends to shock people that I’m an active-duty military officer and still don’t vote. A couple of other reasons:

    1) Let’s say you vote and your candidate wins. Can you complain about something that is your fault?
    2) Mathematically, it is almost impossible for one vote to determine any election. Because I realize this and would rather do something else with my time than something that literally is irrelevant, I can’t complain? I realize that sometimes, one vote actually does make the difference. But in these cases, it’s for issues so small or candidates so local that I wouldn’t be able to make an informed decision. Should I therefore vote just to say I did, knowing that my uninformed decision could change something important?

  2. wrmettler says:

    You wrote: “If you vote, you are participating. If you lose, it’s your fault because you participated. You played the game, and it didn’t work out so well for you. No complaining allowed. You lost, suck it up. On the other hand, if you didn’t play the game and still somehow managed to lose, you deserve sympathy. You were just minding your own business, not participating. You have the right to complain.
    the way I see it, you can only really complain about the outcome of something if you didn’t participate in the flawed system that let it happen. That’s why I hate the you-can’t-complain argument, and I have yet to hear a good argument for why I’m wrong. If you have it, please let me know”.

    No one can argue with you, because there is nothing to argue about. It’s your opinion. It has no basis in any social or political theory. My opinion is that I can complain about just about anything, including my wife, as well as the results of any election. After all, all elections affect our lives in a very practical sense, witness Sheriff’s Joe or Bush’s and so far Obama’s presidencies. Damn right I can complain about how my life is affected.
    If I don’t get sympathy from you or others who don’t vote, that’s your problem, not mine. Remember, 80 million eligible voters didn’t vote in the last election. 70 million didn’t vote in 2000. Nevertheless, Florida went for Bush in 2000 by about 540 votes. If Gore had won Florida he would have won the election. Just think if the 541people who didn’t vote had voted for Gore, where would we be today? Someday, maybe your persuading a bunch of people not to vote will sway a meaningful election somewhere. Would that fair to the remaining 105 million who voted in 2000?

    Think about this.
    You’re a lawyer. You participate in the most competitive, combative, emotional, gut-retching forum of them all, the courtroom. You take difficult fact situations apply highly objectionable law in a biased forum to reach a totally unacceptable result. Yet, you do it. You participate in a flawed environment the same as or perhaps worse than any election. Why participate at this level?
    You complain immensely about the results of your participation in the flawed environment (See above post). But, according to your logic, you can’t. You just need to suck it up. You lost. No complaining allowed.
    Do you believe that only the people who have a role in the criminal justice system can’t complain about it?
    .

  3. mahtso says:

    “The way I see it, you can only really complain about the outcome of something if you didn’t participate in the flawed system that let it happen.”

    By this logic, because your posts show that you think the criminal justice system, in which you are a participant, is flawed, you cannot complain about the system.

  4. Phil says:

    The real mystery is why people who don’t vote. . . and also people who don’t wear underwear. . . always feel the need to tell everyone about it. Let’s hope you only fall in the first category! (Lovingly submitted by your brother.)

  5. Ben Kalafut says:

    “Wouldn’t it also undermine the argument that you can’t complain unless you vote?”

    Yes, it undermines them both.

  6. Matt Brown says:

    You may be right. Vote or not, it might not make a difference when it comes to whether or not you have the right to complain. That might call into question my reason for hating the you-can’t-complain argument, but wouldn’t it also undermine the argument that you can’t complain unless you vote?

  7. Ben Kalafut says:

    “The way I see it, you can only really complain about the outcome of something if you didn’t participate in the flawed system that let it happen.”

    Then you still cannot complain about much, because you have not become a total social dropout.

    Your non-voting doesn’t make them non-govern, nor does it inch closer to that. Because not voting is of no consequence, whether or not someone voted is a non-issue in whether or not his complaints are of any moral import.

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