A Parable About Voters





by Mark E. Smith

In a previous essay, I asked, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to stop voting for
what you don’t want, instead of first voting for it and then complaining about

But one correspondent didn’t get it. In the United States we have a winner-
take-all electoral system. So even protest votes count as part of the turnout
that grants legitimacy to the winner, even if that winner only got half the
votes plus one. It is the total turnout that allows an oppressive government
to claim that it has the consent of the governed and represents the will of
the people, and when the only candidates with any chance of winning are both
in favor of wars, the destruction of civil liberties, and the pollution of the
planet, it isn’t really an election, as everybody knows that the same system
of genocide and environmental destruction will continue no matter who is

So to try to drive home the point that it doesn’t make sense to vote for an
oppressive government, authorize it to have power over you, and then spend the
next four years protesting its inevitable and completely predictable abuses of
power, I wrote this parable:

Being around voters makes me shake my head in bewilderment. It is as if I was
with friends and they said, “Let’s go for a walk,” and I said, “Sure, let’s!”

And then they said, “Wait! Before we can go for a walk, we have to burn the
soles of our feet and put heavy shackles around our ankles, so let’s get

And I ask, “Won’t that make it more difficult to walk?”

And they say, “Sure, but it’s a tradition and it shows that we’re free. We’ve
always done it. That’s what we do when we go for a walk. So here’s the
blowtorch. Start burning the soles of your feet the way that we’re doing to
ours, and then we can all put the heavy shackles around our ankles and go for
a walk.”

And I say, “I don’t want to burn my feet or wear shackles–if I do that it
will hurt when I walk, or I won’t be able to walk at all.”

And they say, “Don’t be silly. When we burn our feet and put shackles on our
ankles we are doing it to protest having to burn out feet and wear shackles
when we walk. You can’t protest having to burn your feet and wear shackles
unless you first agree to burn your feet and wear shackles.”

And I decide that this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and I walk away.
And then I am alone, and they are calling after me, “Come back! You’re crazy
not to join us! As soon as we burn our feet and shackle our ankles we’re going
to have a fine walk and you’ll be all alone.”

And they’re right. Because as soon as I walk away, I’m all alone. They cannot
follow me because they are burning their feet and shackling their ankles,
because it’s what they’ve always done and because it’s how they prove to
themselves that they’re free and doing it of their own free will, and because
that’s the only way they know, so I walk away, but soon I start to hear their
cries of pain as they suffer from the horrors they inflicted upon themselves
when they voted, and I know that I can never convince them to stop, so I walk
faster and soon I cannot hear them any more.

Then I look for children who haven’t yet become convinced of the necessity of
voting against their own best interests, and I take them quietly to watch the
voters as they stagger along, sometimes being shot by the government they
voted for because they aren’t walking fast enough with their burns and
shackles, and I tell the children that they too will be asked to vote to hurt
themselves and their planet someday, but that I don’t do it and they don’t
have to either. I hope some will remember.

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