“The greatest of penalties is being ruled by a worse man if one is not willing to rule oneself.” – Plato, The Republic. 347.
“I don’t get involved in politics,” the man said at the door of his Welland home. “I don’t care about any of them. Doesn’t matter to me if it is Horwath or Ford. The system never changes. I don’t get involved. I don’t vote or anything.”
It was, at its heart, a common expression of frustration with politics. The shirtless man watched impassively as Ontario’s NDP leader Andrea Horwath and a small cadre of campaign staff moved from house to house Friday afternoon to shake hands and smile for the cameras. The would-be premier was smiling and charming but this man was unmoved. She was simply another politician in a long line of politicians who had disappointed him. If the past predicts the future, he has no reason to think she or her rivals would be any different than their predecessors.
So he doesn’t vote. The house always wins from his point of view, so he will always leave the table with empty pockets.
He isn’t alone in this view. And it’s hard to fault him for it. Certainly, watching the circus of the inane that is the current Ontario provincial election can be a caustic experience.
In an increasingly partisan environment, in an era where truth in politics is a matter of spin and facts of momentary convenience; when the gap between haves and have-nots grows ever wider and cronyism is treated as a virtue, cynicism and apathy can seem like the only rational responses.
I say “seems” because as understandable and relatable as that apathy is, it is nonetheless corrosive to democracy.
Everything that man despises about politics – that you, dear reader, may despise – is animated by that apathy. The maw of the politics of greed and corruption is always open and in need feeding. And nothing fills its belly more than citizens who turn away from politics. Nothing starves it more than when the voices of citizens are heard loudly and clearly.
Democracy is a rare and precious thing. Every few years, the ranks of the governing are changed by the governed. Some of these governments are good. Others are objectively terrible. But whatever the outcome, that change happens without a single shot being fired.
Most people, in most places through most of history, cannot claim such a luxury. Changes in government, historically speaking, tends to cast out the previous regime as fugitives and leaves blood on the streets.
We all know this. And yet, so many of us decide not to spare even a sliver of our lives to better understand the issues shaping the world around us so that we can make our mark on a ballot to have a measure of a voice in our collective future. Instead, too many of us choose rank cynicism, disenfranchise ourselves and complain when our politicians fall well short of our expectations.
Voting is the least that is expected of us in a free society. It is the most basic building block of our communities, our province and our nation. Actually running for office, or participating more deeply in election campaigns or scrutineering are important, to be sure, but they are all for not if people refuse to vote.
Long ago, Plato warned that those who refused to take part in politics were doomed to be governed by their inferiors. Like so much of Plato’s advice, this cuts several ways, but fundamentality he is saying we get the get government we choose. And if we choose to be but a helpless bystander, should we really be surprised when government becomes a den of grifters?
Under the present circumstances in Ontario, the parties and platforms, one and all, may leave a bitter taste in one’s mouth. And finding nothing to our taste, we could decide to stay home and hope for the best. In doing so, we would surrender our choice and responsibilities to others and become willing mutes.
No, the worse fate is not to vote. Maybe the choices on offer aren’t what you really want, but they will never get better if you hide from the political process. Voting gives you a voice you would not otherwise have and is the first step to holding power to account.
So vote this Thursday. If you do not, as the old saying goes, you’ll get the government you deserve.
And you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.