Freedom’s Limitations

© 1979, 2011, 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: Okay, this is your lucky day, folks!!! The editorial below is the last old-timey piece I plan to transport into this blog. Oh, I do have three others left; but they are truly the dregs, and I don’t plan to publish them unless I get into a really bad spot.

This opinion piece on our right and obligation to vote of course concerns a subject which we have read and heard preached about over and over ad nauseam. Yet, many of us Americans have a strangely hard time taking  the sermons to heart. It really bothers me that such large percentages of Middle Eastern populations brave threats of violent death in getting to the polls yet turn out in large numbers anyway, while our own percentage level is, election after election, pitifully low.

Yes, I know the excuses we can make: it’s too much a case of Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee; they promise too much and then deliver so little; we mutter, “My preferred candidate hasn’t got a chance, so why should I go vote?”

Well, this editorial is slightly more than an answer to those issues. It at least offers one solution. Give it a try.

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The Ward County commissioners Monday estimated it cost the county taxpayers about $4.25 per vote to hold the recent state constitutional election.

There are two ways to look at that figure: (1) if more people had voted, the cost per vote would have declined proportionately; or (2) if there had been no election, then there would have been no cost at all.

As nondescript as it was, the election was made necessary by our state’s arthritic constitution, so that eliminates the second subjunctive clause above.

We are therefore left with the first possibility: the more who participate, the less expensive is democracy.  Were it not for the fact that those who voted were as much penalized by the expense as those who did not vote, I would sit back and chuckle, albeit slightly ruefully, that the ostriches were being tormented at least a little by the sand in their eyes.

The situation reminded me of an article in Life magazine, part of a series on ancient Greece, that I had read as a boy.  Specifically, a certain illustration in one of the articles has remained vividly etched in my mind.  The water color scene represented two Scythian archers, whom the Athenians used for policemen, walking down the street with a rope dipped in red paint stretched between them.  In front of them scurried some Athenian men, glancing over their shoulders with worried visages at the red rope and clutching their garments about them.

The caption explained that the citizens were late to a meeting in the agora where community business was carried on.  Should they arrive with red paint on their persons, they were liable to be fined.

Now, ancient Athens is the place we ordinarily associate with “the cradle of democracy”.  And “democracy” for most of us connotes “freedom”.  Moreover, freedom has grown to be so extensive an idea in the United States that we also mean for it to include the right to not participate in elections and other activities by which that very freedom is supported.

The Athenians obviously had no use for a slug-a-bed’s notion of democracy.  The existence of their city-state was too precarious to be subjected to indifference.

Frankly, I wish we would fine ourselves a good deal more heavily than $4.25 for our sluggardly voting habits.

You might retort that some of us who are legally entitled to vote are intellectually not capable of voting rationally and that such persons should not be forced to introduce their ignorance and emotions into the general consensus.

I offer two responses to that argument.  First, there are already a lot of ignorant and emotional people who feel quite at ease offering their two cents worth of clamor to the “general consensus”, which is why our national conventions usually appear more like rock-n-roll shows.  What democracy relies on, in fact, is that the more idiots there are trying to think, the greater the likelihood of some sensible idea arising like a bit of articulate smoke out of the combustion of their interchange.

The second response is that if a person can be held responsible enough to drive an automobile or possess a charge account, then he or she should be considered rational enough to vote sensibly.  These would, in fact, be quite simple ways of determining both who is enjoying the most free aspects of American life and who should be held most responsible for seeing that it is maintained: holders of credit cards and driver’s licenses.

I would propose that all of us with either a credit card or a driver’s license be fined, and heavily, if we did not vote in an election, unless we could prove our inability to reach the polls at the proper time.

Our cornucopia of freedoms should not include indifference.

— Monahans News, November 29, 1979

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