What David Foster Wallace taught me about voting

Old Voting Machine

Tomorrow is Election Day in the U.S.

This site was launched a few days after the previous presidential election in 2012, so this is the first presidential election under this site’s watch! I know that elections happen all the time in this country, but presidential elections have the kind of game show power and high visibility that other elections lack.

In short, it’s a big deal.

I can’t say I always believed this. The first presidential election in which I knew I was eligible to vote was the year 2000. I didn’t vote, as I was in college and failed to get an absentee ballot in in time. Now before you start chastising me too much, I was in a state that wasn’t in contention, so it mattered a bit less than if I had lived in, say, Florida.

But while I believed at the time that voting was important, like the velleitier that I was, it didn’t quite lead to action. It was important, but maybe not important enough.

And then I read David Foster Wallace, which changed everything for me.

Mr. Howling Fantod

David Foster Wallace was an American author, best known for his sprawling meganovel Infinite Jest. I confess I’ve always been more drawn to his non-fiction essays, which are often funny, erudite, and self-effacing, and rarely lapse into look-how-clever-I-am territory. (I’ve written about David Foster Wallace before.)

David Foster Wallace and his bandanna of truth.
David Foster Wallace and his bandanna of truth.

In 2002, he released an essay called “Up, Simba!” about John McCain’s 2000 failed presidential run. At the time, the full essay was only released as an e-book. Not being a fan of purchasing digital media, it nevertheless remains the first e-book I’ve ever purchased (and probably the last, given all the trouble I had in dealing with it).

The essay is primarily pro-McCain, and is very thoughtful, especially for a piece that was originally authored for Rolling Stone.


But hidden within its dense pages is an aside about the voting process that, to me, changed utterly my view of the democratic process.

Here it is (emphasis original):

Let’s pause here one second for a quick…PSA…If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb and are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV…By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s’vote.

Cue moment of realization.

From that moment on, I don’t believe I’ve ever missed a vote. The stakes are too great.

My own PSA

This post is going out a day before Election Day 2016.

  • If you are in a state with early/mail-in voting (and I cannot believe that every state doesn’t offer this), then do yourself a favor and vote today. Save yourself the lines and the traffic.
  • If you don’t have early voting, then you have today to plan when you’re going to go vote. Just go to Google and type “find my voting place” to figure out where you vote.
  • And if you’re not in the U.S., find out when your next election is. Put it on your calendar now.

It’s simple, just like getting a flu shot. You don’t just do it for yourself.

There is no such thing as not voting. I either vote or I double the value of someone else’s vote.

And I clearly don’t consent to doubling anyone else’s vote, in the same way that I don’t consent to being tracked online. Default, unintentional activities are the antithesis to the unlikely radical life that we all want to lead.

Please don’t double my vote.

Comments are closed.