On July 20, 2020, Michael Brooks died.
Michael Brooks was an American political YouTube commentator on the left, and although I disagreed with him on more than just a few things, he nevertheless had a voice as valuable to me as his laugh was loud; without him, for example, I wouldn’t know all that much about Luiz Inácio da Silva. At only thirty-six, Brook’s death came way too young, and reminds us to hold people close, and to do what we can to make the world that little bit better.
It also refocuses the question about what to do come November. Will you, or will you not, support Joe Biden over Donald Trump? For Americans, this is the political question. For people who agree on the following assumption – that Trump is bad, that Biden is less bad, and that both pretty awful – there are only two options. These people can either vote for Biden, because Biden is less bad, or they can vote for neither, because both are bad.
At first, it seems the only thing you can do is vote for Biden. He’s less bad, after all, so to do otherwise, as the trolley problem goes, would be to let more people die than otherwise would. In the case of Trump, this is not a hypothetical question. People will die.
For some progressives, however, voting for Biden is not so completely and utterly obvious. For them, the trolley problem analogy is a problematic one, because this election is not a one-time event – it’s a four-year cycle in which the Democrats successfully gaslight voters into voting for them by advertising themselves as the lesser of two evils, and so, when contextualised, it might start to seem that voting for Biden only continues a process by which more people get tied down to wait for death by trolley. This argument can be called the ‘accelerationist’s case’ – that voting either way is to vote for an evil thing on the fatuous basis that it’s slightly less evil than another evil thing.
The accelerationist case is often made using political examples. Who would vote for 99 concentration camps rather than 100 concentration camps, if, the next time you get to vote on the issue of concentration camps, maybe you’ll have the choice of 98 concentration camps rather than 99 concentration camps? In this scenario, surely, we would refuse to vote either way and take a moral stand against all concentration camps, rather than pick over such insignificant differences?
This political argument has been most famously put forth by Slavoj Žižek. However, in practical terms, we are never really talking about the difference between concentration camps. Oftentimes, the differences we’re talking about aren’t so slim. At most, accelerationist analogies should not compare Hitler to Hitler on steroids; they should compare Hitler to Franco, and although both Hitler and Franco have bloody records, they do have records, and one is worse than the other.
So it seems that the accelerationist who refuses to vote for Biden on political grounds, has not the grounds to do so. However, an accelerationist argument for progress might work when re-phrased along existentialist lines: namely, that we owe things to our unborn children. Not only to the lives who live at present, but to the lives that are likely to live in the future.
A critic of this stance might say that this intellectual gerrymandering prioritises the ‘human race’ over the actual humans that make up the human race, but such accusations seem pretentious when the hypothetical seems so likely; it’s probable that humans will continue to come into existence in the near future. Accelerationists can argue, therefore, that come November 2020 there are only two scenarios. In the first, people vote for Biden, which doesn’t solve all that much and which causes yet more Bidens in the future, (only there won’t be that much more future because structural and existential threats will go unaddressed and climate change will kill us all). In the second, people don’t vote for Biden or Trump, and they risk more now, and in so doing maximise the chance of preventing worse stuff later.
This line of argumentation is an paradoxical one for progressives, because it is essentially a conservative position – a belief that future generations must be preserved, that they must be saved from harm like you or me, and that they are in some way innocent. But the impatience which characterises this position makes it a progressive one at heart. The essential idea here is that progress has a pace: that the progressive speedometer has some m/p/h that must be reached in order for us to say that progress is being made at all.
The 1960s Civil Rights Movement worked through energy and agitation, not by complying with the pace of chance as insisted upon by any establishment. As an accelerationist, it is possible to not vote for Biden on this basis, however, doing so must not be because you want to feel good about yourself. Voting is always about pulling a lever to bring about a tangible difference; which means recognising that the bad feelings caused by pulling the lever which kills one person rather than five, are no way near as important as the lives of the five people saved by pulling the lever.
So if, whether on dubious political grounds or from the more interesting position of long-term existential risk, you decide not to vote for Biden, you must make the calculation that there are other ways, such as civil disobedience, that are more likely to affect the change you seek. Then you must act on that belief. Not pulling the lever must mean you do something suitably ingenious to stop the runaway trolley.
Although ignorant armies clash by night on the progressive beaches, hopefully, in the swell, a new politics shall emerge. But Dave Chappelle hasn’t stepped up to be America’s Vaclav Havel… yet… so, for the meanwhile, just do what Michael Brooks would have done, pull the lever, and vote for Biden.