Slow Down And Smell The Fear Behind New Restrictive Election Laws

When the GOP passes laws to restrict voting, they’re signaling fear of a change in demographics.

The Republican response to the 2020 election is resounding. According to the Harvard University Brennan Center for Justice, “ As of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. That’s 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills tallied as of February 19, 2021 — a 43 percent increase in little more than a month.” Clearly, the GOP is on the march to restrict voting rights, and that march is gathering momentum and is filled with fear.

“Oh, but this is all about election integrity. We want everyone to vote that has the right to vote.” Nevermind that the GOP won a ton of offices down-ballot in 2020. They still think that new measures are required to ensure that they win in the next election, and the next one and the next one. All these new laws smell of a real fear that the GOP might be relegated to some sort of permanent minority status.

I suppose they might be right. I mean, the GOP could just write better laws that appeal to a broader constituency, but that might be too hard for them. After watching the movie, “Slay The Dragon”, and seeing how artfully the GOP drew district lines for the 2010 election, I’d think their efforts would have received national attention by now. The GOP now has majorities in the statehouses of a majority of all the states. They are preparing to draw districts that will corner Democrats wherever they can in order to marginalize their influence. Again.

American demographics are changing. People are moving and the Trump Tax Cut of 2017 is partly responsible for that trend. Some well-to-do Democrats have moved to lower-tax states and their influence can be felt. I’ve seen stories about Congressional races in districts where we once saw Republican dominance either flip or come very close to flipping. We saw two senate seats in Georgia flip partially as a result of changing demographic trends (and some great organizing). And Republicans are well aware that by 2040, white Caucasians will become a statistical minority in the United States. We may very well see the end of pale-skinned hegemony in our lifetimes.

And I think that people are tired of being left in a position where they cannot help themselves. The pandemic bore this out last year. The collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 gave us a taste of what we saw last year. The thrust of voting restrictions is easy to see: prevent as many people as possible from determining their own fate. We’ll use every crisis to assert greater control. At the bottom of all of this is social control.

Our culture makes an assumption that people require an external stimulus to maintain control. In a sense this is correct, but this assumption ignores the obvious, people can’t control themselves unless they learn self-control. And they must learn that from their parents and the institutions that surround them.

Humans have used laws, mores, and norms for social control. We recognize that we are subject to decision fatigue and that we need consistency and stability in our lives in order to have peace, tranquility, and happiness. I see in my own education how the emphasis was on knowing and obeying the laws, but very little time was spent on teaching introspection. Very little time was spent teaching me how to know myself. Parents would do well to learn that a kid would do better if he could.

Humans have also used religion for social control. The biggest religion in the world is Christianity. A distant second is Islam. After that, it’s secular, non-religious, agnostic, and atheist people. Then Hinduism and anyone else. Christianity and Islam both prohibit usury, but for some reason, both religions relented on prohibiting interest charged on loans. According to this short history of usury at the Guardian:

Usury — all usury — is banned by Christian doctrine, as it is by Muslim doctrine. In the late Middle Ages the problem of financing the royal exchequer and setting up capitalist institutions in the face of the Christian ban on usury was resolved by allowing Jews to act as bankers. They therefore came to be viewed as pariahs, just as cow hide tanners are pariahs in Hindu society. It was in this way that the Jewish community was able to accrue vast wealth and thereby to bring down on its head the loathing of the Christians.

I find a certain irony in this history because another researcher, Michael Hudson, performed research on the history of debt from ancient history to modern times and found that Jesus had come to remind people that debt cancellation is a good thing. Here is what Hudson has to say about debts:

The problem of debt backlogs was created with the invention of interest-bearing loans in agrarian 3rd Millennium BC Mesopotamia. The remedy of record was the royal Clean Slate proclamation or Jubilee Year of debt forgiveness. These proclamations had three functions: (1) They restored financial balance by annulling the backlog of crop debts that had accrued; (2) they liberated indebted bondservants (and their families); and (3) they restored land tenure rights, enabling debtors to continue living productively on the land, pay taxes, and be available for military service and corvée labor.

Clean Slate debt cancellations (the Jubilee Year), used in Babylonia since Hammurabi’s dynasty, first appear in the Bible in Leviticus 25. Jesus’s first sermon announced that he had come to proclaim it. This message — more than other religious claims — is what threatened his enemies, and why he was put to death.

This interpretation has been all but expunged from our contemporary understanding of the phrase, “…and forgive them their debts,” in The Lord’s Prayer. It has been changed to “…and forgive them their trespasses (or sins),” depending on the particular Christian tradition that influenced the translation from the Greek opheilēma/opheiletēs (debts/debtors). On the contrary, debt repayment has become sanctified and mystified as a way of moralizing claims on borrowers, allowing creditor elites and oligarchs the leverage to take over societies and privatize their public assets, especially in hard times.

Doesn’t it seem interesting that industrious and entrepreneurial people would bother with loaning money at interest when there is plenty of money to be made by making stuff and selling it for a profit? This is why I think of debt as a means of social control. And this is also why I think that all the new laws being proposed by the GOP in so many states are really about social control and nothing more.

Why would anyone want to disenfranchise someone else in a democracy? It is a quest for control over other people. Stagnating wages? Social control. 8-hour lines to vote? Social control. Voter purges? Social control. Cash bail? Social control. Prisons? Social control. Student debt? Social control. The mortgage? Social control. All of these things pose a risk to self-sufficiency and subsistence. They are predicated on the notion that I can’t be happy unless other people are unhappy. H.L. Menken nailed it here:

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

And if people are happy, they’re hard to control. If people can rely upon their own ability to care for themselves, to live a better life without debt, without external control, then we can’t control them. Note also that debt implies dependence. This fear is at the bottom of the entire conservative movement. It's as if conservatives are raising the transaction cost of being happy just for their own amusement. This is why I’m a liberal.

I would like to be wrong about all this, and I wouldn’t mind being proven wrong about it, too. I really do hope that conservatives have a better sense than pursuing a quest for social control of other people through economic and civil means. It’s almost as if they figured out that the church has lost its appeal and decided that economic control over others is better than nothing. But I believe that the church lost its appeal precisely because they went along with the bankers rather than Jesus on the matter of debt. Nowhere do I hear the church calling for debt forgiveness. Sometimes I wonder if we would even need a welfare state if not for all the astronomical debts that surround us.

So when I see all the claims of a rigged election, I smell that fear. When I see all the new laws calling for greater restrictions on voting places, times, and absentee ballots, I smell that fear. I note for the record that Utah has been running elections by mail since 2013. They did pass a law concerning elections this year, but that was just to remove dead people from the polls. They made no other changes to anything else regarding elections, and that to me gives the lie to the other states claiming that their new laws are about election integrity. Underneath all of this furor is the fear that a progressive and liberal faction might actually have a voice in determining our collective fate.

Write on.

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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