A Pyrrhic victory for Nobody

Like «Outis» (Nobody) in Homer’s «Odyssey,» the victor in Sunday’s local elections who opted not to cast a ballot, has a face. Nobody, i.e. the record number of abstainers, is not the soulless construct of polling companies nor some creature that inhabits the realm of sociological statistics. Nobody lives right beside us: in our home, apartment building, neighborhood and village. Nobody studied or is studying at university, is numb, is a courier who speaks three languages, has a diploma in computer studies, was fired from his job at the age of 40 and is thinking about reducing expenses by pulling his kids out of their English-language evening classes. Nobody goes to the soccer stadium because his team is about the only thing left that he can identify with. Nobody is an elderly woman who used to believe that it was a sin not to vote but now that her pension has been slashed to next to nothing, no longer sees any reason to do so. Nobody has needs, debts and worries. Nobody has an opinion about the state of the world and about politics, and is becoming increasingly enraged. Nobody used to have dreams and is now running short of them. So Nobody opts to abstain from the elections, to send a message. Nobody suspects, of course, that the people who read the message will furrow their brows in thought as long as the cameras are rolling, before returning to their usual habits, because they know that political legitimacy no longer comes from the vote of the majority, but from power centers beyond. They don’t care that only one in three voters made it to the voting centers. This thought, however, brings another: that maybe the one who triumphed in these elections, the abstaining Nobody, is not such a winner after all, because Nobody’s stance will only marginally influence what is to come. There are a thousand reasons why people abstain from voting: chronic disappointment, desperation, ideological beliefs, punishing the party they usually support, the desire to express disapproval at a system that seems irreparably corroded (or corrupt) and corrosive. And this kind of abstention still conveys political content and is a far cry from the sort of indifference we have seen in the past. Nothing, however, makes it right to idealize abstention, even if the words of Thucydides – that anyone not participating in politics is not seen as indifferent but as worthless – are long dead.