The more people feel alienated from the governing elite, the more the act of voting threatens to become thoughtless and destructive.
“The fuck-its” is a term often used in substance abuse recovery, but as of 2016 it has worryingly become more relevant in the context of democracy and how voting happens. In recovery, one might say “I got a case of the fuck-its” and used again, or went into that bar again, etc. And with Brexit and the 2016 presidential election, we’re hearing, “fuck-it, I’m voting third party,” or “fuck-it, I’m voting Trump.”
In recovery, fuck-it means that you’ve been clean and sober for a time, and things have basically been going ok, but staying sober is a daily stressor; then seemingly for no good reason, you decide to drink or use again. The dangerous thing about the fuck-its for someone in recovery is that the condition is completely impulsive, hits you out of nowhere and can lead to a really bad run of substance abuse. It’s easier to imagine there are more obvious triggers to having a relapse, like a break-up, losing a job, or death in the family. But most people in recovery have the support and preparation they need to get through such big triggering events. Not with the fuck-its though.
The fuck-its are unpredictable because they are an impulsive reaction to feeling like everyday life sucks, you’re frustrated, and you just want to rebel- you want out. In your body you feel a need for relief from the thousands of little stressors that have built up. Someone bumps you on the train for the millionth time, you’re feeling lonely, or it just started raining and… fuck it, time to drink.
You may mess up your own life in the process, but that doesn’t matter right now because you know you’ll get immediate relief from this one impulsive act, and at least you can count on that. The fuck-its are a timeless impulsive moment that defies reason and self-care. Concern may come later— or may not— but for now you’ve proved the point that you don’t have to care if you choose not to. And in the moment that somehow feels really freeing.
While they feel like a release, the fuck-its are a mostly private, solitary activity. If someone is having a relapse or being self-destructive they aren’t going to share it.
People who have experience with recovery take this very seriously, they know to fear and respect the threat of the fuck-its, as fuck-its are irrational, seductive, and destructive. Fuck-its offer the immediate gratification of taking a clear action. The problem is that this clear action only gains its sense of immediacy and release because it is destructive. And when you are vulnerable to the fuck-its, the very foundation of your everyday life is fragile, unsteady.
You see where I’m going with this. On November 8 some American voters will be feeling a strong case of the fuck-its. This may mean making a “protest vote” for Libertarian or Green. Those who aren’t racist nationalists see a vote for Trump as a fuck-it vote: “I don’t care he doesn’t know what he’s doing, is a bully, bigot, or misogynist, but he will go to Washington and shake things up.” Voters with the fuck-it mindset talk a lot about “shaking things up.” What exactly does this fantasy of shaking things up mean?
It may be that a fuck-it vote is a last-ditch lashing out at the state of things, but it still holds a hope of sending a message, and that there is an audience who will finally hear that message. Current journalism on the topic says that the fuck-it vote comes from people who are feeling economically desperate, see no job prospects, and may have friends and family addicted to heroin. Most importantly, they feel that profound, major change needs to happen. But they also distrust a political elite class who no longer listens to them. So a shake-up would somehow toss out the political elite, or force them to pay attention. Or put them in jail, apparently.
This is not to say that a vote for profound change is necessarily a fuck-it vote. The Greek vote for Syriza was a protest vote against austerity, but it was also a vote for a political party with a plan to address the problems of debt. On the other hand, Brexit was clearly a fuck-it vote, as no political party put forth a principled or truth-based explanation for how an exit from the European Union would help matters- only nationalist fear and hate-based demagoguery.
So a fuck-it vote is defined by the presence of base motives, dark feelings of fear and anger, the sense that it will be destructive, and the fantasy that the elite will start paying attention after being hurt by the vote.
What can be done about the fuck-it vote?
Treating the fuck-its is all about mitigation. We need to prevent people from becoming vulnerable to the fuck-its in the first place, because unfortunately by the time someone feels the fuck-its it’s often too late.
The antidote to the fuck-its is a plan for radical change that is based on grassroots action, which conceives of the political process as long-term investment, and involves work, sacrifice and more small victories than big ones. Compared to the act of setting the world on fire to watch it burn, this definitely sounds less romantic and exciting. It also doesn’t offer immediate gratification.
But unlike a solitary, possibly even secret fuck-it vote, grassroots action does provide the fulfillment that comes from interacting at the community level, talking to your neighbors and experiencing kindness, and feeling like you belong to something bigger.