Words worth reading: J. M. Coetzee’s DIARY OF A BAD YEAR

From Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, Vintage Books (London: 2008), p. 8:

In the days of kings, the subject was told: You used to be the subject of King A, now King A is dead and behold, you are the subject of King B. Then democracy arrived, and the subject was for the first time presented with a choice:  Do you (collectively) want to be ruled by Citizen A or Citizen B?

Always the subject is presented with the accomplished fact: in the first case with the fact of his subjecthood, in the second with the fact of the choice.  The form of the choise is not open to discussion.  The ballot paper does not say: Do you want A or B or neither? it certainly never says:  Do you want A or B or no one at all?  The citizen who expresses his unhappiness with the form of choice on offer by the only means open to him — not voting, or else spoiling his ballot paper — is simply not counted, that is to say, is discounted, ignored.

Faced with a choice between A and B, given the kind of A and the kind of B who usually make it onto the ballot paper, most people, ordinary people, are in their hearts inclined to choose neither.  But that is only an inclination, and the state does not deal in inclinations.  Inclinations are not part of the currency of politics.  What the state deals in are choices.  The ordinary person would like to say: Some days I incline to A, some days to B, most days I just feel they should both go away;  or else, Some of A and some of B, sometimes, and at other times neither A nor B but something quite different.  The state shakes its head. You have to choose, says the state.  A or B.