I recently had the chance to hear a Grand Lodge officer chastise a group of brethren about the proper use of the ballot box. For the uninitiated, candidates for Freemasonry must be elected to receive the degrees by the unanimous ballot of the members present. Favorable votes are recorded with a white ball, and unfavorable with a black cube. The (possibly apocryphal) story is that this originated the term “black-balled.” The ballot is, and, so far as I am aware, always has been, secret. Masonic Law provides for secrecy. It is prohibited to discuss the results in open lodge, and unseemly to do so without. If a brother should find himself in such a conversation, he should, at the least, politely excuse himself.
In the course of his mission to visit upon the English language unspeakable violence, our Grand Worshipful Brother unflinchingly stated that there should never appear a black cube in a ballot box, and that the objecting brother should raise the issue with the Master before a vote is taken. Distill this down, and the message to you, dear brother, from the schoolmarms in San Francisco is, “you are not to use the failsafe mechanism provided in the Code.” How astounding! How much more tempting does the button become when you are told not to push it? Is it just my reactance? Surely there is more to the discussion than just this. Just so.
This demand that an objector reveal himself to the Master is usually rationalized as being a courtesy to the Master, since it is he who must needs have the awkward conversation with the applicant after rejection. This sounds reasonable enough, since it is a poor brother who will hoodwink a Master in his own Lodge. But we haven’t yet uncovered all of it.
It is also hinted – but rarely stated – that an unwillingness to raise the objection with the Master suggests we are rejecting the applicant for the wrong reasons. After all, if your motives are pure and Masonic (not xeno-homo-etc-phobic), then why not raise them aloud? The Master is legally obliged to maintain the secrecy of the objector, but Masters are, after all, as human as any others. Still, there is something more than just Masonic etiquette or crimethink at work here.
We touch upon it in our conversations, we walk around it, but we rarely say its name aloud. Let’s be naughty and say it together: exclusion. I know you just cringed a little, but it sort of felt good too, right? After all, we exclude all those non-Masons, and women! Deep, calming breaths…Not that we should exclude lightly. I have seen some “black-balls” of which I strenuously disapproved. But I have also rejected an applicant (along with five concurring brothers). One time I left a meeting, since we cannot abstain. Only once did I talk to the Master, out of courtesy (as it happens, I was wrong about that one; glad he talked sense to me). I was right about the other one though. But I digress…
The ballot has always been secret, and for very good reasons. It is to protect freedom of conscience and freedom of association. Men – real men from years and centuries gone by – valued the freedom to vote their mind, yet men are always seeking to persuade others to their own ends. To impotently insist that all good Masons must seek out the Master to register an objection is, in a word, crap. The brothers know they do not have to, and they won’t unless they are so inclined. To say otherwise is nothing but the same, tired attempt by the Grand Lodge to exert control over constituent lodges. Is “attempt” the right word? Maybe not considering how much control the Grand Lodge has consolidated over our weak and (sometimes) dying lodges.
This Grand perspective on ballot impropriety is yet another example of Masons talking out of both sides of their mouths, but without the painful, burning discharge that accompanies such acute cognitive dissonance in thinking men. We see it all the time, if we open our eyes and ears. Don’t get political, but help your government schools. How often do we hear Masons mouth reassuring words about democracy, yet our own system severely restricts the whims of the mob (even a mob of Grand Lodge members). Since I am skeptical of democracy – and certainly do not equate it with liberty – I rather like our 5/6 threshold (New legislation must be passed by a 5/6 vote, or 84% – if the measure gets 2/3, it carries over the following year and then a simple majority will pass). It should be a long and difficult ordeal to change the law, and it should never be done without due consideration. I would love to see legislatures and polities constrained by such supermajority rules. This would flummox most brothers however. Can you imagine the blank stares if a brother were to propose changing our rules for the legislature and referendums to 5/6? I have digressed again. The point is that Masons in general- and Grand Lodge officials in particular – seem easily seduced by narratives that sound nice (inclusiveness, democracy, equality, fraternité), but which have no basis in reality, or at least are more troublesome when considered fully.
What is it to the Grand Lodge if a group of brothers politely declines to seat a faction of foreigners in their lodge, with all the attendant tribal politics? The racial component is rarely acknowledged in these discussions, but this GL officer at least mentioned it. Kudos to you Worshipful Sir. Imagine a lodge comprised equally of native white dudes and ONOB. What do you get? Two groups; one speaking English, and another speaking Tagalog. Let the brotherly love commence! Seriously though, we’re all Masons. It is an interesting question though, to consider whether or not a large foreign presence increases or decreases the feeling of trust and fraternity. The answer, as usual is not difficult, since many studies now point to decreasing social trust in more vibrant settings. When we seek to become Masons, is it to be around a group of men who are strikingly different from us, or are we seeking the company of like-minded men? I submit that most of us are seeking the latter. The astute reader will observe that Masons of all nations may be like minded (true), yet our own Thomas Jackson has noted that there are many styles of Freemasonry. Vox Day has written on a number of occasions that a small amount of immigration is healthy for society, but beyond a certain percentage (I can’t recall his number) it becomes unhealthy for the host culture. Is not the same true of the Lodge? If you disagree, visit Grand Lodge this year, and witness the brotherly love between the factions.
These are deep questions, and ones which require reflection. We should tread carefully here, for does not Masonry unite men from every walk of life? Indeed it does, and we should aspire to that. Hopefully, brothers will put aside un-Masonic considerations when deciding upon candidates. This is a personal journey, however. It is not for the Grand Lodge to berate the brothers when the code is well understood. Saying that the ballot box should not be used the way it has been and was designed to be used is dishonest. It blurs the meaning of words, and defies classical laws of thought. If the Grand Lodge wishes to remove the secret ballot, there is a mechanism by which they may accomplish that. All you need is 84%!