What’s Wrong with the World of Voting?

May 30, 2008 § 47 Comments

Lydia has posted at What’s Wrong with the World on the question of the moral essence of voting. After reading the interesting post and the discussion which followed, I posted the following comment in the thread:

I think there may be a thought process that goes something like this, at least among Catholic moralists and those who even bother to follow such things. (Which, let us grant, is laudible in itself: most people just vote however they choose without consciously reflecting on what a vote is at all. That is, most people don’t even consider the possibility that they might be doing evil simply by choosing to vote at all, given some particular ballot option permutation space).

The thought process:

Premise 1: Voting as an act is never intrinsically immoral: it is just throwing a lever.

Premise 2: Voting as an act is nothing but remote cooperation (material or formal) with whatever specific things a candidate actually does as an elected official.

It follows that the only thing that voting always is, is remote material cooperation with the things a candidate actually does as an elected official. It would be formal cooperation in those cases where I will some specific thing the candidate does: so if I will that Obama issue an executive order authorizing abortions on military bases I am formally cooperating in that act, and if I will that Obama withdraw the troops then I am formally cooperating in that act; but in general, I don’t will everything that he does or has promised to do. Therefore under its moral aspect – unless I am formally cooperating with one of his specific acts and that act is evil – a vote is simply remote material cooperation, and this exhaustively describes its moral parameters.

It further follows that the moral aspect of voting resides solely in (1) avoiding formal cooperation with specific evil acts on the part of the candidate (everyone will of course claim this as a matter of internal forum: will claim that they don’t want Obama to authorize abortions on military bases, and because they don’t want it they aren’t choosing it and don’t intend it); and (2) a prudential evaluation of the external consequences of the candidate actually being elected.

I think there are a lot of problems with this narrative, though it dominates contemporary Catholic thinking on the subject. Those problems start with the fact that it assumes an antiessentialist theory of what a vote is in the first place, leaving moral evaluation of (say) voting for Obama in the realm of strictly material external consequences; and the narrative goes downhill from there. Another problem is that ‘voting’ may simply be an inadequate moral specifier of a species of act, much as ‘firing a gun’ is an inadequate moral specification of a species of act. “Voting for Obama” may be deontologically more akin to “firing a gun into a living baby’s brain” than to simply “firing a gun”.

As I mentioned on my blog, I don’t feel as though I understand with clarity the deontology of a vote: I don’t really know what a vote is with enough clarity to give an even semi-rigorous definition. But I have intuitions of what a vote is not, and Lydia’s “intuition pumps” in this post are pretty helpful in clarifying my own intuitions on the subject.

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§ 47 Responses to What’s Wrong with the World of Voting?

  • August says:

    Consider a vote as currency.It may not be completely accurate, but it’s worthwhile thought experiment.A vote isn’t what it used to be. We’ve had vote inflation/universal suffrage. Your vote is worth much less than that of the white property owners to whom the franchise was limited to in times past.There are other interesting parallels, not least of which is that it would be just as bad to provide the money that a potential babykiller needs in order to secure his babykilling materials as it would be to do a similar thing with a vote.

  • zippy says:

    I like the analogy, August, at least as a matter of shedding additional light on the subject: I don’t think a vote is <>exhaustively<> nothing but a currency, but it has properties which are like currency. And voting for Obama is like giving money to Planned Parenthood because of some putatively good thing that they do in addition to all the wicked things they do.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Well, I like it, but with the reality that there are only two viable candidates troubles it.Instead of giving my money to Planned Parenthood, I can give my money to a pro-life group, and it will do some good.If I vote for a third (or fourth, fifth, or sixth) candidate, it will do them literally no good unless others join me.—-Maybe another way to think is if our employer pledged to match donations to one of two different charities, both of which I have problems with, but also do good work. Would it be better to “waste” the matching donation, or carefully discern which is more in need of support.Even then, politics is a bit of a zero-sum game. My donation to one charity does nothing to thwart the other, whereas a vote does.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Suppose the so-called “pro-life group” uses part of its money to directly fund embryo-destroying research? Y’know, I’m not making my donation to either PP or that group.

  • Anonymous says:

    Right, there are some similarities. But the analogy also falls down in that we can give to charity independently of our employer or any one organization, but we cannot govern the country independently of voting someone into office. I would posit that there is a mighty difference speaking in terms of moral weight and effective weight in voting. Not voting for McCain is wholly distinct <> morally <> from voting for Obama, even though effectively not voting for McCain means one less vote Obama must have to win.

  • zippy says:

    I might quibble with or clarify this specific point:<>…but we cannot govern the country independently of voting someone into office.<>I think people in general vastly overestimate the effect of the vote on the governance of the country, treating as if it were the primary thing which determines policy direction. It has <>some<> effect (in aggregate — individual votes have literally no effect whatsoever), much as the paddling of a whitewater rafter in class five rapids has some effect. But it is not even one of the primary forces involved, let alone <>the<> primary force.

  • zippy says:

    Which is to say, I think the vote is not so much a <>driver<> of how the country is governed as it is a secular liturgy the function of which is to get people behind how the country is governed. In terms of the latter it seems quite effective, which is why the Soviets held elections even when there was de-facto really only one choice on the ballot. Our situation vis-a-vis elections is far more similar to theirs than most people appreciate, in my view. (That isn’t to say that there are not vast distinctives between the US and the former Soviet Union: there are, to be sure. It is just that I don’t think those distinctives are driven primarily by the election liturgy).

  • brandon field says:

    <>Even then, politics is a bit of a zero-sum game. My donation to one charity does nothing to thwart the other, whereas a vote does.<>John,I’m not sure that I believe anything in life is really a zero-sum game. Or if it is, the electoral process is sort of nim-like, with the lobbyists always playing second.And I fundamentally disagree with your assertion that a vote for a third party does nothing. It sends a message to the two primary parties that we are not satisfied with their ideas. Of course it doesn’t work unless more people do it; voting itself doesn’t work unless lots of people do it.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “I would posit that there is a mighty difference speaking in terms of moral weight and effective weight in voting. Not voting for McCain is wholly distinct morally from voting for Obama, even though effectively not voting for McCain means one less vote Obama must have to win.”Certainly, I’m going to agree wholeheartedly that there’s a moral diff. between not voting for anyone and voting for Obama. For sure.But I do think people should also realize that there is a literal difference as well. I went into this a little on the W4 thread. Exaggerate the situation and imagine a mini-electorate of, say, three people. Suppose that each of the other people votes for one candidate, and I refuse to vote. Then there’s a tie, no one wins, and whatever other mechanism is in place for deciding who becomes president comes into play. (Set aside electoral college issues for simplicity’s sake.) Suppose that, on the other hand, each of the other people votes for each candidate and I then vote for Candidate A. Then Candidate A wins. It’s a simple matter of mathematics that not voting at all is entirely different even in its effect on the total number of votes from voting for one candidate rather than another.Also, as I argued in the thread on W4, people tell someone who chooses not to vote that this failure to act is “helping” one candidate or another based on where the non-voter is politically. Otherwise it’s entirely arbitrary whether to tell him that his refusal to vote is “helping” Obama or McCain. What is generally done, albeit tacitly, is to think about the non-voter’s political position and reasons for thinking of sitting out and then to treat his vote as presumptively “belonging to” the candidate “closer to” his own position. Then you tell him that his refusal to vote is helping the other guy–the candidate whose positions are farther from his own. But if we throw out the assumption that the conservative’s vote presumptively belongs to the Republican candidate (and the liberal’s vote presumptively belongs to the Democrat), we realize that there is no rationale for saying that you are helping this candidate rather than that by refraining from voting. You’re just not voting, full stop.

  • zippy says:

    <>And I fundamentally disagree with your assertion that a vote for a third party does nothing.<>Indeed. In fact, voting for a third party is itself entirely different from abstaining. Voting for a third party is to take the express stand that things are OK structurally in general, but that <>this guy<> rather than <>those guys<> ought to be elected. Abstaining is to take the stance minimally that none of the choices on the ballot are adequate; and perhaps that there is something wrong even beyond the actual selection of options formally presented.

  • basket case says:

    <> I think the vote is not so much a driver of how the country is governed as it is a secular liturgy the function of which is to get people behind how the country is governed. <>Boy, that’s cynical. Whatever the problems with the political “system” that we have now, they are problems that accrued on account of people <> choosing <> to run for this or that arrangement of ideas and policy and other people <> choosing <> this or that candidate and supporting or opposing him in making law. Of necessity those problems can be unmade by people choosing other choices. <> Abstaining is to take the stance minimally that none of the choices on the ballot are adequate; and perhaps that there is something wrong even beyond the actual selection of options formally presented. <> If you are regarding the “something wrong beyond” these candidates, abstaining as the sum total of one’s political action is to take the stance that even when I disagree with the choices available to me, and the types of such choices, I have no obligation to try to accumulate my wisdom with that of neighbors to attempt to initiate, promulgate, instigate, and foment a third (or fourth or tenth) way that I can support, find a candidate that will legislate that way, and try to get him elected. In other words, I have no obligation to try to <> make <> the system better, even though the system itself harbors mechanisms to allow me to do that. Therefore, not voting because the system is poor is tantamount to a rejection of the whole entire system as worthy of being overturned. I have much less problem with not voting this time because these candidates are both gravely unworthy of being seated in office. But not voting because of the system is morally equivalent to civil disobedience against the system, because the political order as constructed relies on the input of voters.

  • brandon field says:

    <>Exaggerate the situation and imagine a mini-electorate of, say, three people.<>I’m not sure that the modern electoral system can be effectively subjected to such an academic reductionist argument. An electorate of three people would just as easily all vote for themselves, leaving you in a similar stalemate.I’m all for asymptotic reductions, but I don’t think that this applies here. Likewise, you can’t play thought experiments about what would happen if we had an infinitely large electorate; it’s just not that robust.

  • zippy says:

    <>Of necessity those problems can be unmade by people choosing other choices.<>If you are a geek like me, you might find < HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossibility_theorem" REL="nofollow">Arrow’s Theorem<> interesting. In general I would just say that people make a lot of what seem to be reasonable assumptions (at least within a modernist metaphysic) about democratic voting and outcomes; but you know what they say about assumptions.<>But not voting because of the system is morally equivalent to civil disobedience against the system, …<>Well, no, it isn’t; though that sentiment is pretty widespread, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see civil and even criminal penalties against non-voters in the future.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Brandon, are you actually saying that you think it’s correct, in the literal sense, to regard a non-vote as being equivalent to a vote for one of the candidates? I mean, that’s just crazy. It isn’t true in even the normal, literal sense. If I vote for one of the candidates, he has one more vote. If I don’t vote for either, neither one has that vote. It’s really quite simply and literally false that not voting is the same as voting for one candidate or the other. And I’ve already pointed out the snuck-in assumption whereby one could even try to decide how to count the causal “help” rendered by a non-vote–namely, that the non-vote was previously owed to the candidate closest to the non-voter’s position. Leave out that assumption, and it is absurd in the most obvious sense to say that not voting helps A over B.

  • brandon field says:

    <>Brandon, are you actually saying that you think it’s correct, in the literal sense, to regard a non-vote as being equivalent to a vote for one of the candidates?<>Nope, not at all. I’m just not sure that reducing the system to it’s asymptotic limits is a valid thing to do in order to make your point. I completely agree, however, that the act of withholding a vote is an act distinct from voting for one or the other. The world of American politics has taken on a binary, red/blue aspect, which I believe is fundamentally wrong because people aren’t really like that. Not the voters, not the politicians. (You do knw what they say, though: there are only 10 types of people in the world, those who know binary and those who don’t).

  • brandon field says:

    <>Arrow’s Theorem<>Do you suppose this is part of what Kurt Goedel saw as flawed in the US Constitution?

  • zippy says:

    <>Do you suppose this is part of what Kurt Goedel saw as flawed in the US Constitution?<>I think Arrow’s Theorem was published after Godel’s close call with immigration officials (from which I believe he was rescued by Einstein), but I don’t know for sure offhand.I remember reading somewhere that the immigration judge said to Godel that the US could never become a dictatorship as long as the Constitution was in force; and Godel objected to the effect that the Constitution could always be amended to require a dictatorship. Basket Case makes a similiar point, positing the infinite plasticity of electoral politics as a premise leading to the conclusion that one can always accomplish what one wants <>within<> the system, since the system is (so the narrative goes) value-neutral and can be directed toward any end. Needless to say I don’t think that is true even at the formal level (thus the geeky invocation of Arrow), let alone at any kind of reality-based human level.Democracy as presently practiced is not value-neutral: it is a ritual, a public liturgy which inherently promotes some things and discourages others. It encourages people to think in certain ways, and the wholesale slaughter of the next generation in the name of personal autonomy and formally equal rights is one of those ways. Basket Case thinks I am cynical when I suggest that its function is not as a driver of policy but rather as a ritual which gets people ‘with the program’. With apologies to Arthur C. Clark, critique of any sufficiently perverse politics is indistinguishable from cynicism.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I have to admit that I’m not sure I fully understand what you’re getting at, Zippy, about voting being a liturgy that gets us on board with the system, with the slaughter of the innocent being part of the system.I mean what if, per (at this point) nearly impossible, the Republican presidential nominee in 2020–when you and I will still, God willing, be around–were absolutely rock-solid pro-life, talked about it all the time, and had wonderful plans for putting his convictions into action. (I can provide too-clever suggestions for such plans if asked. :-)) I can’t see that voting for him would be signing on to a pro-death system.

  • zippy says:

    I suppose the hypothesis is that the biases in a modern liberal democracy, predicated on the abstract freedom and equal rights of the autonomous superman, are against the materialization of viable good leadership and indeed tend toward less and less objectively suitable leadership as time goes on. (Whether historical/empirical reality reflects this kind of trend is a determination I leave to the reader).That doesn’t make it logically impossible, of course, and I might even vote for such a candidate myself. But if the hypothesis is right – that is, if the structures of modern liberal democracy are not in fact value-neutral but rather have certain substantive tendencies which are not good – then I wouldn’t hold my breath for him to materialize.

  • basket case says:

    Zippy, I recognize the theoretical possibility that one could propose voting in today’s circumstances is primarily “liturgical” and still hold that at some later date we could have a system that provides real worthwhile choices and real moral governance. But to get to that point would require some cause, and it is logically necessary that either (a) we push grass movements and urge better men into office and vote for them – ie within the system, or (b) we push outside the system for something to change the system as a whole – ie a revolutionary change. Is that what you are advocating? <> the hypothesis is that the biases in a modern liberal democracy, predicated on the abstract freedom and equal rights of the autonomous superman, <> But this is at best only a generalized approximation of some elements of the “biases” and what they are predicated on. There are other elements, contrary ones, which can be strengthened by energetic action. Anyway, the fact that some people in the poly sci departments of universities push a theory of abstract freedom and equal rights of autonomous supermen, and that SOME followers of these wacky theories have had considerable success in the last 70 years, does not mean that this concept is an irreversible bias of modern democracy. The successes of these “biases” comes from explicit concrete actions which could have been opposed more successfully and more easily many decades ago, but can also be opposed by equally concrete actions today. They are by no means irreversible constituent aspects of democracy. You keep referring to voting in the current system as “liturgical” as if its meaning were essentially to be found in symbol, metaphor, and an effect on the voter himself rather than in the external forum. To arrive at this conclusion, you seem to equate the reality that one vote is a small percentage of the total with a notion that it is therefore inconsequential. This is logical relativism, and it seems odd coming from you, to say the least. An action is not simply inconsequential if in so choosing it I am assenting to the notion I have a right to do this, and therefore that 100,000 of my neighbors who stand equally with me should also have that right and do the same as I do. The effect of my putting too much fertilizer on my lawn is a very small percentage change in the watershed. But when I do it and so do all my neighbors, the result is the death of the lake. No one person killed the lake, but each one’s action is a real part of a very significant consequence. There is no way to reflect personal causality here except to say that an individual person’s action is consequential. Still trying to read Arrow’s theorem to see if it really has meaning. Not there yet.

  • zippy says:

    <>Is that what you are advocating?<>What I am advocating, first and foremost, is clear-eyed understanding. I think, for example, that modern liberal autonomy theory isn’t an academic abberation but rather has its roots in and is the natural progression of (for example) the thought of Thomas Jefferson; and that the democratic voting ritual is both founded in and reinforces the political deontology (or anti-deontology) that liberal autonomy theory implies.<>You keep referring to voting in the current system as “liturgical” as if its meaning were essentially to be found in symbol, metaphor, and an effect on the voter himself rather than in the external forum.<>It is a simple fact that an individual vote as an act has no appreciable effect on external outcomes: that to the extent it has any significant effects, it is the interior effects on the person doing it which are significant. That isn’t a conclusion, it is an observable fact about acts of voting.On the ‘tragedy of the commons’ argument, consider the following: Suppose we have a kind of act X which, when aggregated together with vast numbers of other similar acts, has some marginal salutary effect on policy[*]. Suppose those same acts on an individual basis have a rather more substantial negative impact on the persons who engage in them, since they involve in many cases an explicit ‘lesser of two evils’ type of choice. Is the Republic going to be better off populated by the kind of men who will do X, or the kind of men who refuse to do X? Which would have a more profound salutary effect on the Republic over the long term: 30 million men refusing to do X since doing X compromises their integrity, or 30 million men doing X in the vain hope of having some marginal impact?[*] I am granting this only for the sake of argument. In reality I expect that most of the time what we get is a moderated strain of self-destructive liberalism which is more likely to survive longer and do more damage.I have no idea what ‘logical relativism’ is supposed to mean, let alone why something I’ve said falls under its rubric.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Let me draw out my analogy a bit more.Let’s say you want to donate to help victims of the cyclone or the earthquake.Your employer offers to double-match employee donations to the American Red Cross or, say, Doctors Without Borders.You don’t care for the Red Cross because of high overboard, and you don’t like DWB’s < HREF="http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2003/dec/03120302.html" REL="nofollow">stand on condoms<>.Would it be better to give to, say, the Salvation Army instead, which you’re employer won’t match because of its ties to religion? By doing so, you’re in essence cutting your donation by two thirds.Is this another gimmick to commit us to “the way things are done?”There may be a right answer, but I don’t think it’s an easy question.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    On a previous thread Zippy I mis-stated the theory you seem to embrace. I meant to say public choice theory.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Or I could not donate to anyone, because by doing so I would be adding my voice to those confirming the legitimacy of the system…Which feels like moral paralysis, and like walking past the traveller left for dead on the side of the road because I don’t want to impurify myself.When the unborn (or victims of war) ask me what I did to stop their slaughter, I’m not sure I’d feel good about an answer of, “I abstained from voting so as not to add legitimacy to the machinery of death.”I understand that the main point is the voting/not voting ought to be be a very small part of how we impact the world around us, but passing on an opportunity to exercise that impact strikes me as off.

  • zippy says:

    John:The problem with currency analogies is that currency can be spent on pretty much anything. The matching donation analogy is better; in the W4 thread I suggested coupons. Suppose you had a coupon. Your coupon can be used to either (1) send a sandwich and a pack of condoms to a Burmese teenager, or (2) commit ten existing frozen embryos to embryonic stem cell research and send a bag of rice to a Burmese family. Or, you can throw the coupon away, while making a lot of noise about how Faustian coupons are not merely immoral in themselves but also corrupt the culture and the individuals who choose to use them.<>Which feels like moral paralysis, and like walking past the traveller left for dead on the side of the road because I don’t want to impurify myself.<>This is unpersuasive unless it assumes precisely what is at issue. You and I have together argued against people who justify torture and unjust war using precisely the same argument: “what would we say to those killed when we failed to torture the informant in the ticking time bomb scenario?”I rather suspect that moral paralysis is very, very far down on the list of hazards which we actually face. But in any case precisely what is at issue is whether we ought to vote on <>this<> ballot, or not.MZ: They are just words to me at this point, so I can’t say whether I agree that my approach is the same or if I would distinguish my understanding in some material way.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Not that “I feel” is an argument, but I’d feel better about an answer of, “this method of saving you would have required me to commit an intrinsicially evil act,” to, “this method of working to save you would have mad me complicit with the unjust system that killed you, plus, it wouldn’t have done much good, anyway.”

  • zippy says:

    It would be “this method of working to save you would have been doing evil”. As we know, performing an intrinsically evil act isn’t the only way to do evil.

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  • basket case says:

    But that is precisely the question at root: IS voting for a candidate equivalent to giving support to <> all <> of the methods, policies, enactments, and choices the candidate is expected to issue in office? It is certainly possible to say that it is, but that position needs supporting arguments. An alternate position is, in my opinion, one that is supported by such ethical guidance we have from the Church. For example, the bishops one of their citizenship guides in a prior voting cycle (can’t remember which) said that it is not immoral to vote for a candidate who is not 100% pro-life if (a) the other candidates are against the pro-life position, and (b) you are not choosing him on account of his failing to be 100% pro-life. I admit that it would be wrong to vote for a candidate who had something intrinsically evil in his game plan if voting for him constituted “choosing” each and every part of his game plan. But I don’t see how that position can be proven.

  • zippy says:

    I don’t think it involves choosing each and every part of his platform though. (Neither can it be utterly abstracted away from his platform, and the specific powers you are voting to grant him). I thought my last several posts made that clear.

  • basket case says:

    I guess I am too dense to get your point then. I thought that you were saying that the system is degenerate because it leads us by the nose into voting for a candidate who does have a platform plank that is evil (in which we use the argument that we do not desire that evil plank be enacted but the other candidate not only will enact this evil policy but many other evil ones). If you do not think that this is a morally wrong way to act in voting, then, why would you think of this tendency in the system is as an evil tendency?

  • zippy says:

    It is not in my view a binary choice between “voting for a candidate is to formally endorse every single one of his explicit policies” and “voting for a candidate is – so long as we don’t <>desire<> any part of his platform which is evil – nothing but remote material cooperation with anything evil he says or does”. It is precisely this reductionist view of the nature of a vote – that it must be one or the other of these two things as a moral act, and nothing more – which I am calling into question. Perhaps it is difficult for folks to break out of viewing it under that dichotomy, perhaps my own writing is obscure, and perhaps both things are true. But the notion that I simply must think that to vote is to formally cooperate with everything a candidate promises to do in office is false. I don’t think that. That is precisely one side of the either/or reductionist view that I am criticizing.

  • basket case says:

    Ok, that’s a good start, I think. Maybe I am beginning to see the light. So, what is the alternative view that you think is valid between (or, independent of) those two simplistic views? I am going to take a guess at your position, you can tell me how far off base I am: when you vote for a candidate who will initiate policy X which is evil, you do not separate yourself from responsibility for X being enacted merely because X is not a policy you actually desire. Is that close?

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:<>But the notion that I simply must think that to vote is to formally cooperate with everything a candidate promises to do in office is false. I don’t think that.<>You seem to neglect the fact that voting somebody into office <>knowing<> what the candidate will do (what he promises to do) is precisely formally cooperating with evil, don’t you think?

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,That was me — e.Sorry, forgot to sign the above comment.

  • zippy says:

    bc:<>So, what is the alternative view that you think is valid between (or, independent of) those two simplistic views?<>As I mentioned before, I don’t really have one. My recent posts have represented attempts to approach the question, though.That said, I do agree with this:<>…you do not separate yourself from responsibility for X being enacted merely because X is not a policy you actually desire.<>We are responsible for what we <>choose<>, and what we <>choose<> makes us into the kind of person we become. (As I’ve mentioned before, I think that even in strictly material terms the latter is far and away the most critical issue in voting – what kind of person will casting this vote make me become? – since the material effect of a single vote is literally negligible, but the material effect of me becoming a better person is not negligible). Desire is related to choice, but desire is not choice.e:<>…voting somebody into office knowing what the candidate will do (what he promises to do) is precisely formally cooperating with evil, don’t you think?<>Desire, knowledge, and choice (intent, that is, the movement of the will) are different things. We only choose what we know, but sometimes we know things that we do not choose, and sometimes we choose things we do not desire. Formal cooperation with evil resides in choosing or intending that an evil act be done, not in knowing that it will be done. I might send my men into the breach knowing that the enemy will kill some of them; but I am not choosing for the enemy to kill some of them.So the long and the short of it is that no, simply <>knowing<> that he will do X does not make my vote for him into formal cooperation with X. Likewise, though, simply <>wishing he wouldn’t<> do X doesn’t exonerate me when I vote for him and he does X.If I wrote a blog post saying “he should do X, I support him doing X” — and meant it — then that would clearly be formal cooperation with X. In that case I am willing/choosing that he do X.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:<>So the long and the short of it is that no, simply knowing that he will do X does not make my vote for him into formal cooperation with X. <>So knowing that if you were to drive a certain relative to an abortion clinic, that person would have an abortion; should you proceed to do so, that’s not formally cooperating with evil?(Think of the vehicle as the ‘vote’ in this metaphor.)

  • zippy says:

    Of course it is, because in that case (with apologies to Anscombe), whatever little speeches one makes to onesself, one is choosing that she have an abortion.

  • basket case says:

    So, let’s see: voting for the candidate is not formal cooperation in X being enacted. Ok, so far. It does result in remote material cooperation in X being enacted. Now remote material cooperation is moral if the good end intended is proportionate to the evil expected. So if we have a proportionate end the vote is moral. We can easily cook up the scenario where the proportionate end is there, and the vote for this candidate is not only moral but the prudent course of action. I guess you will suggest that either (a) it is not remote but proximate material cooperation to vote for the guy, or (b) it is impossible for there to be a proportionate good intended to balance the evil of policy X. But I don’t see how either of these is valid. Isn’t our “cooperation” in the candidate’s enacting X the same sort of thing as is present when God cooperates in giving the candidate the power to act and to do, including God being the first cause of the motion of the will <> in this specific act <> – even though He knows the guy will sin by doing X?

  • zippy says:

    <>Isn’t our “cooperation” in the candidate’s enacting X the same sort of thing as is present when God cooperates in giving the candidate the power to act…<>Well, no, I don’t think our voting is anything like God creating, and I think that kind of analogizing is bankrupt. One could ‘justify’ voting for Stalin through that analogy, which I consider a _reductio_ of the whole approach.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Right, driving your relative to the abortion clinic knowing she was going to procure an abortion would be formal cooperation.Now, taking a job as a bus driver on a route that includes an abortion clinic, knowing that some would use that bus to procure an abortion is a thornier moral question.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,<>Of course it is, because in that case (with apologies to Anscombe), whatever little speeches one makes to onesself, one is choosing that she have an abortion.<>IF that’s the case then, why could you not say the same as of a ‘vote’?As I said earlier, the vote would simply be the vehicle in the stated metaphor and while the person via the vehicle is not actually getting the abortion — no, it’s far worse, as that person (by virtue of that ‘vehicle’) will be enacting policy that is FOR promoting acts of abortion, which makes it far worse as it will mean not just the one instance of abortion in the metaphor but for the promotion of multiple.e.

  • zippy says:

    e:Try this formulation:Driving her <>there<> <>to get an abortion<> is formal cooperation.Voting <>for him<> <>to get that policy enacted<> would be formal cooperation. But many contend – and I agree with them – that voting <>for him<> does not of necessity carry with it <>to get that policy enacted<>. When it does, it is formal cooperation; when it doesn’t, it isn’t.Mind you, as hopefully the rest of my writing reflects, I don’t think “I claim that I am not formally cooperating with evil” is an all-purpose justification which can render any vote morally licit. Far from it. And I expect that much of the time, someone who claims not to be formally cooperating actually is formally cooperating, while making an Anscombe-speech to themselves and others. So I am sympathetic to the point of view you are expressing. ‘Voting for X’ is probably in fact ‘formal cooperation with policy Y’ much more often than the conventional narrative would have it. But ‘voting for X’ is not ‘formal cooperation with Y’ as a matter of <>necessity<>.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Ok, let’s say a bus route is being proposed advocated for by a poor community.The proposed bus route would go by an abortion clinic. It is a moral certaintly that it would make it easier for people living in that neighborhood to procure abortions, and that the number doing so would increase.Has one with this knowledge who nevertheless advocates for adding this new bus route (or highway, etc.) cooperated with the abortions to take place? If so, how.

  • zippy says:

    John, I would say yes: remote material cooperation.

  • basket case says:

    Zippy, I would agree – it would be remote material cooperation. It might be justifiable (say it also makes it possible for poor people to get to the hospital who otherwise have very limited means to do so). But it might NOT be justifiable also. A case somewhat more difficult on the face of it would be an executive of the power company which sells electricity to the abortion mill. Must he refuse to sell them power? The law says he cannot withhold power from certain customers (another issue altogether there) so is he right to obey a bad law, or is the law a reasonable law in general and therefore obligatory even though he knows his product is being used to murder babies?

  • zippy says:

    <>It might be justifiable (say it also makes it possible for poor people to get to the hospital who otherwise have very limited means to do so). But it might NOT be justifiable also.<>Precisely. If the end is to permit poor people to get to work, to get to the hospital, etc, it must be proportionate to that end — one aspect of which is that it must actually be capable of accomplishing that end.An individual vote in a national election is not similarly capable. (What it <>is<> capable of accomplishing quite effectively, to belabor the point, is alteration of the voter himself).<>Must he refuse to sell them power?<>I agree — that is, I agree that that is a more difficult question 🙂

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