The Lesser of Two Cannibals

June 4, 2008 § 18 Comments

Suppose we have two and only two viable candidates on the ballot for the highest office in the land. Both candidates have promised to federally fund the vivisection of live children for medical research, and will have the power to do so through executive orders if elected; but you think one will do less damage than the other in other areas and for other reasons.

Any act you perform which materially cooperates with a candidate’s medical cannibalism must be proportioned to its end. Among other things, this means that your act must be efficacious in actually achieving its end (in this case, prevention of the additional damage you expect to be caused by the other candidate).

But an individual act of voting in a national election is not efficacious in achieving any material end. It has no impact on the outcome of the election whatsoever.

On the other hand, an individual act of voting in the postulated election is efficacious in one respect. It is efficacious in turning you into the kind of person who is willing to vote for a cannibal.

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§ 18 Responses to The Lesser of Two Cannibals

  • brandon field says:

    <>Both candidates have promised to federally fund the vivisection of live children for medical research, and will have the power to do so through executive orders if elected;<>Just a quick comment: this is sounding a lot like the “suppose you’re Jack Bauer and you have five minutes before all of Gotham City explodes and the guy who planted the bomb is sitting in your custody.”Your intent might be different, but I’m just sayin’…

  • zippy says:

    <>… this is sounding a lot like the “suppose you’re Jack Bauer and you have five minutes before all of Gotham City explodes and the guy who planted the bomb is sitting in your custody.”<>It is intended to be an accurate description of the actual Presidential section of the ballot in the upcoming general election.

  • brandon field says:

    <>It is intended to be an accurate description of the actual Presidential section of the ballot in the upcoming general election.<>Yow. It sounded too over the top to be true. I guess the phrase “We have met the enemy and they is us” has never been more apt.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    <>But an individual act of voting in a national election is not efficacious in achieving any material end. It has no impact on the outcome of the election whatsoever.<>What happens to your argument when you reject this premise? No act of solidarity is efficacious by such a standard.

  • zippy says:

    <>What happens to your argument when you reject this premise?<>If black is white and up is down, all bets are off.<>No act of solidarity is efficacious by such a standard.<>You can’t justify material cooperation with grave evil as ‘an act of solidarity’. It has to be justified (if it is justifiable at all) under the principle of double-effect, which in part requires that the means be proportionate to the end. I think people often misunderstand what that means; thus the post above.

  • discalcedyooper says:

    The solidarity is the selection of the head of the polis. That is the end of voting. You seem to want to acknowledge non-material effects of voting when noting such things as moral confusion over abortion or marriage. You minimize the non-material when it comes to what the regime that is elected ultimately effects. In the former camp, by virtue of one’s vote one is a participant in evil. In the latter camp, by virtue of one’s abstinance one isn’t represented by the State. I don’t have an issue with people rejecting the State; they just have to do more than refuse to vote in order to reject it in my book. The nature of corporate action is that it is done in everyone’s name. An individual’s complicity in any given corporate act of course varies.

  • zippy says:

    There are frankly too many errors in that last comment for me to address them all individually with precision. Let me just touch on this one:<>… by virtue of one’s abstinance one isn’t represented by the State.<>That is complete nonsense. The State is responsible for the common good: it is responsible for the good of all within its jurisdiction, not solely for the good of those who choose to participate in the voting liturgy. (Indeed the State is responsible, among other things – whether it acknowledges this responsibility or not – to protect the common good from the tyranny of the electorate).

  • discalcedyooper says:

    It is kind of ironic that you keep using liturgy given that is same argument nihilists use. They use it to deny faith in God. You use it to deny civic obligations.

  • zippy says:

    I find the comment incomprehensible.

  • Anonymous says:

    Isn’t there also a third option -third party or write in? Would you still see it as cooperation with evil to participate in a voting liturgy that offers Cannibal A and Cannibal B as one of the presumptive winners, but still allows for third party or write in (knowing with 99.999% certainty that the TP or write-in won’t win)?

  • zippy says:

    <>Would you still see it as cooperation with evil to participate in a voting liturgy that offers Cannibal A and Cannibal B as one of the presumptive winners, but still allows for third party or write in (knowing with 99.999% certainty that the TP or write-in won’t win)?<>It is certainly a more difficult question. To participate in a specific election is to personally ratify its legitimacy (which is why the Soviets held elections), and an election in which two cannibals are the only viable options unquestionably has legitimacy issues. There may be other legitimacy issues, connected for example to the theme of < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2008/06/of-boiled-frogs-and-cooperation-with.html" REL="nofollow">this post<>.If it is wrong to participate in such an election by writing in a certain loser or voting third party, though, it would be wrong under some different principle from what we have discussed so far. Doing so ‘feels like’ it might be a form of lie to me; a willing lighting of the incense to the pagan god, if you want a more colorful description. But I think it is darker and less certain moral territory, and I would not claim to have settled even in my own mind the question of TP/write-in. Its advantage is the specificity of making a particular choice. Its disadvantage is that it involves personal ratification of the substantive process which produced the bad options to begin with.

  • basket case says:

    <> But an individual act of voting in a national election is not efficacious in achieving any material end. It has no impact on the outcome of the election whatsoever. <> This simply is not right, Zippy. The final efficaciousness of my vote cannot be determined beforehand. For one thing, I am not voting in a national election where all votes are counted together: my vote matters with respect to the electoral votes for my state alone. So I can disregard the votes outside my state in making this determination. (And in 2 of the states the context is even more limited, because the individual electors are awarded separately, instead of en masse.) Second, before the fact you simply don’t know whether my one single vote will be the deciding vote in this jurisdiction. Suppose A wins over B. WHATEVER the eventual total numbers of votes for A vs B, and whatever the order in which you count the votes, ONE specific vote cast by one person will push A’s tally over B’s total, and THAT vote is significant. Since the order in which you count the votes is arbitrary, EVERY vote for A is just as important as that ONE vote that pushed A’s tally above B’s total. To say that the votes are insignificant is to deny the whole meaning of voting altogether. You are trying to smash together some kind of metaphysical lack of determinacy with respect to any single vote into a lack of final efficacy, and there is no valid basis for this. (One can see this by taking a smaller vote: I ask 5 of my kids whether they want to see movie X or movie Y. If the vote is 4 for X and 1 for Y, does that mean 2 of the votes for X were insignificant, because only 2 votes for X were needed to outnumber the 1 vote for Y? That is just plain nonsensical. Are the votes significant because 1/5 is a pretty large fraction, compared to 1/1,000,000? That is still less rational: a vote FOR cannibal X precisely on account of his cannibalism is morally significant whether it is 1/5 of the total or 1/1,000,000,000.) <> On the other hand, an individual act of voting in the postulated election is efficacious in one respect. It is efficacious in turning you into the kind of person who is willing to vote for a cannibal. <> To the extent that (by hypothesis) the vote for the cannibal may be only material cooperation for proportionate reasons, voting for the cannibal can be the prudent course of action (taking into account just the external forum of causes and effects, for the moment). Maybe you don’t feel this way, but I for one want the voters to take the prudent course of action, because that is where virtue lies. I <> do <> want to be the sort of person who votes for a cannibal when virtue lies in that action. Taking into account the internal forum, if prudence with respect to the external forum implies voting for the candidate, then all of the negative internal ramifications of “be willing to vote for a candidate” can be successfully dealt with by a real internal adherence to the valid reasons prudence dictated voting for the cannibal, and a real internal eschewing of the cannibalism, and by asking God for the grace to stay true to the right course. In other words, God has placed us in a world full of imperfect choices. To refuse to take the prudent course because it could be a first step on a slippery slope is to refuse to grant God’s grace due place in our lives. We <> choose <> according to the best we choice have here and now, and we <> hope <> for the grace to choose well in choices that are not yet here and now.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Reading < HREF="http://disputations.blogspot.com/2008_06_01_archive.html#7336192151348772319" REL="nofollow">Tom’s latest<>, I think the problem is that we have a tendency to tell ourselves our moral decisions, even when thos include remote material cooperation with evil, are just nifty.No, you’re right, tendency =/= destiny, but I do think tendency is sufficient that it represents a near occasion of sin. There’s the old saying that a long face is not a moral disenfectant. But that may be what is required in some cases so we don’t think we don’t continue to do it.

  • basket case says:

    <> There’s the old saying that a long face is not a moral disenfectant. But that may be what is required in some cases so we don’t think we don’t continue to do it. <> What is required when we are choosing a lesser evil is a chosen and willed adherence to the proportionate good as such – with the evil acknowledged and the reasons for the choice being good but not perfect good clearly before us. This is what the wise and good man does in such circumstance. In doing so, we root out the basis for the tendency of the evil to affect us negatively, or at least diminish it to a tendency that we can <> expect <> to overcome with grace in the normal order. Certainly there is <> a tendency to tell ourselves our moral decisions, even when thos include remote material cooperation with evil, are just nifty <> But as long as God puts us in a world of evil men, we have no choice but to locate the most prudent course, and many times that prudent course is cooperation with evil men. Wisdom lies not in avoiding every circumstance that can cause a temptation, but in avoiding those for which we have no due, proportionate reason for taking on. My having kids is all by itself an occasion of the sin of anger. But the good – obedience to the norm of fruitfulness in marriage and assisting in the creation of new immortal beings to love God in eternity – is proportionate to the danger.

  • zippy says:

    <>What is required when we are choosing a lesser evil …<>No, no, and no again. It is never OK to choose evil, ever. But you probably didn’t mean that; you’ve just been acclimated to thinking and talking about things that way.One of the things I harp on regularly is that there is a difference between what is abstractly possible to the imagination and what is <>real<>. If I take a Japanese fan and wave it in front of my face to cool myself off in a stagnant room, it has some effect. If I take a Japanese fan and wave it in a hurricane to protect my house, it has no effect — though yes, such an effect is abstractly imaginable.No individual act of voting ever has decided or ever will decide a national election. No act of waving a Japanese fan has ever saved a home from destruction by a hurricane. That doesn’t mean that a vote on a board of directors has no effect, etc. But in the real world, as opposed to the imaginary abstract worlds folks who attempt to justify voting for a cannibal live in, individual votes do not decide national elections. The nature of a hurricane is <>different<>, as a matter of <>reality<>, no matter what abstractly self-consistent imaginary stories people tell themselves.

  • kentuckyliz says:

    But then again, beyond the issue of cannibalism, you have to look at what the candidates say they’re going to do to take care of the rest of us who weren’t cannibalized. Government programs = agape love. Punch that chad with gusto!

  • basket case says:

    <> No, no, and no again. It is never OK to choose evil, ever. But you probably didn’t mean that; <> Ok, I grant that I got a little careless. What you are choosing is a good that is caused by a cause that also separately brings an evil (which you are not choosing), and you choose the good knowing that the evil is going to come, on account of the good being proportionate. I was trying to do a little shorthand – I stand corrected. <> No individual act of voting ever has decided or ever will decide a national election. No, no, and no again. <> The question is not “will I decide by my vote the national election” but “do I participate in bringing a candidate to office by my vote?” If my vote is what makes me a causal participant of bringing cannibal X to office, this is what makes me a causal participant (materially or formally) in his decisions in office. If my vote is NOT a causal participant of bringing X to office, then I have no participation in his cannibalistic actions and have no moral responsibility therein.

  • zippy says:

    <>If my vote is NOT a causal participant of bringing X to office, then I have no participation in his cannibalistic actions and have no moral responsibility therein.<>Au contraire. If you voted for a pro-abort candidate <>because<> he was pro-abort, and he didn’t win, that doesn’t render your act of voting morally licit. It was formal cooperation with evil and illicit. Futile evil acts are evil acts nonetheless. If an act of remote material cooperation with evil is <>futile<>, it is morally illicit. If one cannot affect the outcome by engaging in an act of remote material cooperation with evil, one should not engage in that act.

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