Some things are dichotomies…

September 24, 2008 § 15 Comments

…and some aren’t.

I think people tend to approach the effect that voting has on the voter himself as a false dichotomy. The notion seems to be that either voting has no effect whatsoever on the voter, or that voting for a candidate means that the voter is endorsing everything the candidate ever says and does or even will say or do. I don’t think either of those views is tenable. As is often the case, some things are dichotomies, and this isn’t one. Voting has a small but non-negligible effect on every voter, in my view. For some voters the ‘loyalty effect’ will be large; for others it will be small. For those who also campaign and argue for their candidate, it will generally be larger. For those who quietly do their thing in the voting booth and pray for the best, it will generally be smaller. It is neither as large as swearing undying fealty to everything a candidate stands for, nor is it entirely without any impact whatsoever on the person who votes.

In its most common formulation, the criticism seems to be that once we accept that voting affects the voter himself we have to embrace whole hog the notion that it represents an embrace of everything about a candidate and his policies. Supposedly this represents a reductio. But clearly that is a straw man: the world of possibilities is not limited to the all-or-nothingism presumed by the criticism.

Also and separately, when I argue that the effect of voting on the outcome of a national election is negligible next to the effect on the voter himself, folks tend to lop off the “negligible to the outcome” component and argue against it as a stand alone proposition. But doing that doesn’t confront my argument; it ignores my argument.

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§ 15 Responses to Some things are dichotomies…

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “the effect of voting on the outcome of a national election is negligible next to the effect on the voter himself”As with having more tea when one has of yet had nothing, so likewise is any effect on the voter more than his effect on the vote.But I wonder about the ratio. Does voting by nature, because all candidates have feet of clay, have a corrupting effect on the citizenry?If it more obviously does, (in our current society), corrupt when voting for the best possible government that can actually win, then would it not also have a lesser but likewise corrupting effect when voting for the best possible contra candidate, such as Ron Paul, because he likewise has feet of less soft clay?Other than Jim Newland, can any man be voted for without a corrupting effect?

  • zippy says:

    <>Does voting by nature, because all candidates have feet of clay, have a corrupting effect on the citizenry?<>It is an interesting question, but it isn’t one we have to answer <>in general<> in order to observe that voting for candidates <>who support murdering the innocent<> has a corrupting effect on the citizenry. “Feet of clay” is a very general characterization; “supports murdering the innocent” is quite specific.Again, citing <>Evangelium Vitae<>, civic duty and a policy of murdering the innocent are stark irreconcilable contraries, not merely ordinary compromises, present in the voter as he votes.I don’t need to analyze Renaissance art in order to unequivocally reject hard core pornography.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “I don’t need to analyze Renaissance art in order to unequivocally reject hard core pornography.”But what is it that you are rejecting? While all of your examples appeal to that which is better known, it still remains that it is the principle which guides to which the example must conform.While the examples you give are obvious, the underlying principle is rather elusive.Voting appears to be somewhat akin to authority in government, so that while authority actually exists in the government of a society, it is derived from individual men where that authority does not exist except as latent. Likewise, each man’s vote is as nothing, (or negligible), but accumulatively, they pass on the authority to govern. Thus, voting doesn’t appear to be an individual act, albeit each man votes individually, but a social act. The effect as a social act is different than an individual moral choice even when the choice in voting takes on a moral character because men are not acting as if their vote is negligible but acting as part of a unity.

  • zippy says:

    <>…the underlying principle is rather elusive.<>It isn’t complicated, it is just counterintuitive to people steeped in democratic mythology. In general, voting has an effect on the <>outcome<> and an effect on the <>voter<>. In mass market elections the latter dominates and the former diminishes to utter irrelevance; and thus the latter should rightly dominate moral evaluation of the act. With great power comes great responsibility; with negligible power comes negligible justification for cooperating with evil.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “It isn’t complicated, it is just counterintuitive to people steeped in democratic mythology.”If democratic mythology is the driving force, but I suspect that when people balk at the notion of their vote being negligible they are not acting according to democratic mythology but according to a more proper understanding of society.The assumption that each vote is negligible treats each man voting as individual, versus all men acting as a social whole. But why should voting be treated as an individual acts when the underlying act is giving authority to the government which can only be done as a social act and not as individual acts?To say that they are individual acts appears to fall into the error of the social compact.

  • zippy says:

    I’ve already addressed, a bunch of times, the issue of what happens when we aggregate acts of voting. When we aggregate effects on election outcomes we also aggregate effects on voters. If every time you give a penny to Bob you necessarily have to give a dollar to Fred, you can’t make the problem go away by saying that if everyone does it Bob gets more than a penny.<>To say that they are individual acts appears to fall into the error of the social compact.<>To say that voting is not an individual act is ludicrous on its face. It may be other things <>in addition<>, of course, which my argument addresses.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “To say that voting is not an individual act is ludicrous on its face.”Just as society is composed of individuals but is not individual act but a single social act, so likewise voting is done by individuals but is not an individual act, but a social act.Just as men are by nature social and by nature exist in society so likewise do they form society as a whole and not as individuals. Voting is a means of formation of society and thus is done through the whole of society and not done as individuals except insofar the authority of society is latent in each individual. _________________zippy writes : “I’ve already addressed, a bunch of times, the issue of what happens when we aggregate acts of voting. . . “True, but you have always approached voting as an individual act.

  • zippy says:

    The idea that I treat it as nothing but an individual act is just flat false.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “The idea that I treat it as nothing but an individual act is just flat false.”“as nothing but”Even if you do assume voting is some form of a composite act which is only partly individual, The entire proposition of a vote being negligible in proportion to the effect on the voter assumes the act insofar as there is an effect on the voter is an individual act. The point is, voting per se is not an individual act but a social act. We speak of individual men voting just as we speak of eyes seeing, but eyes see as an act of a man, so likewise voting is an act of society. Thus any given vote may be negligible to the total vote tally, but it is not negligible to the vote which is not done as an individual act, just as seeing is not an individual act of the eyes.And since it is not negligible as social act, then neither can it be proportionately negligible in the individual since the voter does not act as individual.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I don’t believe its a binary dischotomy, that voting effects you or it doesnt; I agree that it happens in degrees.My case is that if the primary problem with voting for a candidate who promotes the murder of the innocent is in what it does to you, then the degree to which it effects you is a variable data point in determining whether one’s reasons for doing so a proportionate.In other words, proportionalism needs to be applied critically to both sides of the scale.

  • zippy says:

    LTG:If your criticism, which I do not understand, depends on an act of voting being strictly a corporate act (whatever that means) and not in any sense whatsoever the act of an individual person at all, well, all I can say is that I don’t think I really need to argue with conclusions drawn from that premise.

  • zippy says:

    John:<>My case is that if the primary problem with voting for a candidate who promotes the murder of the innocent is in what it does to you, then the degree to which it effects you is a variable data point in determining whether one’s reasons for doing so a proportionate.<>I absolutely agree. I just don’t think there exists a person for whom his personal vote’s effect on the outcome of a national election is non-negligible compared to its effect on him. This is an empirical claim, yes. I’ve compared it to waving a Japanese fan in a hurricane before: I do not believe that a person exists who can wave a Japanese fan in a hurricane and have a material effect on the hurricane while having an immaterial effect on himself.

  • William Luse says:

    <>And since it is not negligible as social act, then neither can it be proportionately negligible in the individual since the voter does not act as individual.<>I guess that means that by voting I’m fulfilling my role as another ant in the colony. Inspiring. That’ll get me to the polls.

  • love the girls says:

    William Luse writes : “I guess that means that by voting I’m fulfilling my role as another ant in the colony.” I certain sense, that is correct. Men are by nature political animals, just as ants are at a much lower level. But unlike ants and communism and other tyrannies, individual men do not exist for the good of the ant pile, but the ant pile exists for the good of each individual man. And further unlike the ants, while a society of men can exist without any given member, its members are not negligible to that society. So in a sense like the ants, it is as political animal that men form society of which voting is an act of such forming.Zippy has put forth a counter intuitive proposition that each man’s vote is negligible. His proposition is that the intuitiveness the populace holds is at a cultural level, i.e . the populace is steeped in democratic mythology, but I wonder if that same intuition is not cultural intuition as zippy proposes, but instead intuition as most proper to man, i.e. part of the rational soul.As Aristotle writes in bk.1chpt.2 of the politics:“. . the nature of a thing is its end. .” So that if we want to know the nature of voting it’s good to look to the end of voting which is the formation of government which is in turn a part of formation of society. Thus voting, like all other acts of formation of society, is not an individual act so much as it is a social act. And as social act, each vote is not negligible because while each vote is singular, voting is itself a social act which is done in unison with all other members of society. For instance, inculcation, which is likewise a part of formation of society, may take place at the individual level because each child is inculcated as individual, but that culture exists most properly in the society and not in each individual.

  • zippy says:

    <>Zippy has put forth a counter intuitive proposition that each man’s vote is negligible.<>Each man’s vote in fact <>is<> negligible with respect to the outcome of the election, and non-negligible with respect to its effect on himself. Everyone knows this, though because of the mythology of democracy most do not want to admit it to themselves.

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