Happy Agreement?

October 30, 2008 § 13 Comments

So we don’t all agree that there is no proportionate reason to vote for presidential candidates who actively support policies of murdering the innocent. Shocking, that a bunch of people on the Internet don’t agree.

But we may be moving closer to something about which we can agree.

That is, perhaps we can agree that “in order to help stop B from winning because X” or “in order to help make A win because Y” do not constitute valid proportionate reasons to vote for A.

Counterintuitive, perhaps; but since when has reality always easily conformed to our intuitions?

Unnecessary Necessity

October 24, 2008 § 26 Comments

Tom has joined the throng of folks who disagree with my argument that nobody should vote for national candidates who support murdering the innocent, which I summarized here. He takes careful aim at the weakest spot in my argument: my specific premise that this kind of act of voting does election-outcome-independent harm to the persons who do it and those within their immediate sphere of influence. Tom notes that while such harm may be commonplace and grave, it isn’t necessary.

And I agree that it isn’t strictly necessary, though that isn’t something I highlighted in my argument summary, which is after all just a summary.

My position is not that the outcome-independent harm necessarily follows; just that it follows for almost everyone almost all the time. Given that it does, the chances are very good that it does for me, that is, the person considering the act; and given the negligible effect of my act on the election outcome, it would be imprudent for me to assume otherwise.

If the Emperor has no clothes, is he still the Emperor?

October 23, 2008 § 1 Comment

In the comments below, Steve G writes:

Zippy DOES have a position that is compelling to me, but I haven’t seen him argue it as forcefully as the negligible vote position. His more compelling argument is that the whole electoral process is a myth, or a sham, that we take part in. That it’s not to choose a leader, but to validate the ‘system.’

To which I replied:

That the election itself is primarily about choosing the kind of leader we want is a myth; a myth connected to the fact that our votes do not exert a significant influence over how we are governed, but exert a large influence over our acceptance of things done in our name. The election itself isn’t necessarily a sham, any more than a coronation pageant for the king is a sham. Under the mythology of what elections are about it is a sham, but it is the mythology itself which is a sham not the election itself.

More generally, a lot of the damage which occurs to us under the rubric of voting for mass murderers has to do with reinforcing the lie of what elections are really about.


Universal Catechetical Party

October 23, 2008 § 1 Comment

Paragraph 2240 in the Catechism applies to countries with a one-party political system, in addition to applying to countries with a two-party political system; because the Catechism applies to the whole Church.

I’m just saying.

Election Argument Summary

October 22, 2008 § 8 Comments

1) Murdering the innocent is the singular act which is most radically opposed to the common good, so much so that when sanctioned by authority it undercuts the very foundation of legitimate authority (see Evangelium Vitae);

2) Elections are a civic ritual in which we express our submission to legitimate authority and co-responsibility for the common good (see the Catechism);

3) Because of the radical opposition between (1) and (2), there is always some harm done to the person and those around him in voting for a candidate who supports murdering the innocent;  [Update 10-20-2012: I have elaborated on at least one of these harms here.]

4) This harm far, far outweighs any influence one’s vote has over the outcome in national elections, because in national elections one’s influence is very, very small;

5) As votes aggregate in influence over the outcome, the far more significant outcome-independent harm also aggregates in influence;

6) Therefore the outcome-independent harm in voting for a national candidate who supports murdering the innocent always far outweighs any concomitant influence over the outcome;

So there is no proportionate reason to vote for a national candidate who supports murdering the innocent in circumstances like ours.

The Catechism on Voting and Game Theory

October 22, 2008 § 19 Comments

The Catechism tells us:

2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

[Christians] reside in their own nations, but as resident aliens. They participate in all things as citizens and endure all things as foreigners. . . . They obey the established laws and their way of life surpasses the laws. . . . So noble is the position to which God has assigned them that they are not allowed to desert it.

The Apostle exhorts us to offer prayers and thanksgiving for kings and all who exercise authority, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.”

Despite the lack of any mention of game theory in this passage, some people seem to want to interpret it to mean that there is always a proportionate reason to vote for a medical cannibal who supports aborting children and using their body parts for research (like, say, John McCain), as long as the other major party candidate is worse. I’ll just point out that this interpretation involves more than a little bit of filling in of the blanks. If anything, a much more plausible interpretation is that exercising the right to vote is, when morally licit, about submission to authority, respect, co responsibility for the common good, living a pure Christian life in a pagan culture, etc — that is, it is about outcome-independent considerations, not about making sure I am on the winning team.

What the heck is a proportionate reason, anyway?

October 21, 2008 § 12 Comments

Folks may not agree with my particular conclusions about voting in the upcoming Presidential election, but maybe we can make some progress in mutual understanding of what constitutes a proportionate reason for engaging in remote material cooperation with evil. Inspired by an inquiring commenter, I give you the following:

Suppose we are contemplating doing act X in order to block a big evil E, where X is not intrinsically evil but doing it involves remote material cooperation with evil.

A proportionate reason to do X obtains when (1) X is reasonably effective in stopping E without being excessive, and (2) stopping E does not produce evils and disorders graver than E.

Folks tend to make a reasonable case for (2): that is, they make a reasonable case (lets stipulate, in case you disagree) that McCain winning does not produce evils and disorders graver than those which would follow from Obama winning.

But there is a very strong tendency to ignore (1) completely, treating an act of voting as if it were precisely the same thing as making McCain win by fiat. That isn’t the kind of thing that voting is though: it has very little actual efficacy in making one’s favored candidate win, and yet it has quite a bit of efficacy in exercising influence over the person who votes himself and those within his immediate sphere of influence.

So whether or not there is a proportionate reason to vote for a candidate depends on understanding not only the outcome dependent results of the act (that is, results which follow from McCain winning over Obama), but also the act’s outcome independent results, as well as their relative importance.

Their relative importance will in turn depend on how much influence the act actually has over the outcome: if the act has very little influence over the outcome, then its outcome-independent effects will dominate moral evaluation of the act. This is the part that people find very counterintuitive, because we think of voting as just being about the outcome. Nevertheless, because the efficacy of a vote in determining the outcome of a national election is so infinitesimal, a proper moral evaluation of it is going to be completely dominated by its outcome independent effects.


Silent Scream Quiz

October 21, 2008 § 8 Comments

What is missing from this brochure?

Some kinds of murder of the innocent are just so nineties, now that McCain is Our Guy[tm]

Then there is this:

Your search – mccain escr site:www.nrlpac.org – did not match any documents.


* Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
* Try different keywords.
* Try more general keywords.
* Try fewer keywords.

(HT to Lydia McGrew for sending me fishing for the brochure, which she remembered seeing in print.)

I Corinthians 8:9-13

October 20, 2008 § 7 Comments

9 But take heed lest perhaps this your liberty become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if a man see him that hath knowledge support the candidate who has policies of murdering the innocent, shall not his conscience, being weak, be emboldened to support a candidate who has policies of murdering the innocent?

11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ hath died?

12 Now when you sin thus against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Wherefore, if voting for a candidate who has policies of murdering the innocent scandalize my brother, I will never support such a candidate, lest I should scandalize my brother.

Let’s stick a fork in this straw man, shall we?

October 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

It seems to me that much of what I’m reading out there comes from a completely different perspective: that my vote for a presidential candidate signifies that I believe this candidate to be a perfect embodiment of the finest humanity has to offer as well as an individual who embodies every value which I hold dear.

I think the reality is – as usual – somewhere in between. “Voting is nothing but a strictly utilitarian tool for expressing a preference for this outcome over that” and “voting represents complete assent to everything my candidate supports” are two radical extremes, neither of which seem even close to the reality.

Elections are a substantive civic ritual. Voting is a concrete act of participation in that ritual, with many implications. I don’t know of anyone who thinks that voting for a candidate is endorsement of all of that candidate’s positions, let alone the kind of endorsement proposed in the quote. But a lot of people seem to think that voting isn’t really a concrete act of participation in a civic ritual at all, but rather is some kind of pure undistilled intention with respect to a preferred outcome. Neither position makes any sense; but far more people seem to adhere to the latter than to the former.

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