Three cheers for the lesser evil!

October 17, 2012 § 23 Comments

Suppose Planned Parenthood has a bet riding on the Redskins game: if the ‘skins win, Death, Inc. gets a million dollars.   Suppose Fertile Hope has a million dollar bet against the ‘skins.

[Edit: the stake comes from some neutral third party.  The important bit is that if the Skins lose, FH gets a million.  If the Skins win, PP gets a million.  Tomahawk CHOP, Baby!]

Fifty thousand people are expected to show up for the game.

Is it rational for you to go to the game and shout “Go Fertile Hope!” based on your calculation that Fertile Hope getting a million dollars is a less evil outcome than Planned Parenthood getting a million dollars?  Does your expectation about how you can personally affect the outcome of the game create a proportionate reason to go to the game and wave a little “Fertile Hope!” flag?

§ 23 Responses to Three cheers for the lesser evil!

  • johnmcg says:

    It is theoretically possible that this would be a prudent thing to do. If one really could walk away from the game, put down the banner, and proceed in life as if that had never happened. We don’t want to get to the VN point where we distance ourselves from defending the unborn because some pro-life person said something stupid, or his wife’s cousin’s boss sits on the board of Goldman Sachs.

    But we know that’s not how it works. Other people waving the banners will approach us with other things we need to do. Yes, PP may have lost this game, but they’re gearing up for some other, more important games that are even more important than this one, and you need to support Fertile Hope. You don’t want Planned Parenthood to win this next game, do you?

    And on it goes…

  • Rodak says:

    “Does your expectation about how you can personally affect the outcome of the game create a proportionate reason to go to the game and wave a little “Fertile Hope!” flag?”

    No, as you set it up, it certainly doesn’t. But let’s try a slightly different scenario. Supposing instead of a bet, the Redskins have pledged $1 million donation to Planned Parenthood if they beat an opponent that has made a similar pledge to Fertile Hope. The prize money is to be comprised of a percentage of the gate and concession receipts. Then the X-number of dollars you spend for your ticket, beers, snack foods, etc. would actually contribute to the good you think that your organization of choice will do in the world, if your team wins. In this scenario you do have a personal stake in it, no matter how small. Your choosing to attend the game and buy a few beers is a rational choice. And your rooting, though it may not affect the game’s outcome, is as rational as any hope for the better ever is.
    I think that this is a better analogy to voting (or tithing) than the one offered above, based on bets.

  • Rodak:
    Then the X-number of dollars you spend for your ticket, beers, snack foods, etc. would actually contribute to the good you think that your organization of choice will do in the world, if your team wins.

    I’m gonna leave the problem with this reformulation as an exercise.

  • Rodak says:

    How can it become an “exercise” if we aren’t told what the problem with it is?

  • Scott W. says:

    if the ‘skins win, Death, Inc. gets a million dollars.

    From who? Fertile Hope?

  • Scott:
    From who? Fertile Hope?

    No, the money comes from the same place it always comes from these days: quantitative easing. 😀

    Seriously, where the money comes from isn’t important. Assume it comes from somewhere neutral, not from either PP or FH. The point is that someone is going to get a million, and PP/FH are the “viable” candidates.

  • Rodak says:

    In my scenario it does come from somewhere neutral, but it only comes at all if the game is attended by enough spectators, whether partisan or not, to raise the necessary amount. Everybody who attends the game for the specific purpose of contributing to that “pot” has his bit of skin in the game–and a rationale for attending and rooting for the appropriate team to win.

  • OK, let me help you out Rodak.

    A good Catholic is not supposed to want either PP or FH to win the money. The only reason he is tempted to cheer for FH is to block PP from getting the money, because FH is the lesser evil. So if his ticket proceeds, etc go to fund the pot, the dilemma goes away and his choice is a no-brainer: stay home and don’t buy a ticket. All the ticket gets him is the ability to cheer on FH: to influence the outcome of the game. That is clearly not worth the price of entry.

    It does raise the question of how much “lesser evil, YAY!” voting there would be if we had a poll tax.

  • Rodak says:

    Okay, Zippy. Would you still think that any individual is wasting his time voting if the one of the choices was definitely a Good choice, and not the lesser of two evils? The effect of any one vote is still negligible, even though there is a good choice, so he might as well stay home and hope that the aggregate that does vote votes for the Good.
    Of course, if everybody did that, the Good loses by default.
    If, on the other hand, what is important is the intent with which the individual moral agent casts his vote, then the fact that, say, FH is but the lesser of two evils is irrelevant, since his intent was to lessen the number of abortions, which is a good intent.

  • Rodak:
    Would you still think that any individual is wasting his time voting if the one of the choices was definitely a Good choice, and not the lesser of two evils?

    It isn’t a matter of wasting time; it is a matter of having proportionate reason.

    But the answer is no, he isn’t wasting his time in your words, and he doesn’t need to find a proportionate reason in mine. He needs a proportionate reason to choose remote material cooperation with evil. He doesn’t need a proportionate reason to choose good.

    Our system is not going to present us with that sort of choice though. That isn’t what it is designed to do.

  • Rodak says:

    No, the system certainly isn’t going to present us with that sort of choice.
    But why would buying a ticket to help raise a million dollars for which would (perhaps) contribute to saving even one life, not be a proportionate reason for spending the X-dollars and attending the game (in hope)? Is it not proportionate simply because it’s not a sure thing? Or is it not proportionate because that one life potentially saved is just not worth the effort and the price of admission?

  • I realize that you are trying to set up an analogy to tithing, Rodak. I just don’t think that analogy works, at all. Even if we had poll taxes the analogy would be very weak, in my view.

    And no, it isn’t justifiable to contribute money to Planned Parenthood or Fertile Hope just because you can identify some good they do. It isn’t justifiable to support a murderer even when that murderer is generous to his neighbors.

  • Rodak says:

    Then the prescription is some form of civic quietism? I can’t really see how most people could do most types of work that are available without contributing to ends that if not plainly evil are at least not contributing to the Good.

  • Rodak:
    Then the prescription is some form of civic quietism?

    I. Make. No. Such. Prescription.

    (Other than to do good and avoid evil, and to seek the truth).

    What I have made explicit I have made explicit; other than that, you can’t assume that I would agree with your extrapolations, etc.

    If things are the way I say they are, I can think of hundreds of different ways people might respond to it. I can’t possibly explore them all. I am certain that – even though I have a very capable imagination – there are many ways someone might respond of which I have not thought.

    And in any case it is beside the point: either things are the way I say they are, or they aren’t the way I say they are. I may not be the right person to come up with action plans or whatever: just because I can diagnose a problem accurately doesn’t mean I’m the guy with the fix. It doesn’t mean a fix exists, for that matter.

    The way people are always attempting to couple diagnosis and action together just obscures the truth. The truth doesn’t care what action plan we might come up with in response to it. I’ve always found it helpful, when seeking the truth, to set aside all the conclusion-jumping about how I might respond to it if i turns out to be this or that. Conclusion-jumping about action plans can only cloud our diagnostic judgement.

  • Rodak says:

    Okay, Bartleby. My argument is exhausted. The field is yours.

  • John:
    It is theoretically possible that this would be a prudent thing to do. If one really could walk away from the game, put down the banner, and proceed in life as if that had never happened.

    … and also told no-one about it, because as soon as you start telling people about it the (outcome-independent) scandal is going to outweigh any effect you had on the outcome. (In this way the ballgame analogy is inadequate, because you could theoretically vote in complete secrecy).

  • Scott W. says:

    Seriously, where the money comes from isn’t important.

    I was operating under the assumption that elections in and of themselves are inextricable from evil liberalism, whereas football games are not evil in and of themselves, nor is rooting for your favorite team. So if the NFL said hey guys, if the Skins win we donate a mil to PP, if the other team wins, we give it to FH, In that case our patronizing the game (to say nothing of rooting for a team) is an unacceptable amount of cooperation with evil. On the other hand, if I’m just a football fan and a redskins fan and PP just happens to bet on the game (just like the untold numbers of people the place bets with a bookie), then that is remote material cooperation which strikes me of the same level as saying buying beer gives money to beer companies which makes me responsible for people drink and drive. That’s why I thought the source important.

  • Tom K. says:

    The important point in all this, of course, is that the Redskins lose.

  • Rodak says:

    Not if they’re playing the Raiders. Or the Packers.

  • Scott:
    I think I can chalk it up to weaknesses in the analogy: as you say, there are lots of reasons to go to a football game. The reason to analogize at all is to appeal to the familiar; but naturally there are differences which can spoil the analogy. So suppose you hate football, and the only reason you are considering going is to do your part to block PP …

    I suppose someone might vote just for fun, or as a way to meet chicks or whatever. That strikes me as similar to “renting” a bag of gold as a display item, later to be returned, which Aquinas conceded is not usury. That kind of consideration might change the calculus in much the same way as voting third party might change the calculus: basically, you’ve decoupled your moral evaluation from expectations about personally influencing the outcome, which is exactly what right reason requires.

    But I could make similar demurrals when it comes to lighting a pinch of incense. At the end of the day it is the cultural significance of the act, not the action per se, that matters in terms of moral evaluation. That’s why I refer to voting as a quasi-sacramental act.

    Also this moves us well outside the scope of the usual “proportionate reason” arguments. I might not be quite ready to say that voting to meet chicks is morally wrong, but it isn’t as if I am arguing with people who say that they are voting to meet chicks.

    Tom:
    I’m glad someone noticed.

  • Kristor says:

    Fertile Hope is a Star Wars deal, right?

  • They help people freeze their embryos.

  • […] Elections, and the Kantian Chasm; Matthew 18:3; Licensed to Gripe; Reconciled to the King; Three cheers for the lesser evil!; Saint […]

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