It is harmful to act unreasonably
October 20, 2012 § 6 Comments
Quite a few people protest that when we vote for a candidate, we are not endorsing that candidate. This protest is wrong. When we vote for a candidate we are endorsing that candidate for that office. That is precisely what voting for a candidate intrinsically is, as a concrete act.
I think what is happening here is that people are confusing the object of an act of voting with their intentions. Remember that the object of an act is the actual objective (as opposed to subjective — thus the term “object”) concrete behaviour we choose. Our intentions are the subjective meaning we attach to our act: in the case of voting this – making sure our intentions are good – is where all the discursive action is in the talk about limiting evil. When someone says “I am voting for Romney to limit evil” he is referring to his subjective intentions, and it is important to have good intentions. That is why documents like Faithful Citizenship focus on how you can go about having a right intention when it comes to voting.
As Catholics though – as anyone who apprehends the natural law, for that matter – we know that good intentions, while absolutely critical, are not sufficient to justify a concrete act. When I say that the voter is endorsing Romney for President I am referring to the actual concrete behaviour he chooses: the object of his act. He intends to limit evil. How does he act on that intention? By endorsing Romney with his vote.
A problem arises because he votes for Romney as a putatively pragmatic act[*]; and voting for Romney as a pragmatic act is not a reasonable thing to do, despite his good intentions. Voting irrationally has all sorts of harmful effects on the person who does it and on those around him. Most importantly it reinforces attitudes and manners of thinking, in the voter and in those over whom he has personal influence, which are false: that is, in opposition to the truth. Reinforcing untruth is harmful to individuals and to the common good[**].
The harm of voting irrationally obtains whether or not Romney wins: outcome-independent harm. So the rest follows. Voting pragmatically (as opposed to acting in a principled/idealistic way) with reference to the outcome in Presidential elections is harmful to individuals and the common good. Because this harm is independent of the election outcome, any proportionate reason to justify it would also have to be independent of the election outcome. If as an objective matter you actually do have a proportionate reason to join Team Romney, that proportionate reason cannot be because things will be better under a Romney presidency than under an Obama presidency. It must be some good obtained simply by joining Team Romney, whether he wins or loses.
[*] Someone who is gung-ho Romney without reservations doesn’t have this problem. But he does have other problems, to wit, formal cooperation with evil.
[**] Note that I have altered my position from four years ago, having fired a neuron or two in the interim. Four years ago I didn’t have a reason to think that the outcome-independent harm to the pragmatic presidential voter was strictly necessary: it was just something I observed empirically. I have now identified why that harm is in fact universal for the pragmatic-outcome presidential voter.