Virtue’s silver medalist

October 31, 2012 § 6 Comments

If you’ve come this far with me, there is good news when it comes to discerning what to do about voting in national elections, and I’d be remiss in not sharing it with you.

The good news is that when people say in an unqualified way that it is a mortal sin to vote for X or Y, they don’t know what they are talking about.

Mortal sin requires knowledge, full consent, and grave matter. As far as I can tell, the only action in voting in a national election which could possibly involve all three of those things is formal cooperation with grave evil.

All of what we’ve been discussing for the past few weeks has involved the question of whether or not there is, objectively, proportionate reason to vote for a particular candidate or to vote at all, given that doing so involves remote material cooperation with evil. If you’ve been following along, you almost certainly know by now how to avoid the trap of engaging in formal cooperation with evil. Formal cooperation with evil is almost certainly, by far, the most pervasive moral problem when it comes to democratic elections; and the Bishops’ preaching on how to avoid formal cooperation has probably helped more souls by far to avoid mortal sin than any collection of blogs about making the actual prudential judgement that follows after.

Furthermore, whether you agree with me or not in the specifics, you have doubtless done your best – as have I – to exercise right reason in coming to the conclusions you have reached. If you and me, we still disagree, that means that one of us must be wrong. It could be you, and it could be me, or it could even be both of us; and I don’t think it is me (else I wouldn’t argue as I do: that is just the nature of disagreement). It is important – it is in fact doctrinal – that we must not equate the true good even with evil that is the result of a non-culpable error in judgement. Therefore we absolutely must not adopt the morally relativist position that it is OK in some unqualified sense for me to not vote and for you to vote as you choose: it isn’t.

It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non-culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good.

So if we disagree, one of us may be right and at least one of us is wrong. But odds are strong that if we’ve gotten this far together, whatever error in judgement that remains – and one must remain, as long as we disagree – is a non-culpable error. In the end we can only do our best. In the end you need to make up your own mind, and as I try to regularly remind people, it would be the height of silliness to place too great a moral weight on the pontifications of an Internet clown named Zippy. If my arguments stand the test of your own reason, great. If they do not, well, I think you are wrong, but it isn’t me that you have to answer to. And as long as we can all stand on virtue’s podium I’ll be as happy with the silver medal as with the gold.

§ 6 Responses to Virtue’s silver medalist

  • johnmcg says:

    Therefore we absolutely must not adopt the morally relativist position that it is OK in some unqualified sense for me to not vote and for you to vote as you choose: it isn’t.

    I’m not so certain of this. (though what follows may be a “qualification”)

    We all have different vocations in life, and me must follow our own vocations; they are not universal. We are not all called to the religious priesthood. For those that are, it is morally right for them to follow that vocation (in fact it would be morally wrong for them not to), but not so for those who are not called.

    On a lower level we each have charisms that manifest themselves in various ways. I teach PSR, others organize the parish carnival, some run soup kitchens, etc. While we all need to be engaged in things like serving the poor, how that looks will vary by individual, as demonstrated by the saints that we celebrated today.

    I think it’s possible that voting or not voting may be part of the manifestation of charisms. Some may be called to work within the system to reform it (though perhaps not, if one is as convinced it is fundamentally corrupt as zippy seems to be; I am not). some may be called to prophesy against it from the outside.

    So, I suspect it may be possible that given zippy’s charism and vocations, it is the right thing for him not to vote, while it may be consistent with someone else’s charism and vocation to vote.

    If there are saints among today’s US citizenry, I suspect they include Democrats, Republicans, and those who stay away from them.

    For myself, I have reached a conclusion similar to zippy’s. My observance of those who have chosen differently leads me to suspect they would be better off if they also abstained. But I’m not certain of that.

  • John:
    So, to summarize (correct this if I’m wrong), because of the theory of charisms you’ve roughed out here, some people have a proportionate reason to vote and some don’t, based on their charisms.

    If that is the case though then I’ve made an error in judgement, because I’ve concluded that nobody should vote, period. (I don’t see how a charism theory could undermine that judgement). You act correctly based on correct judgement; I act incorrectly based on faulty judgement. You get the gold medal: a good act. (The good act is itself the gold medal, in my analogy). At best I get the silver, if my error in judgement is non-culpable: but even so it remains (in the words of the Magisterium) an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. I may not have sinned strictly speaking (that’s what “non-culpable” means); but it is never acceptable to equate my act to yours.

    Of course many of us will get the bronze instead, acting based on culpable errors in judgement or motivated at least in part by vice (“I’m smarter than them” egotism, etc). Yet we always have the obligation to go for the gold: a good act motivated by virtue and carried out with objectively sound judgement based on true facts. This “agree to disagree” relativism that some are suggesting is never acceptable: it is doctrinally never acceptable.

    The real losers, in a cosmic sense, are those who do culpable grave evil. As I’ve argued before, and as I believe to be clearly true, the vast majority of voters formally cooperate with grave evil when they vote: they vote for Obama because he supports abortion rights, or they vote for Romney because he supports torturing prisoners and objectively unjust wars, or what have you. But that does not in turn give us license to settle for the bronze or the silver. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”.

  • johnmcg says:

    If your position is that nobody should vote, period; then yes, there is no possibility that you could be right and another Catholics who believe she should vote is also correct.

    I think it is possible to believe that, I, JohnMcG should not vote, but another Catholic X should vote.

    To carry through your analogy, we may all be in the Olympics on the same team, but not all be competing in the same event. Some things, such as doping, are wrong regardless of what event we’re competing in. Other things, like pigging out on junk food during training, are generally imprudent. But what I do to get a gold medal in swimming may be different from what someone else does to get a gold medal in track.

    This may be all nonsense — there is a line where we cross from respecting diversity of charisms into relativism. I tend to draw that line at intrinsic evils and formal cooperation with them.

    What I think you’ve been attempting to establish is that:

    a.) Voting for a candidate because he supports an intrinsic evil is formal cooperation with evil and intrinsically wrong — akin to an athlete doping.

    b.) Voting for a candidate despite his support for intrinsic evil is imprudent, given the current state of American politics.

    I’m not sure that this establishes that this imprudence must logically be universal. It may be so, practically, and I struggle to come up with a counterexample if one accepts most of your arguments, just as I struggle to conceive of an Olympic training regiment that includes regular visits to McDonald’s.

  • John:
    … there is a line where we cross from respecting diversity of charisms into relativism. I tend to draw that line at intrinsic evils and formal cooperation with them.

    I expect you’d tend to expand that a bit in the case of prudential judgements like Just War. 🙂

    One of my recurring themes here is that “prudential judgement” is not code for “there are no right or wrong answers, so shut up”. The right-liberals have been pulling that postmodern trick for quite some time now, but “not intrinsically evil” doesn’t mean “not evil”, “not gravely evil”, or “not knowably evil”.

    What I think you’ve been attempting to establish is that …

    Well, there are a number of layers to what I think has been established, and people tend to get off the bus at whatever stop doesn’t make them feel uncomfortably sociopathic. Since they have been established sequentially, it is true that the more uncomfortable conclusions don’t act as a reductio of prior conclusions.

    What the Bishops have focused on (and what I first focused on years ago here) is by far the most important step: avoiding mortal sin, the most pervasive form of which in voting is formal cooperation with evil. Once it isn’t formal (or proximate material, but we don’t discuss that much) cooperation with evil, it becomes a prudential judgement.

    The next step is coming to the realization that prudential judgment isn’t code for a subjective triumph of the will, despite the fact that right liberals like to use it that way (much as their left-liberal cousins use “conscience”).

    Beyond that comes the realization that it is simply false to suggest that the Church has “granted permission” in some blanket sense to vote this way or that. The Church has given guidance on how to avoid formal cooperation with evil; but once we have managed not to formally cooperate with evil making a sound prudential judgement based on true premises is up to us.

    A further step is in realizing that democratic elections are not merely a matter of choosing what outcome we prefer. They are game-theoretic contests and civic rituals with all sorts of history and implications, most of the consequences of which obtain no matter who wins or loses. Right reason requires us to take this into consideration, and the Church gives no guidance on game theory, as something outside of its charism, and explicitly disclaims expertise on what constitutes a good form of governance. This is a huge barrier, and a lot of folks get off the bus before this stop. There is tremendous resistance to focusing on anything other than what outcomes people think are best, or “least evil”. This is in part because of that (essential) initial focus on avoiding formal cooperation with evil, which most definitely does require us to take outcomes into consideration.

    Following that is the realization that because our personal influence over the outcome is literally negligible – our personal signals are well beneath the real world noise floor of the process – a genuine, objectively correct evaluation of voting under the principle of double effect (we’ve already assumed material, not formal cooperation with evil here) requires us to consider the outcome-independent effects of our personal acts, since our personal acts effectively have no material outcome-dependent effects. Voting in mass-market universal suffrage elections is necessarily an idealistic act: it literally cannot be a pragmatic act in principle. Even more people get off the bus here.

    Then by applying a concrete understanding of the nature of modern mass-market universal suffrage elections to all of that, I conclude that a proportionate reason to vote in our current circumstances does not exist. Not for anyone. Just about everyone is off the bus by now.

    I do qualify the result in one way: if a person has a completely ulterior motive for voting – say a girl he wants to date won’t accept a date unless he votes or whatever – then he may (assuming it doesn’t involve doing evil in a similarly ulterior way) have a proportionate reason.

    Each paragraph is a bus stop, and I deal with all of the various objections to my arguments along the way.

  • […] What the Bishops have focused on (and what I also focused on years ago here) is the first and by far most important bus stop: avoiding mortal sin, the most pervasive form of which, in voting, is formal cooperation with evil. Once our cooperation isn’t formal (or proximate material, but we don’t discuss that much), whether or not we ought to do it becomes a prudential judgement.  That means getting our intentions right; and since most peoples’ intentions are (rightly or wrongly) focused on possible election outcomes and their implications, that is where the focus lies.  The good news is that most people who are even bothering to read this can make it here. […]

  • […] are always asking me what we should do from a practical standpoint, given the pervasive triumph of the satanic lies of progressive leftism even within Catholicism. […]

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