Gravity Makes the World Go Around: NFP and Voting

November 19, 2008 § 7 Comments

There seems to be reasonably wide agreement that when one formally cooperates with grave evil in how and why one votes, it is grave matter: the “grave matter” in the triad of conditions for mortal sin, that is, grave matter, knowledge, and deliberate consent.

On the other hand the gravity of various acts of remote material cooperation with grave evil in how and why one votes is more controversial.

Commenter msb at Catholic and Enjoying It made the following interesting argument:

I think voting for Obama even if it was [remote material] cooperation was grave matter. Faithful Citizenship says that your proportionate reason to do it must itself be a grave reason, meaning that the vote is grave in the first place.

I think this argument has some force; but it may be worthwhile to consider other situations where the Church has authorized certain practices under a rubric of “grave reasons”:

“But if, according to a rational and just judgement, there are no similar grave reasons of a personal nature or deriving from external circumstances, then the determination to avoid habitually the fecundity of the union while at the same time to continue fully satisfying their sensuality, can be derived only from a false appreciation of life and from reasons having nothing to do with proper ethical laws.” – Pius XII, Apostolate of the Midwife

And yet the same Pope Pius XII later tells us:

“Therefore, in our late allocution on conjugal morality, We affirmed the legitimacy, and at the same time, the limits — in truth very wide — of a regulation of offspring, which, unlike so-called ‘birth control,’ is compatible with the law of God.” – Pius XII, Morality in Marriage (emphasis mine), from Papal Pronouncements on Marriage and the Family, Werth and Mihanovich, 1955

So there is precedent for a Pope in the exercise of his teaching office – let alone the USCCB – to say on the one hand that “grave reasons” are required, and yet that the discretionary limits of action are still “in truth very wide”.

This leads me to the question of gravity when we are talking about remote material cooperation with grave evil. Jeff Culbreath suggested below that the gravity of an act of voting (as remote material cooperation) for a candidate who actively pursues a policy of murdering the innocent probably depends on the reason why one does it, even if that reason is not proportionate in truth. I think that makes a great deal of sense. For the answer to the question “is X a proportionate reason” is not always an unequivocal “yes” or “no”. That is to say, prudence is a scale, not binary: one may act very imprudently, somewhat imprudently, somewhat prudently, or very prudently; or anywhere in between. In addition, everyone’s understanding of the facts will vary to some extent, and one can only act based on facts one actually knows and one’s understanding of how things work. If I believe I am acting prudently that doesn’t mean I am in fact acting prudently, but there is a morally nontrivial difference between willful imprudence, apathetic imprudence, and simply mistaken imprudence.

So I think it is, well, imprudent to assume that every act of voting for Obama (or McCain for that matter) was necessarily grave matter simply because Faithful Citizenship says that reasons for voting for a pro-abortion candidate must be “grave”. There is precedent for the Magisterium to require grave reasons, on the one hand, and yet say that the acting subject has wide lattitude on the other. In addition I think Jeff Culbreath’s suggestion that the actual reasons why make a significant difference here is eminently reasonable; even if, as an objective matter, the reasons why the voter voted the way he did were not proportionate.

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’s Wrong with the World of Voting?

May 30, 2008 § 47 Comments

Lydia has posted at What’s Wrong with the World on the question of the moral essence of voting. After reading the interesting post and the discussion which followed, I posted the following comment in the thread:

I think there may be a thought process that goes something like this, at least among Catholic moralists and those who even bother to follow such things. (Which, let us grant, is laudible in itself: most people just vote however they choose without consciously reflecting on what a vote is at all. That is, most people don’t even consider the possibility that they might be doing evil simply by choosing to vote at all, given some particular ballot option permutation space).

The thought process:

Premise 1: Voting as an act is never intrinsically immoral: it is just throwing a lever.

Premise 2: Voting as an act is nothing but remote cooperation (material or formal) with whatever specific things a candidate actually does as an elected official.

It follows that the only thing that voting always is, is remote material cooperation with the things a candidate actually does as an elected official. It would be formal cooperation in those cases where I will some specific thing the candidate does: so if I will that Obama issue an executive order authorizing abortions on military bases I am formally cooperating in that act, and if I will that Obama withdraw the troops then I am formally cooperating in that act; but in general, I don’t will everything that he does or has promised to do. Therefore under its moral aspect – unless I am formally cooperating with one of his specific acts and that act is evil – a vote is simply remote material cooperation, and this exhaustively describes its moral parameters.

It further follows that the moral aspect of voting resides solely in (1) avoiding formal cooperation with specific evil acts on the part of the candidate (everyone will of course claim this as a matter of internal forum: will claim that they don’t want Obama to authorize abortions on military bases, and because they don’t want it they aren’t choosing it and don’t intend it); and (2) a prudential evaluation of the external consequences of the candidate actually being elected.

I think there are a lot of problems with this narrative, though it dominates contemporary Catholic thinking on the subject. Those problems start with the fact that it assumes an antiessentialist theory of what a vote is in the first place, leaving moral evaluation of (say) voting for Obama in the realm of strictly material external consequences; and the narrative goes downhill from there. Another problem is that ‘voting’ may simply be an inadequate moral specifier of a species of act, much as ‘firing a gun’ is an inadequate moral specification of a species of act. “Voting for Obama” may be deontologically more akin to “firing a gun into a living baby’s brain” than to simply “firing a gun”.

As I mentioned on my blog, I don’t feel as though I understand with clarity the deontology of a vote: I don’t really know what a vote is with enough clarity to give an even semi-rigorous definition. But I have intuitions of what a vote is not, and Lydia’s “intuition pumps” in this post are pretty helpful in clarifying my own intuitions on the subject.

Voting is Like a Box of Chocolates

November 18, 2006 § 2 Comments

The Object of Voting

September 26, 2006 § 26 Comments

There are some really great comments in the voting thread below. But there is a key point which I think may be getting lost in the larger discussion. Tom hits it directly when he says:

This may express the intent of the voter, but before we get to intent we need to know what the object of the act of voting is. We need to make sure that the means of mitigating a greater evil is not itself evil. And we need to make sure without making the “everybody does it” fallacy.

When we drop a 500 pound bomb on a military target, and an elementary school filled with children is a mile away, it is pretty clear that “destroying a school filled with innocent children” is not a part of the object of our act. When the military target is in the same building as the school that is far less clear.

Likewise, when we vote for a mayoral candidate who favors torturing suspected terrorists it is pretty clear that the object of our act is not to choose a policy of torturing suspected terrorists, because the mayor doesn’t really have anything to say about how suspected terrorists are handled. But a President is a different matter. When a candidate has promised to do something specific which is within the role to which we are electing him, the argument that we are not choosing the actual thing he has promised to do becomes weaker. And if in our own minds we make the decision “the torture is bad, but it is a small and confined evil, and I therefore choose it as a lesser evil than the abortion policies of the other candidate”, then the argument that we aren’t choosing the evil policy becomes very weak indeed.

The year of mercy for torture, usury, and unjust war apologists

November 13, 2015 § 24 Comments

Pope Francis says:

“Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally,” the pontiff said at one point during his remarks.

“Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts, interrogatives — but is alive, knows being unsettled, enlivened,” said the pope. “It has a face that is not rigid, it has a body that moves and grows, it has a soft flesh: it is called Jesus Christ.”

“The reform of the church then, and the church is semper reformanda  … does not end in the umpteenth plan to change structures,” he continued. “It means instead grafting yourself to and rooting yourself in Christ, leaving yourself to be guided by the Spirit — so that all will be possible with genius and creativity.”

This of course can be interpreted in a way which is perfectly orthodox, depending upon the listener; but the overall thrust of Francis’ preaching is unmistakable.  If I am interpreting him correctly, and I am pretty sure that I am, Pope Francis is telling us that intellectualism and hidebound rule-following is disconnected from real life and unmerciful; and that being a stickler for doctrine in the face of real pastoral situations in the peripheries is not walking with Jesus Christ.

Well, I have to say, he’s got my number. This blog is basically all about hidebound doctrinal rule-following, and justifying it intellectually. Probably the most prominent intellectualist doctrinal rule-following I am guilty of on this blog involves my condemnations of usury and torture.  Close behind that is the way I am such a stickler for the just war doctrine, and how I don’t give people a break for voting for Republican candidates who stump for torture and unjust wars. I’ve been mean and judgmental toward poor beta men on the peripheries of culturally significant sexual life, by calling into question the practice of lying to get women to have sex with them.  And I’ve even been known to criticize priests, on an intellectual technicality, for failing to follow the rules.

So maybe we should give unrepentant torture apologists, usury apologists, and unjust warmongerers tickets for Holy Communion, so they can get past the turnstiles and bouncers.  If the Pope says that doctrine has to take a back seat to pastoral mercy, well, who am I to judge?

Why neoreactionary nominalism is self-defeating

April 3, 2014 § 25 Comments

The Reactivity Place objects to the idea that Game is inextricably bound up with unchaste male behavior toward women. He objects by quoting the Internet’s self-proclaimed master of slutsploitation as an authority on the idea that Game has nothing much to do with slutsploitation, and that therefore slutsploiters deserve credit for being prophets, thought leaders, and defenders of civilization:

Doubters can snark about “PUAs” to their hearts’ content, but the arc of recent history is proving that PUAs were at the leading edge all along. Will people listen only when it’s too late?

The bottom line approach is to claim that either (1) suggesting that Game is inextricably bound up with male inchastity is so baffling that even folks with monster IQ’s can’t understand it; or (2) it boils down to just a disagreement about definitions.

In support of (2), it is claimed in the comments that the following are all instances of the use of Game as TRP solemnly declares and defines it:

  • a psychologist advises the Obama campaign on how to get white voters to feel good about themselves for voting for a mulatto,
  • Betty Crocker advisors told the execs to get women to add an egg to the box cake recipe
  • Advertising
  • Getting troops to charge up San Juan Hill
  • Forcing Henry IV to walk to Canossa

It is questionable whether it is worth even dignifying the claim that these are instances of Game by taking it seriously.

But if we adopt this nominalist approach then criticisms of anything real – like liberalism, for example – can always be deflected by the twofold claim that (a) what is labeled (or named, thus nominalism) is morally neutral in itself and can be used for good or ill, and that (b) the criticism boils down to the use of different definitions.  Liberalism, then, is indeed the adoption of freedom and equality as political goods in a truncated sense; this liberalism can be and has been used for good or ill; therefore criticism of my liberalism amounts to just a disagreement over definitions.  Sure those liberals over there do bad stuff with liberalism; but I use liberalism for good.  To wit, although some people do use liberalism for bad ends (e.g. to support abortion), the following are examples of the good uses to which liberalism has been put:

  • giving money to the poor
  • Mother Theresa taking care of the poor and sick
  • treating people fairly
  • freeing slaves
  • preventing violent men from beating and exploiting women

… and of course this can go on.  The mental truncation involved in the nominalist approach destroys the possibility of substantive disagreement over real things, abolishes politics, claims victory literally by definition, and makes repentance impossible.

The irony of invoking Humpty Dumpty in support of a nominalist approach to the subject of Game is really rather delicious though.

Monolithic authority and the libertarian error

September 8, 2013 § 27 Comments

Progtastic hipster liberal Christians have told me numerous times that stopping unjust war takes moral priority over stopping abortion, because unjust war is something that the government does itself whereas abortion is something individuals do.  Abortion is simply something that government refrains from forbidding, and even someone as venerable as St. Thomas Aquinas has affirmed that not everything that is immoral must be illegal.  The key difference then is that with unjust war the government is actively doing something evil in our name, whereas in the case of abortion government is simply declining to prevent evil perpetrated by others.

Many used this structure of reasoning as a way to justify voting for Barack Obama.  This looks more than a little ironic in retrospect.

But I thought I’d take a moment to unpack a false assumption at the root of this leftist nonsense: the assumption of monolithic authority.

Backing up for a moment, many of us no doubt recall the spectacle of police troopers surrounding the hospice where Terri Schaivo was being, uh, “allowed to die”.  The reason those troopers were there was to actively prevent Schaivo’s family members and others from attempting to give her food and water, even by mouth.  It was therefore an active act of murder, perpetrated by government.  It is one thing to fail to rescue someone who is in danger of dying, a passivity which may or may not be justifiable depending on the facts on the ground, other priorities, etc.  It is another thing entirely to actively prevent attempts at rescue by other parties.  The latter is murder, pure and simple.

Similarly, there is more going on in the abortion regime than a passive choice not to prevent and prosecute a certain kind of wrongdoing.  It involves a choice by one authority – the federal government, specifically the Supreme Court – to actively interfere with efforts by other legitimate authorities to prevent mass murder.  In the leftist view government is a single monolithic authority; back here in reality, we have always lived in a world of various and hierarchical authorities, each legitimate in its own right.

Libertarian/liberal/leftist ideologues are always trying to maintain frame, such that their active murders and other atrocities can be viewed as mere passivity: a ‘more rights less government’ passivity resting on the principle of equal freedom.

But it is all a big lie.  The US government has actively murdered 50 million or more children by its deliberate and direct actions.  Those deliberate actions weren’t unjust wars, and liberal supporters of falsely-framed-as-passive “hands off” abortion policy are – at best –  accessories to mass murder, formally cooperating with that mass murder.

Usury and the Sovereign

December 16, 2012 § 30 Comments

I’ve been having a discussion with Kristor in email about usury, and the subject of government-issued treasury bills has come up. With treasury bills the government borrows fiat dollars from an individual and then pays him back both principal and profitable interest later. There are no specific assets backing those treasury bills, so on its face it looks like usury.

The fact that companies and individuals can issue their own currencies, for example common stock, is part of the picture. It can be confusing though because some ‘tradable instruments’ are denominated in other currencies and some aren’t. When I sell a note to a third party, the principal and interest owed on that note is usually denominated in dollars or some other sovereign currency. But some tradable instruments like common stock are not denominated in another currency: its value is just whatever transactional value it has right now on whatever market trades in it.

If a company decides to issue more shares of stock, that debases the value of all existing shares. But it isn’t usury. The shares of stock are not denominated in some other currency: they are their own currency. In the case of stock you get voting rights and other rights; so it has value. But that value is not denominated in any other currency. If the company borrows its own shares from me and then returns them along with newly issued shares as “interest” on the loan, that isn’t usury. It isn’t that my stock in itself begat more stock: the company issued new stock.

If the sovereign decides to issue more fiat currency, that debases the value of all existing fiat currency. But it isn’t usury. The sovereign agrees to accept his currency as payment for taxes, so it has value. Its value is not denominated in any other currency. When the sovereign borrows fiat dollars from me and returns them later with interest, it isn’t that my dollars begat more dollars: the sovereign has issued new dollars as interest.

In a case of usury, though, no new currency is being created by the issuing entity to pay the “interest”. A usurious transaction is a mutuum (person recourse) loan between two third parties independent of the sovereign who issues the currency. Currency is not in itself capable of creating more currency. Therefore in a mutuum loan (where a borrowing person is on the hook to repay the principal amount in full, independent of a specific and limited recourse to specified contractual assets) the lender is really only entitled, in justice, to return of precisely what was lent and nothing more. On the other hand if a “lender” purchases shares in real assets for production or consumption he can contract for the investment or consumption of those recoverable real assets in an asset-recourse loan, which is not usury.

Interestingly it follows that it is possible for third parties to make usurious loans to each other of (say) company stock. Lending 100 shares to Bob and demanding that he repay me with 110 shares at a later date no matter what, independent of what he does with the shares, would be usury.

Now, it is certainly possible for company management to commit an injustice against shareholders by debasing its stock. It is possible that many government actions w.r.t. currency are unjust under this sort of rubric rather than a rubric of usury. But showing that would take more work.

With his permission, I’ve included the pertinent background exchange with Kristor below the break:

« Read the rest of this entry »

Examples of calumnies against Todd Akin

November 26, 2012 § 5 Comments

Calumny is when someone tells falsehoods about a person in a way damaging to that person’s reputation or standing in the community. In the case of the Todd Akin affair, many people have told lies about what he actually said.  I’ve said my piece about that here, here, here, and here; but one thing I haven’t done is explicitly give examples of the lies.

There are far too many to document, in truth, and in any case I’m not interested in making accusations against particular individuals. But to the extent that my thesis has been resisted it has mainly been by those who object by characterizing lies as not lies: by claiming some right to uncharitable interpretation, such that one may licitly assert that Akin said something when he actually didn’t say it, contributing to the pile-on damage to his reputation in the process, without committing calumny.

It has also been suggested that if a lot of the lies told about what Todd Akin said really are lies then a significant amount of political speech and blogging is immoral. With this latter I agree. I’ve suggested before that things like voting and blogging provide plenty of vicarious opportunities to do evil; and where there are pervasive opportunities for fallen human beings to do evil we usually see lots of fallen human beings doing evil.

Notice what I am not addressing here: I am not addressing Todd Akin as a candidate, politician, pro-life leader, or human being. I am addressing specifically and only what he actually said in his widely disseminated comments about rape and abortion. It is not acceptable to tell lies about what he actually said just because we object to other things about him. To take it all the way to the Godwin asymptote, it is not morally acceptable to lie about Hitler: lying about Hitler in a way which damages Hitler’s reputation is still calumny, and we shouldn’t do it.

Notice also that I am not accusing people who think his actual remarks were untoward or insensitive or whatever of asserting falsehoods. What I am addressing specifically is claims that Akin said X, when in actual fact he did not say X and may have even said the opposite of X. Lying about what someone said in a way that piles on damage to his reputation doesn’t become morally acceptable under some postmodern subjectivist rubric of “interpretation”. Either he said it or he didn’t; and if we claim he said it when he didn’t actually say it, we are liars.

Finally, I am not addressing someone’s intentions or culpability in committing calumny against Akin. I am addressing the behaviour such a person chooses. Someone who commits calumny against Akin may have all sorts of conflicting feelings, rationalizations, or what have you. I don’t care about those things. Someone might even have done so while making a completely non-culpable error in judgement. Again, I don’t care: it is never acceptable to equate evil done, even through a non-culpable error in judgement, with a good act. An evil act is a disorder in relation to the truth about the good, and a calumny against Akin is a calumny against Akin no matter what subjective protestations are raised. What people have actually said matters and cannot be swallowed up in the moral disinfectant of subjectivity. Someone who has committed calumny against Akin should retract it, in at least as public a way as it was initially done, and even if doing so was based on a non-culpable error in judgement (trusting some media paraphrase or seeing only some truncated quote that leaves the impression that he said something different come to mind as possible conditions for such a non-culpable error).

I’ve personally only seen one single person retract and apologize, and good for him. That’s the kind of guy I want in the moral foxhole with me.

So without further ado, here are just a few examples of how ostensible pro lifers have falsely characterized Akin’s words.  Maybe I’ll add some more over time; maybe not.  I am not going to link or attribute them, because the point is not to call out particular individuals. The point is for people of good will to wake the Hell up to what they are doing and stop doing it:

Akin’s deplorable comments were a psychic re-rape.

… when [the victim is] basically being blamed for being raped, …

… implies she should just get over [rape] or not let it bother her … 

So there’s nothing offensive about [Akin’s] notion that pregnancy is proof the rape victim Really Musta Wanted It?

The implied conclusion that a woman seeking to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape may be assumed to be lying…

Akin demonstrated he believed one of the following:

1. Pregnancy from rape is impossible. This would reveal scientific ignorance, and, in my view, be disqualifying.

2. Pregnancy from rape is too rare to require being addressed specifically.

[Notice how this one is set up too. The first is ludicrous and bears no resemblance to what Akin actually said, but it poisons the well to set up the second falsehood to look like it is a reasonable “interpretation” of Akin’s words. In fact Akin not only didn’t say the second, he actually specifically addressed pregnancy in the case of legitimate rape in the very comments under “criticism”.]

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