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What is a vote?

Zippy has raised the above question in a post on his blog. Over a year ago I had firmly intended to write a post on this topic to convince conservatives not to vote for Rudy Giuliani. As the Giuliani issue has become moot, I had thought that I would not write it after all. Now I learn to my horror that (as Maximos reported here) some pro-lifers who are strongly anti-war are talking about voting for, of all people, Barak Obama.

Now, to my mind, this idea is beneath contempt. That is, if we are talking about a voter who is truly pro-life as opposed to someone who makes sad noises about abortion while really thinking in his heart that war is at least as bad as or worse than the continual, deliberate, legal slaughter of the innocent. And because I think a "pro-life" argument for voting for the likes of Obama is beneath contempt, I've hesitated to write a post on the topic of voting lest it give unwarranted attention or support to such an idea.

However, I have to admit that the question of what a vote is is an interesting one, and since Zippy has brought it up in so many words, I am inclined to give my answer here and some arguments and intuition pumps to support that answer. So, as a first approximation...

A vote for a political candidate is, among other things, an act of endorsing that candidate for office. Symbolically, whether one agrees with all of a candidate's positions or not, a vote involves to at least some degree taking one's stand as being with or for that person.
The position to which this statement is opposed is the position that a vote is merely a move in a political game which is to be evaluated solely on the basis of expected consequences. On this view contrary to mine, it might be moral to vote for a candidate who was a moral monster if one were convinced that, through some convoluted set of circumstances, his election would have positive consequences, or even just more positive consequences than the election of his rival.

My first argument for my own position is the nature of democracy, including representative democracy. The whole point of having the people vote for candidates is that these candidates stand for the people. By means of voting for their rulers, the people are exercising an influence on their own governance.

The immediate response will be that ours is not a direct democracy but a representative one and that politicians are not robots doing whatever their constituents want or even carrying out campaign promises, that they are real people who are elected to make what they think are the best decisions in concrete circumstances. But I respond that these points only serve to make my position stronger. If one viewed politicians simply as robots who are to do the will of the people, one could argue that a moral monster would have to be restrained by the opinions of his constituents and that it was morally licit to vote for him since the real rulers are the people themselves, who are (let us say) less monstrous than he and who will be ruling themselves "through" him. And if one viewed voting solely as an act of selecting the candidate with the best campaign promises, then one could argue that some given moral monster had promised not to act--or not to act fully or consistently--on his monstrous premises, and that it was therefore all right to vote for him. But if politicians as persons stand for the voters, and especially for the voters that have elected them, then those who vote for them cannot in these ways entirely disassociate themselves from their chosen candidate's views and character. You did not vote for a robot or merely for a pre-specified package deal. You voted for a person. You said "aye" to that person, knowing who he was, what he believed, and what he stood for. You are therefore in some measure associated with that person.

I don't mean to imply that campaign promises are unimportant. For one thing, I haven't said that the likely consequences of a candidate's election are irrelevant, only that they are not the only relevant consideration. For another thing, under normal circumstances a candidate's campaign promises do help you to know what sort of candidate he is--what he stands for--and therefore what sort of elected official you are choosing to stand for you if you vote for him.

My second set of arguments, all related, are intuition pumps connecting the idea of voting for a bad candidate to the notion of shame. The premise that lies behind these intuition pumps is the simple one that you should not do anything, even in private, that you are truly ashamed of. You might, of course, not tell others about things you have done in private simply because they are private sorts of thing, because they are not those other people's business, or even because someone else has (in your opinion) a false idea of right and wrong, and you do not want to distress him or strain your relationship unnecessarily. So, for example, someone with teetotal relatives might hide the wine bottles when the relatives show up in order to avoid conflict or causing pain. But this is not, or needn't be, because he is actually ashamed of the fact that he sometimes drinks alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, a person who looks at pornography and hides the pornography does so (probably, indeed hopefully) because in his heart he still knows that what he is doing is wrong, and he is ashamed of it.

Consider then the question of how you would justify to an intelligent child your decision to vote for a person who stands for morally appalling positions. Children, in my experience, understand pretty well that voting for someone is endorsing him. Children like to be involved in life; they like rooting for their baseball team or for a horse in the Kentucky Derby. In many ways they are natural-born partisans. And, if they live in a politically aware household, they carry the same desire to root for someone into the political realm and look to their parents and to the adults around them to help them decide whom they should root for in politics. They want to know who "our" candidate is, and they understand that if Mom or Dad votes for someone, that person is Mom's or Dad's candidate. Now imagine trying to explain to an intelligent seven-year-old why you have decided to vote for, say, Hitler for President. Suppose you were entirely honest and explained his advocacy of a genocidal final solution for Jews. It seems to me that you should be enormously embarrassed in the course of trying to explain that it is all right to vote for such a man because you have cannily figured out that you can, surprisingly enough, bring about some sort of good consequences by doing so, or even that his opponent is worse.

Some people think that the secrecy of the ballot means that you can vote for a moral monster and that you don't have to worry about how you would explain this to an innocent child or what it would look like if you advertised your action. After all, they say, that's the whole point of our having a secret ballot. But I say that that is not the point of the secret ballot. The secret ballot is supposed to protect people from threats, coercion, and even from psychological pressure from those who might not have the same moral insights as the individual voter. The secret ballot is important and in my opinion certainly should not be undermined, but it is not supposed to protect the voter from the voice of conscience that he might hear by thinking of how ashamed he would be if people knew he had voted for a person he knows to be bad.

Consider, too, the continuity of various means of support for a candidate. Voting is one way of trying to get the person elected. Presumably that’s why you vote for him. But so are yard signs. I can perhaps imagine circumstances in which one wouldn’t have a yard sign for someone one would vote for, but there had better not be a big gap there. That is, the candidate had better not be someone so bad that you would be horrified if there were a yard sign in your yard for him. The point here is that putting up a yard sign, like voting, is a way of supporting a candidate, of standing with him and using your efforts to help him get elected. You should not do that if you would be ashamed to have anyone know that you had done so. So if you would be rightly horrified to find a "Vote for Hitler" yard sign in your front yard, you may not vote for Hitler.

We can see the same point from a slightly different angle if we consider other ways of helping a candidate's campaign. Suppose campaign laws allowed you to contribute money anonymously. Would you do that for a bad candidate, on the same considerations that lead you to vote for him, if you had the money to spare? It would be done secretly. What about stuffing envelopes behind the scenes or going out at night and putting up signs along highways? We ought to see the counterintuitiveness of trying, working, putting out some sort of effort, in the service of a monster’s being elected. There is something wrong with this, and we can see it from the fact that if one put out such effort anonymously and it were discovered, one would be ashamed. And putting out effort to get him elected is what voting for him is doing, even if voting by itself is only a small amount of effort.

Symbolic actions are important. They have importance in themselves, beyond their possible or probable consequences. And voting is a paradigmatic case of a symbolic action. You give your "aye," your "let it be so," to a candidate. You take your stand for him. You put your mark beside his name, and you choose him to lead. If you do this knowing full well that he advocates appalling atrocities, you cannot disassociate yourself from those atrocities by treating your vote as something other than what it is.

Comments (174)

The doctrine of original sin tells us that we are all "moral monsters." Even baptized believers are still struggling with sin and are still, this side of heaven, fallen and broken. So there are no "moral non-monsters" available to vote for, in this election or any other.

Given that, a vote is always a choice for the person one believes will do the least harm once in office. I do not think it is right to say that a person who is wrong on abortion is a "moral monster" while a person who is wrong on issues of war and peace is not a moral monster.

I honestly do not know whom to vote for in this election. Abortion is a great evil, and therefore an important issue; but there is no candidate who can be trusted to pursue policies that are genuinely, and effectively, pro-life. Supreme Court and other judicial appointments are very important; but there is no candidate who can be trusted to get the courts out of the policy-making business (as opposed to simply changing court-generated policies from liberal to conservative, which is not the same thing). War and peace is an important issue; but there is no candidate who can be trusted to pursue a truly non-interventionist foreign policy (as opposed to simply ending the Republican war in Iraq, but feeling free to wage Democrat wars like Kosovo).

If I vote for Obama, I will feel no more shame than I already feel for having voted for Bush, who talks pro-life but has delivered no actual change, and who has waged an unjust war of choice and advanced our country further down the futile and dangerous path of empire.

Moral equivalence will be the death of us.

Right. There are no moral non-monsters, so voting for a guy who thinks it's unconstitutional to give legal protection to premature infants from infanticide if they are "too young" to be "persons" is _just like_ voting for a guy who has pursued an interventionist foreign policy. Just like that.

Presumably voting for somebody who advocated the legality of killing all Jews would be just the same, too. After all, we're all moral monsters, right?

There's nothing quite like all that "mea maxima culpa, we're all such horrible sinners" equivalence-mongering for blinding the mind in the ethical and public policy arena. At least among Christians, there isn't. With some people, it works infallibly. Someone should write a Screwtape letter on the subject.

Everybody has the right to infanticide.

The right to kill babies should be the God-given right of every red-blooded American!

And, by the way, there are no such things as "moral monsters".

For example, Hitler wasn't a moral monster -- and should anybody out there consider him a moral monster than Churchill too was such a one as well!

Moral Equivalence Rules!

The dissonance I'm seeing in this advocacy is the simulataneous belief that one can embrace Americanism or Germanism and reject the civic duty of voting. It would seem that if one is going to reject voting, he should reject the nation, regardless of the reason one chooses that rejection. I don't see the Amish proclaiming their Americanism. They don't volunteer to serve in America's army.

voting for a guy who has pursued an interventionist foreign policy. Just like that. There's nothing quite like all that "mea maxima culpa, we're all such horrible sinners" equivalence-mongering for blinding the mind in the ethical and public policy arena.

Exept perhaps for euphemisms.

Bushin didn't just "pursue and interventionist foreign policy." He launched a war of aggression that has killed thousands of people, opened the door for torture, and greatly reduced America's moral standing in the world.

It is not out of bounds to consider this an evil on the same scale, especially considering the effectiveness the president has had in changing policy in each field. Pro-life politicians have been unable to move abortion policy (or so they would have us believe), but they have been darn effective in launching wars.

It is not out of bounds to consider this an evil on the same scale...


Although the way the war was conducted was certainly atrocious, but to overthrow a tyrannical monster such as Hussein who killed hundreds of people (including those who were of his family) is hardly an evil on the same scale.

If I vote for Obama, I will feel no more shame than I already feel for having voted for Bush...

At least when you voted for Bush, you didn't know what you were getting into.

The doctrine of original sin tells us that we are all "moral monsters." Even baptized believers are still struggling with sin and are still, this side of heaven, fallen and broken. So there are no "moral non-monsters" available to vote for, in this election or any other.
YIkes. The anschluss approaches. Last I checked, George W. Bush isn't running for the presidency again. This notion would be slightly more defensible if it were 4 years ago, and a Christian conservative wants to vote for Kerry as a check against Bush--slightly more defensible. Is the idea here that a conservative vote for Obama is justified on the grounds that it is a just punishment to Bush and the Republican party for an illegal war of aggression, for torture, etc, or in order to punish the Republican party in general for abandoning conservative principles and for general dereliction of duty? That seems to me a strange sort of cure, the sort of cure that, as the saying goes, is worse than the disease. If you are a conservative and you can't in good conscience vote McCain (understandable), a vote for Obama is somehow, what, a more reasonable alternative?
If I vote for Obama, I will feel no more shame than I already feel for having voted for Bush, who talks pro-life but has delivered no actual change, and who has waged an unjust war of choice and advanced our country further down the futile and dangerous path of empire.

Fine. Fair enough. But you will feel shame, then, right? Is it possible that there is a third option? Or are we all to just lie down in front of the juggernaut?

If the only issue is abortion vs. the war it might be well to point out that the POTUS is also CiC; he can single-handedly affect the conduct of the war. The POTUS cannot, however, single-handedly give constitutional protection (which is what is needed--not court appointments) to the unborn. I didn't notice Bush using the bully pulpit to call for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing personhood to the unborn. I don't hear McCain promising that he will do so. I do hear Obama promising to end the war as soon as is strategically possible. And I hear McCain promising to stay in Iraq until we've "won." If one wants to vote for a presidential candidate who MIGHT actually deliver on his promises to at least decrease the amount of killing being done, it might be intelligent to consider voting for Obama, despite his pro-choice views.

"If one wants to vote for a presidential candidate who MIGHT actually deliver on his promises to at least decrease the amount of killing being done..."

See. Unintended civilian deaths, or even military deaths, in war are on a par with putting a pair of forceps into a woman's womb, pulling off some inconvenient limbs, crushing the baby's head, and pulling it out in pieces to be reassembled later for verification purposes. And launching an unjust war, thinking it a just one, is on a par with being a huge cheerleader for the "constitutional right" to do that stuff to millions of babies. "Decrease the amount of killing," indeed. It's all just "killing," generic.

And I'm sorry, John McG, but that tells you exactly where I'm coming from on your claim that "It is not out of bounds to consider this an evil on the same scale..."

Way, way, way out of bounds.

"it would seem that if one is going to reject voting, he should reject the nation,..."

The power of guilt. Behind that hollow sentiment and lazy sophistry is a deep urge to quell the guilt that comes with supporting an abortion enthusiast.

Refusing to participate in an anti-life electoral sham where the 2 major contestants view my country as either a vast, ignoble social experiment, or as an abstract ideal requiring universal replication through the execution of immoral wars, is arguably a more Christian response than giving assent to this massive fraud.

Election Day falls on the Feast of Charles Borromeo. To celebrate I'm having a party that evening to raise funds for Good Counsel. Sure beats watching Katie Couric christen Obama's wing-tips with her new hairdo, while she plays Mary to his Christ. Or, listen to the breathless arm-chair generals at Fox excitedly draw-up McCain's battle-plan for Iran.

Good Lord, not voting for President this time is a patriotic chore.

I would say that, yes--killing a person over here is on a par with killing another person over there.
What is not on par is the probability that one's vote for president will be as likely to decrease the overall amount of killing over here (abortion), as it will be to decrease the amount of killing over there (war). There is a difference to be considered, and it is significant.

If, Rob 2, you really think that I'm going to agree that the difference between an accidental civilian death in war and the deliberate murder of an unborn child is that one is "over there" and the other is "over here," then you don't know much. But of course you do know. You're just trying the usual tired liberal rhetorical tricks. And since they are only the tired liberal rhetorical tricks, let's just take the obvious response concerning a little matter of the deliberate murder of specific individual infants as read.

Kevin, I strongly second your rejection of the statement that not voting is "rejecting the nation." I see this idea that one has a moral obligation always to vote for someone as the root of much evil. It's as if people want to create ethical dilemmas ex nihilo if they don't find them ready to hand. "Hmm, suppose we postulate that the citizen is morally obligated to vote for one of the major candidates in the election. Then suppose we postulate that both candidates would be morally unacceptable for various principled reasons to people who think that voting involves endorsing a candidate. Voila! We've created a situation where you're obligated to do something wrong, and now you just have to pick your poison. Wow!"

There was no "moral equivalence" in my comment. But there was a recognition that many serious issues have a moral dimension to them, not just the abortion issue.

If I believed that John McCain had both the will and the ability to make a real difference on the abortion issue, I would vote for him despite my other qualms about him. But I do not believe that he has either the will or the ability. We have had Republican presidents for twenty out of the last twenty-eight years, and a Republican majority in Congress for (if I recall correctly) fourteen of those years; but Roe v Wade is still the law of the land. Republican politicians say they are pro-life, and many of them probably are pro-life as a matter of personal conviction. But none of them has ever spent any political capital to advance the pro-life cause, and I have no reason to believe that any of them ever will. Their fundamental loyalties are elsewhere.

The abortion status quo is not going to change, because the politicians who claim to be pro-life are (not to put too fine a point on it) lying to us about it. Under these circumstances basing one's vote on a candidate's bogus pro-life position is simply moral posturing. You are voting for a man who will do nothing to save the unborn, but who will continue to involve our country in unjust, unnecessary wars, just to spare yourself the moral taint of association with someone who is pro-choice.

To Mr Luse, who wrote at least when you voted for Bush, you didn't know what you were getting into: Fair enough. The Bush I voted for was the man who promised a "humble" foreign policy and disavowed "nation-building". I made the mistake of believing him in 2000, but in 2004 I was wiser. I voted for no one. It is partly because of that experience that I pay less attention now to politicians' stated positions, and much more to what I honestly believe they can and will do.

And to "thebyronicman":

Is the idea here that a conservative vote for Obama is justified on the grounds that it is a just punishment to Bush and the Republican party ...

No, but it is an acknowledgment that the the failure of the Republicans to govern on conservative principles (including on abortion) and the expectation that they will not govern conservatively in the future takes away any motivation for a conservative to vote for them.

If you are a conservative and you can't in good conscience vote McCain (understandable), a vote for Obama is somehow, what, a more reasonable alternative?

Remember that I said that I honestly do not know whom to vote for in this election. The most reasonable alternative is to do what I did in 2004, and vote for no one. Voting for a "pure" candidate from a third party who has no chance of winning or even influencing the election is just more moral posturing. The only reason (from my point of view) to vote for Obama is if one believes that he will pursue a more moral foreign policy and not do irreparable damage in other areas (including abortion). I don't know that I believe that. I am close to despair regarding this election.

Lydia, "We've created a situation where you're obligated to do something wrong, and now you just have to pick your poison." What a great, succinct summation of our present predictament.

If, Rob 2, you really think that I'm going to agree that the difference between an accidental civilian death in war and the deliberate murder of an unborn child is that one is "over there" and the other is "over here," then you don't know much.

And if you think, Lydia, that I'm going to agree that all the civilian deaths in a contemporary war are actually and truly "accidental", then you know even less than I know.

Lydia:

Suppose that foregoing voting in the upcoming elections is essentially equivalent to voting for the pro-abortion candidate; could you then make the claim that not voting (more specifically, not voting for the "lesser evil" candidate since undoubtedly it would deprive him of his votes while indirectly promoting a 'win' for the pro-abort candidate) is the right thing to do?

Well, Aristocles, I'm not going to grant that "supposing." To me that argument--which I understand you're not necessarily making, but which so many people do make--sounds _exactly_ like one of those intended moral dilemmas that aren't really dilemmas where the terrorists are going to blow up the world if you don't shoot the four-year-old. You know how it goes: "So not shooting the four-year-old is equivalent to consenting to having the whole world blown up." Well, I mean, obviously, no, it's not.

In this case, too, the math isn't even right: If I don't vote for either candidate, neither candidate has a vote from me. To exaggerate, if I were the only voter, they would both have zero votes, and neither would win the voting. If I vote for the pro-abortion candidate, he has one vote from me and the other guy has zero votes from me, so if I were the only voter, the pro-abort guy wins. So obviously, they aren't equivalent even from a crude number-crunching perspective. In any event, it's very strange to tell somebody who doesn't vote for either candidate _which_ candidate his non-vote is "essentially equivalent to a vote for." Isn't that a little arbitrary? If this is meant, for example, to be an argument for the pro-lifer to vote for McCain, and we're counting a non-vote as a sort of ghost vote for one of the candidates, why isn't it at least as rational to say, "Refusing to vote for either candidate is essentially equivalent to a vote for McCain"? Um, okay, so then the McCain supporter should be happy, right? :-) I realize this is an amusing and weird way to put it, but it just drives home the fact that not voting _isn't_ equivalent to voting for one of the candidates, and in the nature of the case it cannot be.

Actually, Kevin, I don't think we're obligated to do something wrong in this case. I won't let myself be guilt-tripped into feeling that if I don't vote, I'm doing something wrong. I was putting that claim into an imaginary interlocutor's mouth who was pushing the "you must always vote for one of the viable candidates" perspective.

Two moral equivalencies:

1) "Collateral damage" and "the products of conception"

2) "We must conduct the war so as to minimize civilian casualities" and "We must strive to make abortion safe, legal, and rare"

Plenty of moral posturing on both sides of those equations.

Rob, you're so confused on this one that I'm not even going to try. Perhaps I should, but I'm not going to.

Lydia:

You certainly have a point.

"Refusing to vote for either candidate is essentially equivalent to a vote for McCain"?

While I don't necessarily believe that choosing not to vote in the upcoming elections is wrong; personally though, considering interalia the growing popularity of Obama, the current liberal trend in America, and the majority of Americans desiring an end to the Iraq debacle; I would think that such a non-vote would more likely (however indirectly) profit Obama than vice-versa.

The Bush I voted for was the man who promised a "humble" foreign policy and disavowed "nation-building". I made the mistake of believing him in 2000, but in 2004 I was wiser.

Funny, I did the opposite. I didn't vote for Bush in 2000 because I didn't believe him when he said he wasn't a nation-builder. I took one look into his eyes and saw that he was a hankerin' to go to war first chance he got. That step over to Al Gore in that one debate was all I needed. (I voted for Nader in order to impress my hippie then-girlfriend; I've grown up a bit since then). I gave him the vote in '04 because he was CiC and, you know, "don't change horses in mid-stream." I had the jingo fever after 911 and I wanted the guy to finish the job.

But now, a few years older and hopefully a few years wiser, when I look at Obama I see the a guy who, basically, represents the end of Western Civilization, not to put too fine a point on it. Fact is, I'll vote McCain. But I don't expect him to fulfill his "promise" to appoint constructionist judges. And I don't expect the R party to do much more than continue to go through the motions on life and family issues (although I do think the Presidents Council on Bioethics has done some good work, FWIW). But the R party will continue to push a generally liberal social agenda in the guise of "compassionate conservatism," of course. Yeah, its a sham election.

So to CHRIS JONES: I don't blame a conservative for withdrawing his support from the Republican party. But please, don't give it to the other guy. If you must, just stay home on election night. And offer up a prayer for our country while you're at it.

Aristocles, I tend to think that that appearance--which candidate is "benefited by" a non-vote--is an illusion created by the general political stance of the possible non-voter to whom one is speaking. I think there tends to be a sort of tacit idea that the very, very conservative person "owes" his vote to the Republican candidate for president, so that in some indirect sense the Democrat "benefits" from his not voting. But imagine if an Obama supporter were talking to a far-left liberal who was thinking of sitting out the election because (let's stretch our imaginations) he didn't think Obama was sufficiently leftish on some issue or other. Wouldn't the Obama supporter say, "By not voting you are indirectly benefitting that darned Republican, McCain"? I think probably he would, and that arguments with purists on the left side go that direction, as they go this direction on the right side.

But if one doesn't assume that the righty owes his vote prima facie to the Republican and that the lefty owes his vote prima facie to the Democrat, so that if either of them refrains from voting he's "taking away" something from "his" presumptive candidate, then the illusion vanishes.

I'm interested to see that so far no one has--or I _think_ no one has--outright challenged my main thesis in the post: That voting for a candidate is to some degree endorsing him. This surprises me, because I had assumed that the "pro-lifers for Obama" were indeed more or less taking it that voting for Obama is in no degree or sense endorsing him but is just a pragmatic move. And indeed back on the old Right Reason when this subject came up (in someone else's thread) apropos of Giuliani, that was very much what the argument turned on: Is voting for X the same thing, in any sense, as standing with or endorsing X?

But perhaps the people on this thread who seem to be contemplating voting for Obama are tacitly challenging my thesis but just not doing so in so many words.

That step over to Al Gore in that one debate was all I needed.

Actually, it was Al Gore who stepped over to Bush...

I don't do obnoxious, self righteous preening as well as you Kevin. I hope you don't buy goods from any Fortune 500 company, because you are most likely supporting an "abortion enthusiast." Heck even the computer you are using killed how many babies through Msft's or Apple's donations. Hypocrite.

Well yeah, Gore stepped over and then Bush kinda stepped back, like "don't step to me Al."

I don't do obnoxious, self righteous preening as well as you Kevin

Don't sell yourself short, M.Z.

Well yeah, Gore stepped over and then Bush kinda stepped back, like "don't step to me Al."

It's funny how memories of the same event can differ. To my memory Bush just looked up at him as if to say "Yes? Can I help you with something?" It was actually a pretty funny take. One of Bush's better moments. I guess this is why eye witness accounts are so notoriously unreliable.

when I look at Obama I see the a guy who, basically, represents the end of Western Civilization

The end of Western Civilization began a long time ago. You can't blame Obama for the Enlightenment; he's as much a victim of it as the rest of it.

In any case, I don't confuse Western Civilization with the Kingdom of God. We have here no abiding city ...

I meant to say "he's as much a victim of it as the rest of us."

I don't confuse Western Civilization with the Kingdom of God

That is the most intelligent comment made so far on this thread.

Voting for a "pure" candidate from a third party who has no chance of winning or even influencing the election is just more moral posturing.

Likely so. The Republican party will govern conservatively when conservatives demand it, and when Republican voters become, well, real conservatives. But abandoning the party altogether is just to abandon it to the "moderates." If it wasn't clear already, I'm supporting Lydia's thesis here. It's one thing to have a John McCain governing from the center, a do-nothing administration on life and family issues. But its another thing, quite another thing altogether, to give a leftist administration like the one Obama will bring, four (or gasp, eight) years to openly advocate a gospel of death. I'd take a Hilary administration first, in a heartbeat. It's precisely Obama's intelligence and articulate rhetorical gift that scares the living daylights out of me. Obama wants to really change things. He wants to commit this country to a particular path, and despite his opponents who attack him for having no real vision, I think they are dead wrong. He most certainly does have a vision, and he'll work to see it realized. Don't help him get that power.

It's funny how memories of the same event can differ. To my memory Bush just looked up at him as if to say "Yes? Can I help you with something?" It was actually a pretty funny take. One of Bush's better moments. I guess this is why eye witness accounts are so notoriously unreliable.

Well, ok, sh**. The more I think about it now, the more I think you are right on that moment in the debate. So I have a Hilary Clinton memory, sue me. Anyway, the point is, I didn't believe the guy when he said he wasn't a nation-builder.

The end of Western Civilization began a long time ago. You can't blame Obama for the Enlightenment; he's as much a victim of it as the rest of it.

In any case, I don't confuse Western Civilization with the Kingdom of God. We have here no abiding city ...

Of course. But Obama represents the very ideals I stand against . McCain is a people pleaser who loves power but he's not a philosophical liberal in the sense that Obama is. We are presented with continual opportunities to either lie down in front of the Vandals, or stand up to them. I don't believe in political messiahs, which is precisely why I'm a conservative, and precisely why I know Obama and his politics to be anathema.

I don't confuse Western Civilization with the Kingdom of Go
d

Whatever it is that you and I know about the Kingdom of God was given us through Western Civilization. So I wouldn't be so quick to write it off, even if it is already dead. Long live Western Civ, be she dead or alive.

M.Z.,
What did you expect when you decided to front as a "pro-life Catholic for Obama", restful nights?

I own a Dell, buy American goods and services within the limited constraints of the admittedly spiritually bereft marketplace and you're trying to say that is just as bad as elevating a pro-infanticide Senator to the Presidency? Please.

Your last screed claimed abortion was not an issue in this election. Untrue, but a more plausible form of intellectual Ambien than this latest rationalization.

"I don't do obnoxious, self righteous preening as well as you Kevin..."

Sez M.Z. Where the heck did that come from? Is this a boil-over from some other thread that I missed? Or am I just forgetting something?

Tone it down, for goodness' sake, M.Z. Kevin and I don't always agree--in fact, we disagree on several things--but that's just off the mark. And as for all the rest of that stuff, M.Z., about not owning a computer for fear of supporting abortions or something, whazzat all about? Did you read the post, or what? Or do you, despite my great arguments (grin), _really_ think buying a computer is the same thing as voting for an infantide-supporting political candidate?

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.

But its another thing, quite another thing altogether, to give a leftist administration like the one Obama will bring, four (or gasp, eight) years to openly advocate a gospel of death.

People are writing about Obama here as though they truly believe that his primary impetus towards the goal of becoming POTUS is to increase to the maximum possible level the number of abortions performed per diem. That is absurd.
If the goal is to eventually eliminate abortion, the only route to success is to gradually change the hearts and minds of the pro-choice contingent. Look--abortion has become a political issue. Tunnel-visioned fanatacism is just not that attractive. It's not the way to go. Trust me.

Tunnel-visioned fanatacism is just not that attractive.

Somehow I think there is a problem when we reduce an issue of mass murder to cajoling: to the "challenge" of marketing our ideas to the mass murderers.

Lydia, thanks for your response. I must admit, when I come across a purportedly Catholic defense of Herodian ethics, the gloves come off. How else to snap someone out of their sleep-walking into rush-hour traffic?

Rob#2, Obama is confronted by an evil so great that it has corrupted our capacity for self-government, diminished our own humanity and set in motion pernicious threats to the elderly, the infirm and the inconvenient. What is his response? To extend this evil, remove any sanctions that could lead to it's curtailment and hail the ghoulish practice as a civic right. On those grounds alone, he is unfit to hold public office at any level. Trust me.

Somehow I think there is a problem when we reduce an issue of mass murder to cajoling: to the "challenge" of marketing our ideas to the mass murderers.

One of Zippy's more quotable quotes. Excellent. What could I add to that?

Zippy also explains extremely well the view of the vote that I was disagreeing with in the main post--that the worst thing a vote can be for a well-intentioned person is remote material cooperation with evil and that so long as you try to use prudence and don't will any evil acts the candidate might do, you can't be doing wrong in voting for him. Well-put. It's odd that people should remove _significance_ so entirely from voting by thinking about it in that way. I can't help thinking that if we imagine it as being done by raising our hands, signing our names, lining up underneath a banner containing the candidate's name, or some method of that sort, we would feel differently. Putting one's name to something or even associating oneself with another person's name has an obvious significance.

How else to snap someone out of their sleep-walking into rush-hour traffic?

Considering my first response to you was to [redacted], you may have wished another approach. Given the entirety of your responses to me, I see no need to change policy.

Even with an asterisk in place of the vowel, I do not permit that particular word (which I have redacted out of the above comment) in my threads. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Thanks, Lydia. FWIW, I view voting in a democracy as a kind of secular/political liturgy -- indeed, it is the quintessential liturgy of secular modernity, which is why the Soviets did it for so long even with only one choice on the ballot. The notion that things are so very radically different here just because there are (as a formal matter) more permutations in the choice-space strikes me as one of the great myths of modernity.

I think this view (of voting as liturgy) is helpful at least for folks who have some sense of what a liturgy is, that is, for folks who are not liturgical positivists; or said in yet a different way, for folks who understand that liturgy is not nothing but some explicit formal expression of material meaning or intention. (I find it difficult to rigorously discuss the nature of liturgy, which is probably related to the fact that I find it difficult to rigorously discuss the nature of voting).

Now, granting that secular liturgy is not in the same realm of sacredness as the Liturgy, it still remains the case that there are some liturgies in which one ought not approach the altar, nor perhaps even enter the church building at all. The notion that one simply must enter and choose a communion line from what has been made available, no matter how blasphemous the circumstances and false the choices, is another one of the great myths of modernity.

The idea that a vote is an act evacuated of all meaning other than an evaluation of the consequences of candidate X taking office as opposed to candidate Y taking office is very positivist. (Yes, I know, positivism is an obsession of mine; but I think that is for a reason, namely that the vast majority of modern thought is dominated by it). It reminds me of behaviorism in psychology, among other things: it attempts to bring the nature of the thing under the control of our will - making the morality of the vote whatever we choose it to be, since we get to choose that with which we formally cooperate, and the rest is merely a prudential evaluation of consequences - by suctioning the humanity out.

"Considering my first response to you was to f* off"

I believe your style the perfect match to the moral content of your argument. And, yes let's hear of more of your oh so sincere concern for the dignity of human life.

Would some of you be so kind to point to your previous arguments as to why you consider the present Iraq war to be unjust? I'm not a fan of nation building in the muslim world, but I think an argument could be made for the following timeline:

1) Iraq invades Kuwait
2) GULF WAR I frees Kuwait-and as a condition for not invading Iraq, Iraq agrees to a full and open inspection program.
3) The inspection program is violated by Iraq (violating the terms for the end of the first gulf war).
4) As propaganda, the administration uses generally agreed upon intelligence (subsequently found to be in error) to invade.

If this outline is reasonable, the present Iraq war is seen to be a natural continuation of the the first gulf war, and not a separate "preemptive" war. Is it generally believed here that the first Gulf War was unjust? Comments?

If you could manage anything more than narcissism that argument might have value. Instead you advocate doing nothing and taking your ball and going home. For one who advocates sitting on his laurels you seem to have a pretty big opinion of what those who actually are doing something should do. Instead you suck at the teat of the world complaining about how you can do nothing except relieve the breast of what you hold in such contempt. If you want to fashion yourself an evangelical witness, suckle from a breast of your own creation. The Amish and countless others societies manage to do it.

Joe: re-hashing that argument would I think be highly OT. I'll just say very briefly that if one believes the 'continuation' theory as a genuine just cause, as opposed to a rationalization, then one must also believe that we would have invaded Iraq when and how we did even had 9-11 never happened and the subject of WMD's never come up. I think a reasonable person has to conclude that we would not have.

"Just cause" has two parts, and people are always skipping the 'cause' part. The invasion of Kuwait, and violation of cease-fire (assuming for the sake of argument that these would justify Iraq II) did not cause us to start Iraq II. The thing that has to be justified is the thing that actually caused us to go to war. Any reasonable person will conclude that without the WMD/al-Qaeda nexus argument, we would not have gone to war; and the WMD/al-Qaeda nexis argument turned out to be completely false, so it could not have been certain in any reasonable understanding of certainty. Thus the war was unjust (that is, the decision to wage it was at best morally a mistake from which we should repent).

MZ: I have to say that I am surprised to see you making the trite "if you choose not to vote, no matter what is on the ballot you are abandoning your civic duty" argument. I can't help but think (out of respect for your usual level of argument) that you know better.

"Instead you advocate doing nothing and taking your ball and going home."

Abstaining from voting for either McCain or Obama, could be called narcissistic, especially if I write my own name in. Not voting could be described as "quitting", if my pro-life activities were limited to political campaigns. Of course, making politics the sole expression of one's witness could also be described as an abandonment of personal responsibility, since it can lead to moral compromis.

As a Catholic, I have to be very much in the world and the Amish model strikes me as a last resort. For now, I'll raise funds and morale for those noble souls manning our local crisis pregnancy center, pray in front of an abortuary, instruct young people in the Faith, block attempts by my school board and planning commissions to covertly facilitate the culture of death and take frequent recourse to the sacraments. Under no circumstances, will I descend into kind of modern-day member of the Vichy regime, by absurdly advocating the election of Obama.

Zippy,

If you speed with your sick child in transit to the hospital you are in opposition to your licensed obligations. That doesn't make you wrong. Likewise, one can avail of a positive defense for not voting, but it is still an abadonment of a civic duty.

Kevin,

If I were offering commentary on your pro-life obligations, your first paragraph would be applicable.

Joe,

Zippy is right that an in-depth discussion of the justice or injustice of the Iraq war would be off-topic. Let me note briefly that the classic criteria for a just war in the Christian tradition are not simple. They go beyond considerations of who's good and who's bad (and just how very bad they are), as well as beyond what is permitted or forbidden by international law.

One of those criteria for a just war is that the good to be achieved by a successful prosecution of the war should outweigh the (inevitable) evil that is done in the waging of the war. Establishing that criterion reqires understanding what the strategic goals of the war are, showing that those goals are, in fact, good, and showing that those goals are likely to be achieved by prosecuting the war. It is my judgment as a voter that the Bush administration has signally failed to meet this criterion. No coherent and believable case has been made outlining what the strategic goals are and demonstrating that they are just. That is my basis for believing that the war is unjust. If that criterion for a just war has not been met, there is no need to go on to a consideration of the other criteria.

... one can avail of a positive defense for not voting, but it is still an abadonment of a civic duty.

I don't think so at all. (For that matter, I don't think speeding in an emergency is the abandonment of a civic duty).

Treating voting as an always-applicable duty is like treating attending religious services as an always-applicable duty, even when the only available religious service is Aztec human sacrifice.

Zippy and Chris

Thank you for your thoughtful responces. I don't think we agree, but I'll avoid hijacking the thread and wait for one on topic. Thanks, Joe

Taking seriously Lydia's initial description of what a vote is, I wonder if part of the issue here is that we have isolated our thought around the life issue to the time we take to vote.

That is far from the only moment we should give to this issue. We also have an obligation to act during other parts of our lives. Our moral obligation in this pro-life battle is to fight in the trenches - to take action outside the voting process - to pray, to work in other ways if called in that direction in the world for the end to every abortion.

But in the moment when we have to vote, in that one moment, the obligation is to vote for the person who holds with our morals.

The easy moral choice is to choose Ron Paul.

I think most of us on the pro-life side (against abortion and/or against the war) would line up under a banner for him or be willing to put the yard sign out.

I have other problems with Ron Paul, but I certainly don't consider him a moral monster but instead an odd and misguided bird. I used to be a fan quite some time ago but won't go OT explaining why I am not anymore. If I found a yard sign for him in my yard, I would remove it (and besides, I don't let anybody else put up yard signs in my yard without my permission and would hence be mildly annoyed), but I would not be appalled.

"Our moral obligation in this pro-life battle is to fight in the trenches - to take action outside the voting process..."

Amen, Tim H. Amen. The fascination with the electoral process can be a dangerous distraction, harmfully diverting one's spiritual energies, and ultimately leading to demoralization.

Victories can be won at personal and local levels. An abortionist moved his offices out of my neighboring town because his co-tenants tired of the presence of our silent sidewalk protests. In the very next community, an attempt to open a Planned Parenthood clinic was thwarted by drawing attention to the crooked parties benefiting from the rental arrangements. And for sheer theatre, the monthly meeting, largely positing white, upper-middle class lawyers and landlords against working class blacks, couldn't be beat.

If the goal is to eventually eliminate abortion, the only route to success is to gradually change the hearts and minds of the pro-choice contingent. Look--abortion has become a political issue. Tunnel-visioned fanatacism is just not that attractive. It's not the way to go. Trust me.

Now that I think about it, I'm sure that you are correct. After all, tunneled-visioned fanaticism didn't work to well for Frederick Douglas and MLK Jr. They were far too tunneled-visioned. They ought to have diversified. So few were attracted to the stridency that marked the early Civil Rights Movement, the peaceful protest marching and speechmaking and boycotting and preaching. So many were turned off by it, and it had so little ultimate effect in the grand scheme of things. I should pay more attention to the lessons of recent history. People don't dig moralizing. It's so uncool. What a turn-off, man. What a drag. I have clearly been under the mistaken impression that abortion was a grave moral issue. Now I can see, thanks to you, that I was just being square. I really do trust you. I'm going to be a whole lot more laid back about the issue from now on, and encourage others to do the same. I think that together, you and I, Rob#2, we can get the anti-abortion freaks to just chill out.

And it starts with these tunnel-visioned fanatics here at W4. Hey Zippy, Max, Lydia, PJC et al: ROBBIE SAY RELAX!

And since I do trust you so much, Rob #2, I'm going to ask you a question, in order that I may get my political priorities straight: Where do you think, in your trustworthy judgement, that life issues (abortion, euthanasia, etc) should come in the hierarchy of importance? Perhaps 3rd or 4th, behind taxes, healthcare, The War, gas prices, global warming, campaign finance reform? Somewhere tucked unobtrusively in there? Just let me know, because I trust you.

Not to let the facts get in the way of a good argument, but civil rights movement worked with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. It ended up working with parties that each had a segregationist wing.

What is myopic is to believe the obligations to the unborn encompass, rather than are a part, our obligations the common good.

"What is myopic is to believe the obligations to the unborn encompass, rather than are a part, our obligations the common good."

O.k., How seriously should we take someone's claim to care about the common good, when they advance the destruction of unborn children?

Aristocles, I tend to think that that appearance--which candidate is "benefited by" a non-vote--is an illusion created by the general political stance of the possible non-voter to whom one is speaking.


Lydia:

I believe you may be neglecting one of the more salient issues unique to the candidacy of Obama: he may become the first black president in the history of the United States.

What black American would not want to help make history by voting Obama into office and making him the first black president, ultimately realizing the dream of every black American and ridding finally the figurative (and still, in some cases, literal) shackles of racism and oppression which the white oppressors had binded him with since the dark days of slavery?

Indeed, even in spite of any particular disagreements with Obama's policy and political viewpoints, many if not most black Americans (even white Americans and, not to mention, most certainly minorities) may understandably come to vote Obama for this very reason.

This is one of the greater forces that undoubteldy would propel Obama's candidacy and one of the more significant reasons why such non-votes would more likely help Obama rather than McCain (in addition to the aforementioned such as a swift end to the Iraq debacle) since a majority of those voters I've mentioned would more likely vote for Obama. Not to mention, there is anecdotal evidence, to say the least, concerning such predicament, which I won't readily discuss here since that would go far beyond the very topic of this thread.

Not to let the facts get in the way of a good argument, but civil rights movement worked with Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. It ended up working with parties that each had a segregationist wing
.

Albeit myopically, of course. But yes, you are so terribly right.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.
- MLK, Jr. Letter From A Birmingham Jail

M.Z., I'm sure you are familiar with the whole of that myopic document. But perhaps you would consider getting reacquainted with it, where you'll get know, as if for the first time, such myopic gems as this:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.


1) Iraq invades Kuwait
2) GULF WAR I frees Kuwait-and as a condition for not invading Iraq, Iraq agrees to a full and open inspection program.
3) The inspection program is violated by Iraq (violating the terms for the end of the first gulf war).
4) As propaganda, the administration uses generally agreed upon intelligence (subsequently found to be in error) to invade.

Joe,

Excellent argument.

Wars often come in twos, with the second war wrapping up the unfinished business of the first. Clearly, if the first Gulf War was justified, then so was the second. One problem with these pacifist types is that they seem to have no sense and feel for the logical tide of human events. When people look back after some generations (after all the blubbering has ceased), I believe that the historical judgement will be that Saddam's fate was sealed when he crossed into Kuwait.

I'll just say very briefly that if one believes the 'continuation' theory as a genuine just cause, as opposed to a rationalization, then one must also believe that we would have invaded Iraq when and how we did even had 9-11 never happened and the subject of WMD's never come up. I think a reasonable person has to conclude that we would not have.

This does not follow. There is nothing to prevent one from being justified in taking a certain course of action before (or without) being moved by a sufficient urgency to do so.

Aristocles, I _think_ you are pointing out that McCain needs votes in this election more than Obama does, because all the blacks and lots of whites will vote for Obama.

I'm sure that's true. But I don't think it in any way undermines the point I was making, which is simply that if I were a very, very leftish person and thinking of sitting out this election, you wouldn't tell me that by not voting I would be indirectly helping Obama. Obviously not. The argument instead would be that the extreme lefty by not voting indirectly helps the Republican. Why? Because one assumes that if the extreme lefty _did_ vote, he'd vote for the Democrat. In other words, one tells the person who is thinking of not voting that his refusal to vote "indirectly helps" this candidate or that based on which of the viable candidates is "closest" to that person's positions and which one is farthest away. His vote is counted as presumptively belonging to the viable candidate closest to his own positions, and he is then told that by not voting he is indirectly helping the candidate who is farther away. This just seems a simple logical matter. But if we didn't make that presumption--that a lefty's vote presumptively belongs to the Democrat and a righty's vote presumptively belongs to the Republican--we couldn't make that "indirectly helping" claim at all. We would have to admit that not voting is just not voting. It isn't helping anybody or hurting anybody, because you don't owe your vote to one candidate or the other to begin with.

There is nothing to prevent one from being justified in taking a certain course of action before (or without) being moved by a sufficient urgency to do so.

In general that is correct. In deciding to go to war that is incorrect, as I understand it (and have argued elsewhere).

But again, this is well off-topic.

It isn't helping anybody or hurting anybody, because you don't owe your vote to one candidate or the other to begin with.

Rather like letting your manufacturer's coupons expire is not helping Wal Mart over and against Target; it is just not using them.

Not voting has the salutary effect of preserving one's integrity and not giving scandal to one's fellow communicants; "Did you hear, our Respect Life contact is supporting; Pilate/Herod. How's that for putting your faith into action?"

Imagine the havoc it would wreak, if there were significantly more votes cast for local, pro-life candidates than for the top of the ticket.
The Machiavellians might realize the game is up. At least, they were warned.

Exactly, Zippy. But I suppose that if Wal-Mart and Target were in a major retail war and Target were located fifteen minutes from your house, while Wal-Mart was located 50 miles away, someone might try to make that very argument--That by not using your coupons at your local Target you were "helping" Wal-Mart. But he would be wrong, because it doesn't follow from the fact that Target is relatively closer to your house than Wal-Mart that you owe it to Target to shop there.

Lydia:

Aristocles, I _think_ you are pointing out that McCain needs votes in this election more than Obama does, because all the blacks and lots of whites will vote for Obama...This just seems a simple logical matter.


It appears you have oversimplified the matter as well as overlooked what I was trying to get at and both the social and historical context of the situation.

It's not merely about "because all the blacks and lots of whites will vote for Obama".

This is not your ordinary election.

I thought my previous comments made that clear.

Well, perhaps you're right about its being an unusual election. But that really can't change the structural point I'm making. How could it? I'm not saying that a lot of leftists _will_ sit out the election. Maybe none of them will. That's irrelevant. I'm just using the hypothetical ("What would one say to a leftist who was thinking of sitting out the election?") to make a point about how people decide which way to "count" a non-vote. It's quite simple, actually.

Relative to my evidence base (which I won't take the time to elucidate), a vote for Obama would be morally unjustified. (Part of this hinges upon acceptance of Lydia's argument above.) Suppose this is right. I am then faced with two options: vote for McCain, or refrain from voting. Many on this thread imply that a vote for McCain would be similarly unjustified/unjustifiable. But it's not clear to me that this is the case. Can someone offer reasons for thinking that a vote for McCain would be morally unjustified, given conservative moral principles that do not presuppose pacifism?

John Zmirak took a stab at that question back in March, and I stabbed at it in February.

His support for embryo destruction (with public funding yet) is my biggest "point-to" issue re. McCain. But Obama's enthusiasm for evil is, I think, more blatant and widespread. The anti-war stuff isn't much on my radar re. McCain, as my opposition to the origin of the Iraq war is a more isolated phenomenon in my own thinking than it is for some others.

John Zmirak took a stab at that question back in March, and I stabbed at it in February.

Your piece did not "presuppose pacifism;" but Smirak's did. He wrote:

But where does it leave the Republicans? How many unjust wars must one be willing to countenance in the hope of shifting the votes on the Supreme Court? How many foreign civilians should we be willing to sacrifice? How many American soldiers? To press the point home further: If our country engages in one fourth of the conflicts called for by Norman Podhoretz (esteemed by McCain, and one of his endorsers), there is no prospect of our continuing without a military draft. Which would include women. So, how many American boys and girls are we willing to force at gunpoint into foreign wars, for the price of swaying the Court? Which of your daughters are you willing to send to “liberate” Teheran?

Oh brother.

I think one of the worst parts about hysterical rubbish like this is the implication (by a conservative!) that the electing of a complete fool like Obama will surely not result in increased carnage and destruction.

The ironic thing is that if Obama is elected president,abortion might actually descrease! Hypocritical anti-choice politicians who scream for unwanted children with absolutely no regard for the consequences have consistently voted against providing more help for the poor.
What happens? MORE abortions. Let's face it.Women who have the means to take good care of children are far less likely to seek and obtain abortions. Anti-choice people are always talking about the "right to life". But what about the right to decent food,shelter,clothing,education and medical care? We are the world's richest country. Children should have these things.

Color me anti-choice. Yep, I favor the right of an innocent child not to have his head torn off. Strange thing, that.

"Children should have these things."

And if not, we'll kill them in utero. That will teach 'em to show up uninvited.

Lydia and Michael S are making a lot of sense.

Zippy, while we can agree that a choice to not vote for a gravely immoral monster can be a good thing, that isn't really the question. The hard and pertinent question is more complex: If one man is an immoral monster of drastic proportions, and the other is a moral failure of less earth-shattering proportions, is it wrong to vote for the second on account of the lesser evils he will cause?

I am afraid that the stance that voting is OK when you feel like it and it is also OK to not vote when you don't feel like it doesn't sit right. All persons are called to be good citizens/subjects of the political order which God places them in. If you live in a monarchy, you don't get a choice of chief executive, but you do have an obligation to obey him, in general. Your attempt then to choose a new chief executive would constitute a revolution and is only OK when revolution is appropriate. If you live in a democracy which rests on the vote of the public to choose the chief executive, then so choosing is equally an obligation of general nature, and choosing to not vote fails your political obligation under the state, unless a superior cause intervenes. A family emergency which takes you away from the polling place can be such a superior cause.

So the question is, is the presence of exactly 2 viable candidates neither of whom is wholly satisfactory from a moral outlook such a superior cause? This is far from clear.

It may be so, if the act of voting for the second (less evil) candidate still constitutes an endorsement of him such that you are effectively saying I support him even in those areas where he is afoul of true morality. But I don't think a vote means this.

From my outlook, a vote first of all means I think this candidate has a sufficient grasp of the basic meaning of the office that he can fulfill it in its bare-bones essentials (i.e. that he understands the foundational duties of that office and knows how to carry them out). (This is the reason I won't vote for Ron Paul. Though I like some of his individual policies a lot, I don't think he actually understands the presidency.) Secondly, a vote for a candidate means I think that his outlook on life is sufficiently in tune with reality that he can make suitable decisions (intelligent, prudent, moral) a lot of the time. Thirdly, a vote means I think enough of his integrity and character that I am satisfied he will operate and act in line with his appropriate understanding of the reality (see #2) much of the time, especially in more important matters - that he will not sell out to wrong choices even while knowing the right choices. Fourthly, a vote means I believe that his specific agenda is more truly than not a well-thought agenda that will produce more good than will cause harm, and that agenda is not rooted in evil. And these fall off in importance as we get farther from #1.

Now, some people would argue about the placement of my point #1, and I can see reasons for that, but I am willing to argue my case.

Lydia, saying a vote means a kind of "stand for" the candidate is entirely valid, but too vague, too wispy to sink your teeth into. I think we need to have more details on what that really means, which is why I listed those 4 above.

While I can see arguments against, I lean toward the conclusion that both McCain and Obama meet #1. As for #2 (general outlook on reality), I am certain Obama does NOT satisfy the condition, and I think McCain may but am still in doubt. For #3 (character/integrity) I suspect both candidates, but have less doubt about McCain than Obama. For #4, I am lock stock positive that Obama's policies will cause more harm than good, and I am still considering McCain's. More than that, I am morally certain that Obama's policies are rooted in evil ways of thought, that individual evil policies he holds are rooted in a wrong and destructive concept of reality. I am open-ended on McCain for this - maybe yes, maybe no, still working on it.

Here is my consolidated point: you CAN morally vote for a candidate who holds a specific policy that is immoral, if you have sufficient reason to believe that it is relatively isolated rather than representative of his entire world-view, and if the other candidate(s) are clearly worse, clearly do not meet the basic tests for me to say I "stand with" those other candidates. It is impossible to vote for Obama under this notion of what a vote means. It may turn out to be impossible to vote for McCain also, but for me at least it is still open.

It is not necessary to be able to say of a candidate that EACH of his specific policy points is entirely moral. Just as we humans are all capable of intellectual error (even the greatest teachers, saints, philosophers made mistakes), so also we are all subject to moral errors even when we are mostly aright. If we had to be confident that each individual point held by a candidate was strictly moral in every facet, we could never vote for anyone. Which is ridiculous.

I am afraid that the stance that voting is OK when you feel like it and it is also OK to not vote when you don't feel like it doesn't sit right.
I agree. I think it highly likely that people very often vote when it is wrong to do so: when the morally correct course of action is to abstain.
So the question is, is the presence of exactly 2 viable candidates neither of whom is wholly satisfactory from a moral outlook such a superior cause?
I love the way the gravity of the deliberate systematic publicly-funded murder and medical cannibalization of children is always minimized in these discussions. "Neither of whom is wholly satisfactory" indeed.

Part of what that tells me is that there is something deeper gone wrong, beyond merely the matter of what options are formally present on a given ballot. Any public ritual which trains people to adopt this kind of blatant moral proportionalism has problems which run far deeper than what can be solved by shuffling the content of the ballot.

Maximos and Lydia: Thanks for the thoughts re: McCain. I'll be mulling things over.

i> I love the way the gravity of the deliberate systematic publicly-funded murder and medical cannibalization of children is always minimized in these discussions. "Neither of whom is wholly satisfactory" indeed.

Zippy, I notice you don't actually try to answer the question that was put. You don't like that question. But you don't say why it is invalid, only that Any public ritual which trains people to adopt this kind of blatant moral proportionalism . Can you show me why this is moral proportionalism? Do you believe that voting in all cases under all possible democratic structures is immoral? Or do you instead propose that in order to vote for a candidate, every policy he publicly espouses must pass moral muster in every facet? Please, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN here, don't beat around the bush like you have been doing.

Some of us are trying to establish boundary lines for right action under a given set of circumstances. If you disagree with the boundary lines suggested, by all means say why - but don't just call it a name like "moral proportionalism" and let that be your argument, because that's no argument.

If you disagree with my (tentatively stated) suspicion that possibly McCain's policies are not rooted in an evil world view - that is a different

argument. I am very willing to see alternative views on that. But being incorrect on such a suspicion does not by itself undermine the view that if hypothetically it were a correct conclusion, voting for him would not be immoral in spite of his holding certain isolated policies not in conformity with good morals. If you aren't going to separate these points, you are not trying to engage the post Lydia started with.

My point in the main post was never intended to answer all of these questions, by the way. But people might be surprised to realize how even such a "thin" point as I was making there, a minimal point, is actually rather controversial, especially when people start defending voting for somebody who they know espouses positions that are diametrically opposed to many of their own most deeply important ethical committments. This was esp. obvious when so many conservatives, including pro-lifers, were gearing themselves up to vote for Rudy Giuliani. The "voting is just pushing and pulling stuff in the political machine" view was much on display in a thread on that topic a bit over a year ago now on a now-defunct blog.

Can you show me why this is moral proportionalism?
It is moral proportionalism because people actually take seriously the possibility that choosing one cannibal over another for the highest office in the land is a viable choice of a 'lesser of two evils'.
Do you believe that voting in all cases under all possible democratic structures is immoral?
It isn't logically impossible for there to be morally legitimate choices on a ballot, if that is what you mean. There are doubtless ballots where voting is a licit option; but there are doubtless many where it is not. The ritual as it is presently treated though trains people that they should always vote, no matter what buffet of abominations is served up on the ballot.
Please, SAY WHAT YOU MEAN here, don't beat around the bush like you have been doing.
I find that comment rather baffling. Both of the present viable presidential candidates - Obama and McCain - are in favor of medically cannibalizing children using federal funds. This is viewed by and large as having a ballot that is "less than perfect" or some such. My hypothesis is that the voting liturgy teaches people over time to adopt this kind of 'compromise with vile, despicable evil' approach, since the alternative is to view onesself as formally powerless, disenfranchised. And we can't have that: better to choose despicable evil rather than admit to personal powerlessness, since the will is everything.

I have no idea what question you asked that you think I haven't answered. I've been discussing the issue of voting as a training ground for moral proportionalism for years.

Zippy,

It is moral proportionalism because people actually take seriously the possibility that choosing one cannibal over another for the highest office in the land is a viable choice of a 'lesser of two evils'.

You are supposing then that all 'cannibals' are equal.

I argue that they are not and the potential damage that would be caused by the worse of these if put in office could inflict far greater (even irreperable) harm than the alternative.

CONSIDER:
Clinton: Open to being Obama's vice president


Remember -- 4 years is enough to wreak damage to the nation. Take, for example, the first four years of the current sitting president and the repercussions thereof.

You are supposing then that all 'cannibals' are equal.
Well, no, it is precisely because all cannibals are not equal that in this election cycle folks are picking their favorite cannibal and lining up behind him.

Well, no, it is precisely because all cannibals are not equal that in this election cycle folks are picking their favorite cannibal and lining up behind him.

That's just it -- the very reason for such compromise (i.e., acqueiscing to the 'lesser evil') is due to the aforementioned fact as expressed in my previous comment. That is why people take such an option so seriously due to necessity when confronted with the possibility of the greater evil taking office.

All in all, it's not just about the 'cannibals' but what the cannibals can and will do once in office.

All in all, it's not just about the 'cannibals' but what the cannibals can and will do once in office.
Well ... yes. That is what it is all about for the kind of people who are willing to vote for cannibals.

If we simply must look at it pragmatically rather than morally, it is still far from clear though that (say) 50 million men willing to vote for a cannibal are better for the health of the Republic than 50 million who aren't. The voting ritual certainly does help people decide which kind they want to be.

The voting ritual certainly does help people decide which kind they want to be.

Is it your contention then that better to 'not vote' and allow the possibility of the greater evil to take office rather than take positive action to prevent such a catastrophe by settling for the lesser?

aristocles:

Suppose you gave me a choice.

I can have a million men on my side who are going to vote for a lesser cannibal for the highest office in the land, because they are afraid of what an even worse cannibal will do in the short term.

Or, I can have a million men on my side who are unwilling to vote for any cannibal.

Even in just plain old practical terms I want the second group on my side, not the first.

I must say, I really like Zippy's take on all of this. I've been bothered for years and years by the increasing evils pro-lifers have been willing to accept in the name of the "lesser of two evils." With Giuliani--that advocate of PBA and everything else besides--that reached a nadir. I have felt during the entire time that I've been watching politics carefully that pro-lifers are being corrupted. Zippy's position that a strong reason _against_ voting is to keep ourselves from continually learning the lesson of compromise is bracing.

I think too that this whole story of pro-life politics in the late 20th and early 21st century shows the problem of false conscience. How many people who have learned the lesson of compromise have thought that they were doing their duty and have, in fact, pushed themselves into it out of a sense of duty?

Zippy:

Or, I can have a million men on my side who are unwilling to vote for any cannibal.

You would actually find it acceptable to have a million men abstain from voting even if that should mean a possible win by the Obama-Clinton ticket?

You could actually countenance such a win and would not do anything proactively to prevent it?


...because they are afraid of what an even worse cannibal will do in the short term.

Yes, Zippy, because we all know that the evils committed in the short term by a sitting president during their term in office can always be repaired later by subsequent administrations.

Moreover, you say 'short term' yet fail to recognize the further possiblity of re-election.

In both accounts, please refer to the present administration.

You would actually find it acceptable ... even if that should mean a possible win by the Obama-Clinton ticket?

'Acceptable' ?

There are all sorts of things in the world which on the one hand I do not find 'acceptable'; but which, on the other hand, I will not do something evil to prevent.

Zippy,

Upon re-reading my above remarks, I must apologize for its tone. That was unintentional and I certainly respect your views of course although I might disagree with a few of them.

Zippy,

...but which, on the other hand, I will not do something evil to prevent.

Were you seriously suggesting that voting for McCain as the lesser of the two is actually analogous to "do something evil"?

Were you seriously suggesting that voting for McCain as the lesser of the two is actually analogous to "do something evil"?

Not analogous to, no, but actually, yes.

I would be solidly for Zippy's position if it were established that voting for "the cannibal" were in any way a cooperation with evil in the sense that is definitely forbidden by good morals and true ethics. I have not yet seen him spell out the argument to show this, though he has given bits and pieces of it, maybe.

We know that voting for him is cooperation with evil in some sense. It is certainly unfortunate to be in a position that we might cooperate with evil even in that limited sense, but that position is God's will for us in allowing us to inhabit a world with evil men. The question is, is that limited sense of cooperating with evil the kind of cooperation with evil that is contrary to natural law.

I can imagine about 5 levels of evil acts expected of the an evil president that will (at least potentially) require different descriptions of how we are in cooperation by voting. One is where the president will step aside and ignore other men doing evil when he ought to put a stop to it by virtue of his own office. The 2nd is where he will sign into law (but does not instigate) a bill that the legislature passes that allows men to do evil contrary to what the law ought to permit. The 3rd where he initiates and pushes for a law that permits an evil that the law should not permit. The 4th is to enact by executive fiat a permission for federal personnel to directly engage in acts which are inherently immoral. And the 5th is an executive fiat to require federal personnel to do immoral acts.

Certainly the 5th is the most clear case of concentration and direct tie between the voter's responsibility as cause and the evil act, so let's take that one. Bill Clinton's requiring army doctors to do abortions on foreign bases would be an example, I think (I believe it was subject to executive order). Is it definite that voting for Bill when knowing he would do this constitutes cooperation with evil that is either formal cooperation with evil or proximate material cooperation? I have an idea of the answer for this, but I would appreciate Zippy's making it especially clear what he thinks in this line.

The harder cases are the others, 4, 3, 2 and 1. When (with 4) the president't act is merely permissive rather than obligatory, it pretty much severs the direct tie between the evil act of the final actor and the voter, doesn't it? When (with 3 and 2) there is required first the mediacy of 2 legislative bodies, the tie between the final evil act and the voter is pretty remote, isn't it?

...but I would appreciate Zippy's making it especially clear what he thinks in this line.

My thought is still developing on the subject; I have a new post at my place today on what it means to have a propoportionate reason to cooperate with evil and what that implies for voting in a national election. I think the different classes you discuss are interesting and do shed additional light on the subject.

I would probably add another, though I'm not clear on where it is in the heirarchy: where the President has promised to use federal funds to finance certain evil acts (which lies somewhere between authorizing it specifically and requiring federal employees to do it, I would suppose: it certainly involves requiring federal employees to budget funds for it, release funds for it, etc; which is to say it requires federal employees to formally cooperate with it if not actually do it themselves).

That is the kind of case we have with McCain and Obama, both of whom have promised to use federal funds to medically cannibalize children.

Zippy has argued that a blog post lauding an evil act is cooperation in evil. I would think that by analogy we could say that when we put someone in the presidency we are giving him the ultimate "blog power"--we're putting him in a position where the media report what he says, where he gives speeches that are heard and heeded by millions, a position of enormous influence. If nothing else, when you know that a candidate will use that influence for evil, you are working to give him that platform and that influence by voting for him. And as Zippy has pointed out, blogging for evil may be more influential than voting for evil. But one could also say that the President's actual executive powers are just one part, and not even necessarily the largest part, of his overall influence for good or evil.

Lydia: I should say that I have an expansive view of the situation very much like what you just articulated. But I am trying to be analytic about it: to find the propositions it is most difficult or impossible to dispute. I've focused on executive orders for that very reason. I've often encountered arguments to the effect that the President might not succeed at this or that because he has to go through Congress, that his bully pulpit influence is indirect, etc. By focusing on areas where he has unilateral power and unequivocal promises I am not agreeing that those levels of indirection excuse a vote for someone who will accomplish great evil indirectly; I'm just trying to get to the least disputable things we can say about voting. Presumably we can 'work our way out' from there.

(Heck, even that is a more ambitious description than the reality. If I can get folks to seriously and consciously question their assumptions about the voting liturgy, that is at least a start).

I only brought it up because it seemed to fit well with your older blog post point. I suppose that one could say that voting for a president who is going to promote evil is rather like deliberately offering someone web hosting space for his evil-praising blog.

Zippy, I think I agree with you that an in-between type case is where the President by executive order tells HHS to use federal funds for embryo stem cell research. Even here, one can imagine 2 distinct possibilities - where the funding is by grant to outside entities (and therefore requires first someone to submit a grant request for the money, which a federal employee then is expected to approve), call this type 4.4. Or the executive order could be for HHS to start doing the experiments itself - call this type 4.9. (I
also recognize that the whole point here is to put the nail into the coffin in as clear a way as possible, but that we are not thereby excluding lesser cases as also being immoral.)

To what extent does it matter, if at all, that regardless of whether the president gives such executive order, it is actually dependent on some federal official or employee to carry it out before the immoral act is actually done? What if the official simply says no? He can be fired, of course. (Though with a non-political-appointee, that is pretty difficult, and would be REALLY difficult if the employee went to his senator complaining of being fired for an issue of conscience.) What if then the replacement official ALSO simply says no. In other words, to what extent is the voter responsible for the death of an embryo if there would be no such death had other intermediate people acted as they were
morally required to? (I realize that the same can be said of the boyfriend who drives his girl to the abortion clinic - no abortion would take place if the doctor simply refused to do the abortion. But surely there is a difference between driving to a place of business whose business purpose is precisely that of doing abortions, and choosing a guy whose job is to make 1000's of decisions having nothing to do with killing embryos. So feel free to introduce any clarifications that will make this more understandable.)

Also, to what extent does it matter, if at all, that the result for such employee if he refuses to obey the president - loss of a job - is unfortunate but NOT a penalty of law for a crime? In other words, there is a huge legal difference between saying you will not keep your beneficial position if you don't do what your employer demands, and
saying you will go to jail if you don't comply with the demands of a bad law. (I am thinking of the executioner for Diocletian who refuses to behead a Christian - in HIS case, he not only loses his job, but also
becomes liable to a criminal penalty, death, for violating Diocletian's "law"). Is that difference significant in deciding above whether it matters that the final execution of the evil act requires the willing participation of another actor? And that this person is still intermediate (in case 4.4) to the final actor who murders an embryo?

You get my drift here - the presence of intermediate actors is morally significant in some kinds of responsibility trees, and is not in other kinds. To really nail this down, we have to be careful of how we present the case. When the mob
capo tells his lieutenant to rub someone out, he knows darn well the lieutenant is an intermediary - someone else will do the actually murder. The Capo is morally responsible BOTH for the actual murder and
for the lieutenant giving an immoral order, even though the murder will not take place unless some minion actually says yes to the orders given. And this at least appears to be true in part because the capo gives the command in order that the action commanded be carried out.

And this at least appears to be true in part because the capo gives the command in order that the action commanded be carried out.

Very true -- this is formal cooperation with evil, that is, intending that the evil act of another be done, and is always wrong. Part of teasing this all apart involves figuring out when formal cooperation obtains. People often seem to think that giving a little speech to onesself saying "I am driving her to the clinic, but I wish she wasn't going to have an abortion" dispenses with formal cooperation. Suffice to say that I think that is tommyrot: intention is a matter of what we choose, not a matter of what we want, and we often choose things we don't want.

Indeed that is where many moral atrocities take place: in the space between "I wish I didn't have to do this" and the scissors in the skull.

It is just as important to keep in mind though that formal cooperation with evil is not the only way of doing evil. Whenever we cooperate with evil at all, however trivially, if the act is licit it must be justifiable under double-effect. One of the requirements of double-effect as traditionally understood is that the means must be proportioned to the end: that is, among other things, in order to licitly cooperate with evil at all, whatever it is we are doing must be capable of actually accomplishing the good end toward which our act is directed. Another way to say this is that the less efficacy one's act has in actually in itself accomplishing the intended good end, the less justifiable is any cooperation with evil whatsoever. And a vote in a national election, I remind once again, has negligible material efficacy - other than what it does to the voter himself, which I suspect to be rather profound in many cases.

In a sense this is I think all very academic, because I think that even as a practical matter the kind of man who is unwilling to choose which of two cannibals he would have lead the nation makes a better ally than the kind who is willing to put his imprimatur on his favored cannibal. (There are a couple of "I thinks" in that sentence though with which reasonable men might disagree).

http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/RomanCatholicsforObama

The stunning juxtaposition of the traditional Catholic First Friday devotion with any aspect of the Obama campaign is jarring, to say the least. The heart rate returns to normal, though when one looks at the current fundraising totals; $5.

Kevin,

I'll just say that, quite simply, it's an abomination.

Aristocles, indeed it is. But take heart, it appears the total number participants couldn't fill a mini-van.

And a vote in a national election, I remind once again, has negligible material efficacy - other than what it does to the voter himself, which I suspect to be rather profound in many cases.

I simply don't buy that argument at all. The essential effect of the vote is all wrapped up in the effect of who wins the election. I don't think you can call this negligible no matter how many votes are cast.

The effect on the voter is wholly secondary, even arbitrary - a person can allow it to affect him negatively or not, can allow it to draw him into imprudent or bad further choices or not. Presumably, if a person is aware of the requirement of proportionality in order to even consider voting for one of the "cannibals" then he has the basic knowledge to beware of the tendency effects on himself of voting for the guy. Thus I would say that these tendencies cannot be presumed to be "profound", and indeed may be totally negligible.

To return to the negligibility of the effect of a vote: when I cast my vote, I hope that the guy I am voting for wins in a landslide. But my vote-choice is not "to be 1 of 60 million votes for the guy", still less is it "to be 1 of 18 million excess (and therefore "unnecessary" in some crazy notion) votes for the guy." The formal meaning of my vote is to seat the guy in office, so far as my vote can achieve that. I have no way of knowing when I cast my vote whether "so far as my vote can achieve that" is going to be finally efficacious, but morally I am acting in such wise it is. The effect to be measured is "that the guy be seated in office", not "that the guy get a 1/100,000,000 additional part of the total vote.

I simply don't buy that argument at all.

It doesn't matter if you buy it or not. A single act of voting on the part of one individual person has never once altered the outcome of a national election, and never will.

The effect on the voter is wholly secondary, even arbitrary - a person can allow it to affect him negatively or not, can allow it to draw him into imprudent or bad further choices or not.

That is also false. Everything we do, every choice we make, turns us into the person we become. The effect on us is up to us to the extent that making the choice in the first place is up to us, of course, but that is quite different from the (false) claim that we can do whatever we will and then also and separately control how having done it affects us.

Considering to the original question, "What is a vote?” the answer and related moral obligations varies depending upon where one votes. I don't think I need to remind anyone that we don't live in a democracy. The POTUS is selected electorally.

We know who is going to win in Alabama. An Obama vote by an Obama supporter residing in Alabama is merely an exercise in self-gratification. I live in Connecticut. Obama will win in CT. If I vote at all, it will likely be write-in in protest.

I empathize with people of conscience living in Florida, Pennsylvania or other battleground states. I'm thankful that I do not need to vote for McCain.

Everything we do, every choice we make, turns us into the person we become. The effect on us is up to us to the extent that making the choice in the first place is up to us, of course, but that is quite different from the (false) claim that we can do whatever we will and then also and separately control how having done it affects us.

If the choice for a lesser evil (on proportionate grounds) is, in a given case, the prudent choice aside from the internal effect, and if the "internal effect" we are concerned about is the effect that by making this choice I may make myself more ready to choose the lesser evil when the proportionate grounds are not there, then this is not by itself reason to refrain from the (externally) prudent choice. If the lesser evil is chosen out of true prudence (taking that to mean its proper meaning as the virtue which regulates the other virtues as regards particulars), then the choice embraced is embraced out of due, rational, and God-fearing regard for the righteous. Such an embrace does not by itself tend us toward a later choice for a lesser evil which is unjustified. If there is such a tendency toward bad later choices, it would be present out of a defective way in which we embrace the proportionate lesser evil - in effect we embrace it not strictly on account of its being a proportionate good effect, so that the proportionality in the choice is not the controlling factor and is rather an excuse for what we wanted to choose anyway.

I am not suggesting that we can do whatever we will and then also and separately control how having done it affects us. The choice here is one that apart from its internal effect on us is reasonable - it is not a sinful choice of itself. The "effect" on us that you are describing is an effect that is present not in a rectified will, but in one that is defective with regard to the good. Therefore, the effect is not one which, of itself, would cause a rectified person to refuse the choice that, in the external forum, is the prudent choice.

It doesn't matter if you buy it or not. A single act of voting on the part of one individual person has never once altered the outcome of a national election, and never will.

Do you mean this in some mystical way? I don't see that.

Do you mean this in terms of probabilities? probabilities cannot yield a conclusion of "and never will" except for a matter that HAS no probabilities, but a certainty. Are you saying that the election is a matter of certainty?

Do you mean this in terms of percentage impact? To ask about percentage impact beforehand on a general election would first require an assumption that you come to the "percentage impact" through looking at the after-the fact votes, and only consider a single vote having ANY impact at all if the final count is different by exactly one.

This would be equivalent to asking someone on Wednesday (after the lottery results are posted) why they didn't on Tuesday choose ABCDEF for the lottery, since that is the only number that had any effect. Before the lottery, you have a 1 in 180 million chance of winning. For those few hundreds of people who have won, taking that chance has had AN ENORMOUS impact on their lives, so their choice of a 1 in 180 million chance was not of zero efficacy. Similarly, my 1 in 100 million vote is not of zero efficacy. Zero is not the same as small chance. Nor is it the same as a very small part of a large total.

Unless, do you mean the elections are rigged and our votes are not actually counted in coming to a result for who "won"? Other than with bizarre conspiracy theories, I can't imagine how one would come to such a conclusion.

I don't think I need to remind anyone that we don't live in a democracy. The POTUS is selected electorally.

I hope I don't need to remind you that the electors are chosen indirectly through election by voters. We live in a representative democracy, not a direct democracy.

I actually don't quite understand why Zippy is so insistent that, because the impact of a single vote is negligible, it can be counted as zero. I mean, sure, it's a drop in the bucket, but that's just an artifact of the size of the system. There's gotta be _some_ reason why politicians court voters. Obviously, the votes _do_ have an effect in the aggregate. We all know that. So it's like being one ant contributing to moving some object that takes several million ants to move. One ant's causal efficacy may be negligible, but that doesn't mean he's not in some sense causally participating in the overall effect. If no ants pushed, the object wouldn't move. If nobody voted, we'd have to find a different way to be governed.

At the same time, I entirely agree with Zippy that the effect of a vote on ourselves is highly important and not something we can just wish or will away. And the reason, I would say, that a vote has this effect on ourselves is because we know deep down that in some sense we are (as I argued in the main post) endorsing the person we vote for. That doesn't have to mean we're endorsing every word he says or every policy he advocates, but we're in some sense endorsing the package deal--that guy. We're saying to ourselves that we'll take the package, that we say "yes" to that package deal. And that act of saying "yes" can have a very profound effect upon ourselves.

I would also be willing to say tentatively (but I need to think about this more) that if it were absolutely literally true that voting had no effect at all, and if we knew this for sure--if we knew that the whole thing was rigged and that our votes would all be thrown into the river and the candidate selected in some totally unrelated way, the act of voting might be meaningless. That is, we wouldn't really be saying "yes" to anything because there would be, in a sense, no language in which to say "yes." The vote would say nothing because it would not be going anywhere. Rather like turning your coupon in at the store and having them laugh at you and burn the coupon before your eyes. After a while, when you realized that was always going to happen, you would realize that the act of "spending my coupon" had no meaning anymore.

And the reason, I would say, that a vote has this effect on ourselves is because we know deep down that in some sense we are (as I argued in the main post) endorsing the person we vote for.

I can understand Zippy's other post regarding the aspect that "endorsing the person we vote for" isn't necessarily endorsing every act that person would undertake once elected into office.

What I do have issues with is, for example, Zippy quite possibly neglecting the fact that even if a vote alone may not be efficacious; the fact that in its aggregate form it does result in the final act (i.e., electing a person into office) makes these very acts of voting by such individuals contributory, to say the least, to that very end and, moreover, are as culpable for the very act as those who are accomplice to crime.

In other words, I would think that providing the means (however negligible when taken by themselves) to make the final act possible would make the voter culpable should that voter know that the person they are voting for will enact policies as heinous as the ones I raised in previous discussions.

In other words, I would think that providing the means (however negligible when taken by themselves) to make the final act possible would make the voter culpable should that voter know that the person they are voting for will enact policies as heinous as the ones I raised in previous discussions.

And it is the very fact that my vote DOES have some effect that makes my vote an evil act if I vote in a cannibal wanting him to enact cannibal laws. If my vote had absolutely no efficacy, as Zippy says, then having no efficacy, it would NOT be either formal or material cooperation with evil, and he could not attribute the evil of the cannibal to the voters who voted him in. It is precisely in virtue of my vote in a small way being a cause of the candidate being in office that his evil acts are attributed to the voter. Without that the voter would be in no way at fault for his actions.

Do you mean this in some mystical way?

No, I mean it literally and categorically. No individual act of voting has ever decided or ever will decide a national election. However, individual acts of voting do have profound effects on the persons who perform them.

(Note that I haven't said that the voting ritual itself and in aggregate has no effect; I've said carefully and specifically that no individual act of voting has any effect).

If my vote had absolutely no efficacy, as Zippy says, then having no efficacy, it would NOT be either formal or material cooperation with evil, and he could not attribute the evil of the cannibal to the voters who voted him in.

That is absolutely untrue. There are many evil acts which are evil primarily or even entirely in virtue of their relation to the person who does them, as opposed to the outside world; e.g. masturbation.

Your vote does affect the outside world though, because it affects the kind of person you are and become, which in turn affects everything you ever touch in any way. What it doesn't affect - at all - is the outcome of a national election.

This:
Zero is not the same as small chance. Nor is it the same as a very small part of a large total.

... is in my understanding a way of getting lost in an abstraction, losing sight of reality. Waving a Japanese fan does indeed cause air to move, and has efficacy in the sense that it causes some air to move. Waving a Japanese fan in a hurricane in order to save your house has no efficacy at all. Arguing that there is some probability that you will save the house by some fluke of moving the air just right is an excursion into unreality; a similar excursion to the one which insists that an individual act of voting can in any way affect a national election. It can't.

That sort of excursion into abstract unreality isn't a proportionate means to anything at all which would justify giving one's personal endorsement to a cannibal.

For whoever becomes the next president, they come to that office on account of some cause. Unless the elections are totally rigged, the cause is the national election. The sum total of all causal sequences in the national election results in a final result in one person winning and becoming president. Therefore, the sum total of all causal sequences in the election is THE cause. But the sum total of all causal sequences in the national election, starting from 6:00 am Tuesday morning EST to 9:00 pm Hawaii time, are fully and totally located in the votes cast (whatever multiple things cause me to vote X are, after that vote is cast, fully determinate IN that vote.) Therefore, we can speak of the election result being caused in full simply by the votes cast.

The sum total of votes cast is a conglomerate cause. This conglomerate cause resolves to a series of individual causes - each single vote. That is, to speak of the sum total of votes cast is to speak blurringly and indistinctly of what is in reality a large group of small individual choices which have an effect, not of some mystical "national election" as a single thing.

THERE ARE NO SEPARATE CAUSES of the next president becoming president separable from that series of individual votes cast. Each individual vote cast for X is a participatory cause of the final result of
X winning - his winning cannot be located in some other cause. If his winning has an effect attributable to the voters as their responsibility, then his winning has to be attributable to them as cause.

That is absolutely untrue. There are many evil acts which are evil primarily or even entirely in virtue of their relation to the person who does them, as opposed to the outside world; e.g. masturbation.

This can hold for an action I do to or by myself that is of itself evil, such as masterbation. It cannot be true of an act done by someone else. My sin can only be my sin in their action by my somehow participating in their evil choice. I do not so participate in the choices of a person in office if my vote does not participate in bringing them into office.

"I hope I don't need to remind you that the electors are chosen indirectly through election by voters."

You don't need to. But I hope I don't need to remind you that since almost all states employ the "winner take all" rule when awarding electoral votes, a citizen's vote for, say, McCain in CT is, practically speaking, meaningless. Not that the electoral college is necessarily a bad thing, mind you. But it does allow a bit of protest latitude (for lack of a better term) for those of us who reside in predictably red or predictably blue states.

For whoever becomes the next president, they come to that office on account of some cause.

Yes. But it is a mistake - it is to get lost in the unreality of an abstraction - to suppose that the presence or absence of one particular air molecule in any way affects a hurricane.

Furthermore, a pseudo-Kantian 'what if everyone did it' argument doesn't work here. If everyone were unwilling to cast a vote for a cannibal, then elections would look utterly, entirely different. There is no real situation where everything else remains exactly the same other than that all Christians refuse to vote for cannibals. Christians refusing to vote for cannibals changes the game. To suppose otherwise is also, in a different manner, to get lost in an abstraction.

Zippy, you are not answering the argument in the slightest. The argument (again) is that by my vote I participate in bringing that person into office as a participatory cause. It is this participation that makes me a cooperator of his actions. Without that causality, I do not participate in his actions, and I do not cooperate with evil.

It does not matter in the slightest in this argument whether I am one of two, or one of 10 quintillion voters - I still participate in causing him to come to office. Your atom in a hurricane notion is truly, truly bizarre, and it has no bearing here.

There is no "abstraction" in the vote, or in my argument. My vote is an actual action. The actual winner is whoever has the most such individual concrete actions in his favor. The resulting winner wins precisely on account of many individual concrete actions.

Your position would completely do away with my having any responsibility for the resulting winner's action, which undermines your other points absolutely.

Your atom in a hurricane notion is truly, truly bizarre, and it has no bearing here.

I don't know how to interpret that, other than as a statement that you don't understand the argument. It is manifest that you cannot change the outcome of a national election by changing your individual vote, and you cannot stop the hurricane by waving your Japanese fan. In choosing to engage in the act of personally endorsing a cannibal for the office, you have no hope of success whatsoever. Insisting otherwise is to become lost in abstraction.

Your position would completely do away with my having any responsibility for the resulting winner's action, which undermines your other points absolutely.

Only if I were a moral physicalist, which I am not.

Endorsing a cannibal for the highest office in the land is in itself (at least material) cooperation in evil, whether or not he wins or has any chance of winning or actually does anything in that office. Is it OK to formally cooperate in evil by, say, voting for a pro-abortion candidate because he is pro-abortion, even if he has no chance of winning? If you vote for a pro-abort because he is pro-abort, and he loses, does that retroactively render your vote morally licit? No, it does not. Why? Because physicalism is wrong. A futile evil act is still an evil act.

Here might be a way to clarify and/or resolve the disagreement between Zippy and doubting t: What, in each of your opinions, are the similarities and differences between a) voting for a candidate and b) sitting all by yourself in a room and going through some private ritual you made up that involves saying, "May so-and-so become president. Amen," or words to that effect, that has no connection with the outside world?

This is why I like to debate Lydia despite our contentious history, she knows the right questions to ask.

For me, a vote means that I was instrumental in a trivial way in getting the candidate elected and it further means I endorse some but not all of that candidate's policy positions and it also means that I prevent or simply protest, also in a trivial way, the opponent's policy positions that I disagree with. Sitting in a room wishing for an outcome means I have chosen not to participate in democracy and have also diminished my standing to protest political decisions for refusing to honor an important civic obligation of this country. In those cases where all the candidates are unacceptable for one reason or another and this is known far enough in advance, people who want a new political direction have a duty to form their own political party to better represent their beliefs.

As a practical matter, in terms of its ability to actually affect actual reality (which is how I think most people think about their votes), there is no difference, assuming that the end in question is to affect the outcome of the election.

Intended as an act of speech it is a different matter, which is why I think third-party or write-in protest votes may fall under a different moral rubric, and am much more sympathetic to doing that rather than voting for a cannibal.

It is manifest that you cannot change the outcome of a national election by changing your individual vote

Suppose the national electoral vote is tied for all states except Hawaii. Suppose at 7:59:45 (15 seconds before the polls close) the votes in Hawaii the votes are even at 529,000 for X , and 529,000 for Y. I am the last person casting a ballot.

My vote will determine the election.

You are throwing around "manifest" and "cannot" and "impossible" and with reckless abandon. What you mean is that usually, for most elections, the difference does not come down to 1 single vote. There are some elections where it does come down to one vote. They are usually smaller events (chairman of the board, coucilman, etc), but there are in fact plenty of political elections where the outcome did in fact turn on one vote.

To follow that up, before the Constitution was changed, the senators were elected by state legislature. So an unusually close state election for a legislator could end up with a result where the senator chosen was the effect of one vote for a state legislator. There are some votes in Congress, a national body, that hangs on one vote. There are some votes in the Senate where one senator decides to approve or disapprove a Supreme Court nominee. The Supreme Court decided by one vote a pair of decisions affecting how we handled the results for Florida in 2000. So by a NOT IMPOSSIBLE chain of events, one single vote for a state legislator could have a determinable effect on the presidential outcome.

Zippy, do you simply flat out deny participatory causality?

You are throwing around "manifest" and "cannot" and "impossible" and with reckless abandon. What you mean is that usually, for most elections, ...
No, what I mean is never, in reality. It is true (as you have shown) that it can happen in the imagination, without logical contradiction. Many things can happen in the imagination.

"I can imagine it without logical contradiction" doesn't mean the same thing as "real".

No, the example was to show that your use of "never" is really invalid, and is only valid in the sense of "almost never".

In fact, (if one were to assume that the probabilistic laws apply to the differences between sepatate election events) under the laws of probability, if you held national elections one after another without limit, there would in fact eventually be an election which did in fact hinge on just exactly one vote. That is not "imagination," it is mathematical law.

but that is all irrelevant to the main point, which is that my vote for the winning candidate participates in causing him to be seated in office. And for this, it matters not how many votes are cast, or how many votes he wins by.

Zippy:

Further to my previous remark: "In other words, I would think that providing the means (however negligible when taken by themselves) to make the final act possible would make the voter culpable should that voter know that the person they are voting for will enact policies as heinous as the ones I raised in previous discussions."

Allow me to ask you something that falls somewhat in the same vein.

You continue to argue in terms of efficacy.

Then, allow me to ask you to illustrate a previous point, are the votes of a jury efficacious?

Skeptic:

the example was to show that your use of "never" is really invalid, and is only valid in the sense of "almost never".

When I say "never", I mean that it doesn't ever happen.

Sometimes when other people say "never", they mean that it is logically contradictory and cannot happen in principle. If they can imagine it, they won't admit that it never happens. So if I say "human heads never spontaneously turn into turnips" or "random polypeptide chains of sufficient length never fold into a stable native state" they may object to my use of the term "never". In such cases I merely point out that when I say never I mean never, and when they say never they seem to mean something more like "is logically impossible".

People are entitled to use the word as they choose in their own discourse. But when I say that it won't ever happen, what I mean is that it won't ever happen.

Aristocles:

are the votes of a jury efficacious?

It is sometimes the case that one juror's vote decides the case. It is never[*] the case that one voter's vote decides a national election.

[*] See my comment to skeptic for how I use the term "never".

Zippy:

It is never[*] the case that one voter's vote decides a national election.

No -- however, their sum do.

To that extent, as a single act of voting is contributory to the final end (as I had expressed previously); a person committing this single act having foreknowledge of the candidate's heinous agenda is culpable for it by virtue of his single act contributing to this end, as you would those who are found accessory to crime.

... a single act of voting is contributory to the final end ...

It really isn't though, in any morally relevant sense. Even if I look at it from a modern technocratic physicalist point of view, the ruling of a polity is an emergent property like temperature. I can't alter the temperature of a huge thermal mass by deciding that this one particle shall alter its momentum vector in that direction.

It would take a literal miracle for my vote to make any difference in the outcome of a national election; in which case the outcome would really be attributable to the miracle, not to my act of voting. On the other hand my vote makes a profound difference in the kind of person I am. Whenever an act has one negligible effect and one profound effect, the profound effect governs whether or not material cooperation with evil is morally licit.

Suppose we accept all the 'causality' metaphysical premeses against my arguments though. It still doesn't really change anything important in the conclusion, that is, it doesn't turn things around and result in it making sense to vote for a cannibal. As a strictly utilitarian matter, a bloc of voters which is unwilling to vote for any cannibal has more power to do good than a bloc of voters which has agreed to vote for a cannibal and is merely haggling over the price. I'd rather be a nun arguing for chastity than a whore arguing for chastity.

As a strictly utilitarian matter, a bloc of voters which is unwilling to vote for any cannibal has more power to do good than a bloc of voters which has agreed to vote for a cannibal and is merely haggling over the price.

That depends on labeling. Those who abstain from voting generally aren't considered voters. Likewise the 35-year-old virgin is not necessarily evidence of a prudent and virtuous woman. You need to take the last step and state that a society that only offers the choice between two cannibals is not society worth being a member.

You seem to place a very high discount on communal action. Approaching this from the positive side, your statement is akin to saying purified individual prayer is preferable to imperfect communal prayer. Or to put it in radtrad territory, it is better to go to a SSPX mass done right than to support a heterodox bishop by attending his mass.

In regards to a particular vote, you keep arguing that the sum of x being greater than the sum of y is not significant for any particular x[i] until sum of y is greater than sum of x. Why datum x[i] is more significant than x[1] or x[2] is left as a mystery. I doubt you are likewise claiming that he who votes at 4:00 is more significant than he who votes at 8:00 am. Considering whatever conditions you place upon x[1] are likewise placed upon x[i], how are you claiming the ability to discriminate between them?

Why datum x[i] is more significant than x[1] or x[2] is left as a mystery.
Datum x[i] is more significant because it is my act, the morality of which I am trying to evaluate. That a great many other people are willing to vote for their favored cannibal is, in the present environment, a given. I don't get to choose for them, I only get to choose for me; and in that sense x[i] is really the only important thing, for the purposes of the present discussion.

But again, if we do take into consideration aggregates, many seem to think that N men willing to vote for a cannibal represent a better aggregation of political will for the long term good of the Republic than N men who are unwilling. Therefore, it somehow follows, the N men who vote for a cannibal are performing a better act, more in keeping with their duties to solidarity and the common good, than the N who don't.

At best this is, shall we say, a completely unsupported and counterintuitive assumption. Why can't N men who refuse to vote for a cannibal do so in solidarity every bit as legitimate as any other N men committed to a course of action?

Interesting that this took us into the territory of treating refusal-to-vote-for-a-cannibal as a 'radtrad' approach to liturgy; as if the invocation of the bugaboo 'radtrad' ought to be capable of ending the discussion.

Has voting now become the modern day pinch of incense to Caesar?

If the civil authority asks you to go to city hall to pay your taxes, is that pinch of incense or some other nonsense? Voting is a civil obligation. Doing it isn't State worship. It isn't even an unreasonable obligation.

"Voting is a civil obligation."

There is no law (thank goodness) in the U.S. that you have to vote. So, actually, you aren't committing any sort of civil disobedience by not voting. Which is a good thing. I think forcing people to vote or trying to do so would be a very bad thing indeed.

As to whether voting is bad for you or offering a pinch of incense, I think that depends a good deal, if not entirely, on who the candidates are.

What has emerged in this thread is that I have not thought out thoroughly enough how the truth I expressed in the main post--that voting is a form of endorsing a candidate, of saying "yes" to him--relates to the actual effect of voting in the democratic system as a whole. I think it would be unsatisfactory if there were no connection. For example, I don't _think_ it is true that the "saying yes" meaning of voting is exactly the same whether you are actually voting in a system such as we have or saying yes in a private ritual that is not part of such a system. Even Zippy has said that he thinks they are different speech acts. I'd like to see him expand upon that. For myself, I think that the fact that your vote is part of the aggregate cause that brings it about that X rather than Y is elected to office does indeed have some importance. For one thing, I think this is part of _why_ forcing yourself to vote for the "lesser of evils" and thinking it an obligation always to vote is so bad for you as a person. I think that we sense that our voting has significance, and I think we realize this _in part_ because it isn't just a made-up ritual but is part of an overall system that brings about the makeup of our government. By forcing oneself always to vote for somebody or other, even somebody who stands for evil, one is forcing oneself to participate in getting that person elected.

So obviously I need to do some more thinking about how these things come together, but I'm not convinced at all that I need to argue for the _inefficacy_ of a vote in order to argue for its _symbolic significance_. Its causally participatory nature seems to me in some degree bound up with the symbolic significance that voting actually does have in our American system.

By forcing oneself always to vote for somebody or other, even somebody who stands for evil, one is forcing oneself to participate in getting that person elected.

Not voting can be deemed as a participation in getting an evil person elected as well, especially when the evil candidate holds the majority of voter support amongst the citizenry.

Let's not fool ourselves.

Let's not suppose that inaction automatically renders innocent that individual witnessing an injustice when this individual in question could've actually performed certain action that could have very well prevented the injustice. Thus, that person, in all actuality, is a participant in that evil however indirectly it may seem.

There is no law (thank goodness) in the U.S. that you have to vote. So, actually, you aren't committing any sort of civil disobedience by not voting. Which is a good thing. I think forcing people to vote or trying to do so would be a very bad thing indeed.

Very few obligations are actually mandated by law. There is no law against holding doors for ladies, but gentleman are still obliged to do so.

For one thing, I think this is part of _why_ forcing yourself to vote for the "lesser of evils" and thinking it an obligation always to vote is so bad for you as a person.

Forcing oneself to engage the larger world always runs the risk that you will adopt things you may not have adopted. I'm sure there is not an insubstancial list of men who learned Islam in order to bring converts to Christianity only to find themselves becoming Muslims themselves. This doesn't make learning about other religions a bad thing. It means like most things in life one needs to exercise prudence.

aristocles:

Not voting can be deemed as a participation in getting an evil person elected as well, ...
I've heard this one before. Not nuking the city "can be deemed" as participation in a land invasion involving mass slaughter, etc etc etc. It can be deemed that as long as we aren't too intellectually deemanding when it comes to our deeming.

Refusing to personally endorse an evil candidate is not the same thing as personally endorsing some other evil candidate. No amount of stamping of the feet can make them into morally equivalent acts.

MZ:

It means like most things in life one needs to exercise prudence.
And in some circumstances the objectively prudent course is to refuse to light the incense. "Exercise prudence" doesn't mean "I get to do it if I want to, without moral hazard".

Not voting can be deemed as a participation in getting an evil person elected as well, especially when the evil candidate holds the majority of voter support amongst the citizenry.

What if both are evil?

Look, this whole idea that not voting is causing X to win over Y is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It is wrong from every possible angle, but I have already given what is to my mind an absolutely knock-down argument for why it is false. For some reason the knock-down logic of this argument seems not to be getting through, so I'll give it just one more shot: If I am a person considering not voting, and you know _nothing_ about my political inclinations, you have absolutely no non-arbitrary way of trying to tell me which direction my not-voting is acting causally. You might as well flip a coin to decide whether to tell me--as an otherwise completely unidentified non-voter--whether I'm "helping" the Democrat or the Republican by not voting. What that goes to show is that not voting has, by itself, zero causal efficacy. It isn't the same as voting for X over Y or for Y over X, and all the talking in the world won't make it so. And the proof is that if you haven't already decided which candidate I'm somehow "taking my vote away from," you can't even make a stab at telling me whom I'm helping or hurting. The only way you can do that is by taking it that my vote already was somehow earmarked for X and that by not voting I'm _taking it away from_ X and hence "helping" Y.

But there is no argument given for that assumption. Everyone arguing with the recalcitrant conservative just _assumes_ that the conservative's vote is earmarked for the Republican, who is the "lesser evil" (or at least so it's always claimed), and hence that the conservative is helping the Democrat if he doesn't vote. You couldn't even _say_ that if you didn't know I was conservative. And if I were a hyper-liberal and you, as a fellow liberal, were urging me to vote, you would _of course_ make the opposite argument, starting with the unargued assumption that as a hyper-liberal I hold a vote that is earmarked for Obama which I am taking away from him (thus helping McCain) if I don't vote.

I absolutely reject this ear-marking assumption based on the political inclinatiosn of the person considering not voting and challenge anybody to support it. And I assert, and I think I have shown, that absent that assumption there is *no possible way* to support the claim that not voting is helping one candidate over another.

Zippy,

Refusing to prevent an atrocity is the same thing as causing it.

No amount of futile rationalizing can escape that fact.

aristocles: Not voting can be deemed as a participation in getting an evil person elected as well, especially when the evil candidate holds the majority of voter support amongst the citizenry.

Lydia: What if both are evil?

It appears Lydia understood what I was getting at.

I concede here that if both are genuinely evil, then refusing to endorse neither of the two can be the only suitable course of action to take in light of the circumstances.

And in some circumstances the objectively prudent course is to refuse to light the incense.

Certainly. More often I see all substituted for some. If one finds himself unable to choose between two candidates in say 1/12 elections, I would be less willing to issue a condemnation. If such difficulties are common, I would openly question whether he should be actively supporting and deriving benefit from the polis through his other actions. The worker at Oshkosh Truck does far more to enable the State than the voter casting his ballot.

Lydia,

I would assume that if you had to choose, you would opt for McCain. I don't want McCain to win, and that is why I'm voting for Obama. Setting asise for the moment how contributory you are toward a result, wouldn't you agree that people with scrupples would be pricesely those we would want to exercise the franchise rather than those who have none? As a respected person within your niche, don't you think the outcome should be reflective of your views in as much as possible? What finally drove me over the edge was being lectured at by war supporters that I have an obligation not to vote for a pro-abortion candidate while they didn't need any scrupple about their war mongering candidate who didn't really care about abortion. (I addressed that dilemma there: http://vox-nova.com/2008/03/07/voting-propositions/ )

Refusing to prevent an atrocity is the same thing as causing it.

No, actually, it isn't.

If such difficulties are common, I would openly question whether he should be actively supporting and deriving benefit from the polis through his other actions.

So Christians had no right to live (and e.g. engage in commerce, say buying bread in a market) in Caesar's Rome?

Well, that pretty much puts the kibosh on the point then, doesn't it? Refusing to vote for a cannibal or light the incense to the pagan gods does not result in a concomitant duty of self-banishment.

aristocles: Refusing to prevent an atrocity is the same thing as causing it.

zippy: No, actually, it isn't.

Zippy,

I'll make this simple:

Say you see a kid playing in the middle of the street.

You see a car approaching in the distance and would, most certainly, hit that kid should you choose to do nothing about it.

Are you telling me that your refusal to do anything to prevent the imminent tragedy of that kid's death is not necessarily the same as allowing that kid to die?


Your rhetoric is suspiciously similar to those of indifferent Catholics who refuse to do anything about abortion.

They don't realize that by their refusal to do anything against abortion actually endorses (however indirectly) its continuation.

I would assume that if you had to choose, you would opt for McCain.

Well, then, you would assume wrong. Of course, nobody can say for sure how he would stand up to actual duress (torture, kids kidnaped by evil men, whatever). But I dislike intensely the casual assumption regarding anybody who doesn't vote in a given election that he is not voting in a sort of sudden fit of pique and that a simple raising of the stakes, telling him has "has to choose" (whatever exactly that is supposed to mean) would overcome his resistance. I certainly am not envisioning to myself circumstances in which I would feel _morally_ compelled to vote for McCain, much less Obama.

Moreover, you have given no argument--because there is no argument--from the premise, "If Lydia had to choose, she would vote for McCain" to the conclusion, "Therefore, if Lydia doesn't vote, she is helping Obama to win." The latter simply doesn't follow from the former, and can't, because not voting simply isn't causally helping anybody. It's just not voting.

that is why I'm voting for Obama.

Wow. Well, I've already given my opinion on that subject in the main post.

Aristocles, Zippy can take care of himself in such debates (I've seen him do it before--a beautiful sight). But I'll just chime in with my two cents that it just isn't analytically true that "failing to cause the child not to be hit" is _identical_ to "causing the child to be hit." The reason we use phrases in such cases like "so-and-so is responsible for the child's death, because he didn't rescue him" is because we believe that so-and-so did have an affirmative duty to rescue the child. I believe in such affirmative duties, sometimes very strongly indeed. You should hear me on the subject of dehydrating people to death. But simply saying that some atrocity will happen if I don't take some action does not by itself amount either a) to showing that I have _caused_ the atrocity if I refuse to take the action or b) to showing that I have an affirmative duty to take the action. The former is just false, and the latter depends (especially) on what the preventative action is, what my natural duties are, and so on and so forth.

And saying, "If Obama wins, that will be a terrible thing" (which God knows is true) doesn't really amount to a good argument for, "If you recognize this, you have an affirmative duty to vote for McCain."

Lydia:

And saying, "If Obama wins, that will be a terrible thing" (which God knows is true) doesn't really amount to a good argument for, "If you recognize this, you have an affirmative duty to vote for McCain."


Well, the problem I see is more so your slanted formulation of the argument.

No doubt, the Y.R.s of yester years (who similarly biased various debates in a university that shall go unmentioned by their flagrant slanted formulation of the question in those debates in order to ensure a win for their chosen protagonist) would be so proud.

You can word the badness of an Obama win as you like, if you think my wording is slanted. You won't get any disagreement out of me, probably, no matter how disastrous you say it would be. It still will not make an argument for an _obligation_ for a person with my positions to vote for McCain.

If I am a person considering not voting, and you know _nothing_ about my political inclinations, you have absolutely no non-arbitrary way of trying to tell me which direction my not-voting is acting causally.

That is absolutely correct, but what I could say is that not voting over an extended time has the consequence of reducing the importance with which any representative considers your policy preferences. Put another way, every politician panders to senior citizens because they are a reliable voting bloc. From a strategic level, refraining for a couple of elections is a smart gambit IF you are convinced the other party will overreach and cause independents to switch sides or fracture their own base. Obviously, both major parties can and have accomplished this, but the reliance on a negative result has a caustic effect on the social fabric.

Finally, Chesterton has a famous saying about tradition respecting the democracy of the dead, so what tradition is respectful of the dead who protected and honored the Constitution, as imperfect as it frequently is?

That's quite a separate issue from anything that I was addressing, Step2. The causality of not voting as far as "sending a message" or "annoying people," or "giving the R or D party a shot in the arm" or "getting your concerns ignored" and so forth is all quite different from the direct causality _on the election_. And in fact if we bring in those meta-level considerations where politicians have some idea of who isn't voting that they might otherwise woo, of course the consequences can go in many different directions, and may in fact bring the party "closer" to oneself to its senses. Or not. It's hard to tell. My only point was that not voting does not in and of itself causally help one side or another in that particular election, because by itself it exercises no causality on the election outcome (it can't). The only reason people get themselves confused into saying silly things like, "Not voting for X is helping Y" is because they think of their audience as "owing" a vote to X, given what else they know about their audience. But no good argument is ever presented for this assumption.

As for respecting the founders of the country and the authors of the Constitution, I sometimes have an unpleasant sneaking suspicion that if they lived nowadays, or even for that matter 30 years ago, and saw what they would have regarded as tyranny, the downfall of the sovereignty of the states, the overreaching power of the federal government, and so forth, they'd be out there in the woods plotting a revolution or at least some major secessions. So I am hardly likely to think myself bound to honor those particular dead by voting for one of the two major parties who have come by a series of changes and chances to monopolize the political landscape in America.

Were the Founders to find themselves transported to contemporary America, they'd either plot a revolution or conclude that the abuses which precipitated their own were trivial, and that the entire affair had been much ado about not much at all.

I don't think we can speak intelligently on the reaction of the Framers to our government today. While entertaining, I don't really think one could have the founders speak with one voice on the Civil War. As far as expansionism, you have precedents going all the way back to the Ohio territory and the French and Indian War. I think more than a few Founders would look with pride upon having created a secularist State that is the envy of the world.

"I think more than a few Founders would look with pride upon having created a secularist State that is the envy of the world."

I suspect our Founders would be embarrassed by the lack of humility in such a sweeping, unsupported assessment. There is much to admire in our separation of Church and State, but the current arrangement, described as a "secularist state", arouses, for reasons which make us uncomfortable, plenty of contempt, fear, hostility and pity around the world.

"I think more than a few Founders would look with pride upon having created a secularist State that is the envy of the world."

Assuming that more than a few Founders consider economics in leu of liberty worthy of pride.

"lieu"

When I say "never", I mean that it doesn't ever happen.

They may object to my use of the term "never". In such cases I merely point out that when I say never I mean never, and when they say never they seem to mean something more like "is logically impossible".

People are entitled to use the word as they choose in their own discourse. But when I say that it won't ever happen, what I mean is that it won't ever happen.

but you are being logically and semantically contradictory here. We already know, and you have admitted, that jury votes often hang on one vote. Quite a bit larger elections sometimes hand on one vote, like town council. This happens every couple of years. Even larger votes hang on one vote once in a great while, like state-wide office. This DOES happen. A national election can hang on one vote, though it is unlikely in the extreme. The only possible meaning you can say "never" in the literal and proper sense here is that it never HAS happened in a national election.

The probability law of large numbers ensures that if we keep on doing elections, the probability that there WILL be a national election that hangs on one vote approaches 1 - that is, it approaches a certainty.

Therefore, you CANNOT use "never" in its proper, restrictive sense about the future for national elections. Do you wish us to take all of your statements about "never" to be entirely and only descriptive of past events?

If you want to discourse in ways that we can understand, please try to stick to language that is the standard meaning, or at least closer than you have so far.

A national election can hang on one vote, though it is unlikely in the extreme.

Yes, and it is possible for a Harry Potter universe to pop into existence through a quantum fluctuation in the multiverse, though it is unlikely in the extreme.

Any sufficiently unlikely occurrence is indistinguishable from a miracle, and it is not an abuse of language to say something like "people never fly on broomsticks using magic".

If you want to discourse in ways that we can understand, please try to stick to language that is the standard meaning, or at least closer than you have so far.

I've explained the meaning of my terms: that when I say "never" I mean never, in the context of actual reality, not "logically impossible given an infinite spatiotemporal event permutation space, the presently-known (and not necessarily mutually consistent) laws of physics, and a vivid imagination". In the first place, my usage corresponds to reality. And in the second, from the standpoint of evaluating the morality of acts the difference between "never happens" and "literally unimaginable" is irrelevant.

It might be interesting if more people attempted to address the substance of the argument rather than fretting over terminology. But I'm not going to say "gee, there is something wrong with my terminology" when I don't think there is anything wrong with my terminology.

that when I say "never" I mean never, in the context of actual reality,

In the actual context of reality as it pertains to future events, the law of large numbers states that the probability of having a national election hang upon one vote approaches 1 as we continue to have elections. Nothing about this law is "Harry Potter"esque - it is a mathematical law used in all sorts of real world math applications.

It might be interesting if more people attempted to address the substance of the argument rather than fretting over terminology.

The substance of your argument about the "miracle" business depends upon a logical distinction between things that are within our power versus things that are outside our power such as miracles. The argument fails if the logical distinction fails. And in this case the logical distinction fails.

If you can't tell the logical difference between "A is very unlikely but within the realm of natural causes" and "A cannot occur through natural causes" then you have major problems. If you take away the meaning of miracles in the proper sense then you don't really have any validity to your argument.

In the actual context of reality as it pertains to future events, the law of large numbers states that the probability of having a national election hang upon one vote approaches 1 as we continue to have elections.

The same law of large numbers says that if the multiverse theory is correct that the probability of a Harry Potter universe approaches 1 over an infinite number of universes. And yes, this is (at least debatably, if one takes theories of multiple universes seriously) "within the realm of natural causes", such as it is understood today.

In both cases - that of a HP universe and of my vote changing the outcome of a national election - what is occurring is not an actual possibility with moral pertinence to any decision I make right now. In both cases, what is occurring is that my interlocutors are becoming lost in abstraction and confusing that abstraction with morally pertinent reality.

The substance of your argument about the "miracle" business depends upon a logical distinction between things that are within our power versus things that are outside our power such as miracles.

It is outside of your power to make your vote determine the outcome of a national election.

Mind you, I am not and never have denied that we can talk about different kinds of possibility, etc. It is just that the distinctions you are making are (1) semantically debatable, at the least and (2) completely irrelevant to the moral question under consideration. It is possible that pigs may fly under certain voices of the term "possible". It is just that those voices are not morally pertinent to the question at hand.

"...if one takes theories of multiple universes seriously..."

I don't. FWIW.

Neither do I. And it is ridiculous to suppose that a "possibility" of that kind is similar to the possibility of an entirely natural coincidence of a 1 in 30 million odds should come to pass within all of the laws of nature we already have.

Especially when events happen that have odds less than 1 in 30 million with some frequency. The odds of a perfect hand being dealt in bridge (each person getting all of one suit) is something like 1 in 6 billion, but it has happened. And people win the lottery every week.

Nor (even were one to grant the possibility of alternate universes) would it be morally useful kind of possible here, since nobody who has posited even a THEORY of multiple universes in the necessary sense has posited a mechanism by which WE might arrive in one of the other ones, so what might be possible there isn't possible TO US.

It is outside of your power to make your vote determine the outcome of a national election.

What a ridiculous sort of comment. That kind of power belongs to God alone, as the prophets and Christ himself attest. Only God has the power to ensure that the act chosen act WILL have the effect intended. The rest of us, including the angels, have to make do with a lesser kind of causality, one that includes trying to achieve results. Any parent raising a child knows that.

Your vote does not need to determine the election all by itself in order to have a share in the result. It is enough that you have a share in causing the result for the moral question of what you are willing to be accomplished through that candidate being in office.

Does the single voter have a share in causing the result that candidate Jim wins?
Is there any other way to explain the result that Jim wins except in reference to votes?

Lydia:

I don't. FWIW.

And neither do I -- precisely because it is exactly the same kind of "if we wait long enough and postulate enough permutations, anything can happen" fallacious reasoning being employed against my moral argument here.

skeptic:

And it is ridiculous to suppose that a "possibility" of that kind is similar to the possibility of an entirely natural coincidence of a 1 in 30 million odds should come to pass within all of the laws of nature we already have.

It isn't just similar. It is morally identical. Again, making those distinctions is fine as an exercise in analytic philosophy, as I've stipulated many times, but when it comes to something we are incorporating into a moral justification for doing X it matters not whether Y is a one in 30 million chance outcome from X (and by the way, I expect the odds of a national election hinging on one vote and that vote happening to be mine to be far, far, far [add in lots and lots of zeroes] less than one in 30 million) or Y would be a miracle.

If there is a one in ten trillion chance that X will change the outcome to Y, I am morally certain, for the purposes of justifying a deliberate act of material cooperation with evil on my part, that X will not change the outcome to Y.

Look at it this way, skeptic. Say you live 100 years, and vote in every presidential election from age 20 onward. That is twenty presidential elections.

When it comes to moral justification of your personal acts of voting in presidential elections, the law of large numbers is not your friend.

Well, actually, I think the very idea of their being multiple universes faces its own set of epistemological problems. As in, we have no reason to believe there are any others at all.

It isn't just similar. It is morally identical. Again, making those distinctions is fine as an exercise in analytic philosophy, as I've stipulated many times, but when it comes to something we are incorporating into a moral justification for doing X it matters not whether Y is a one in 30 million chance outcome from X (and by the way, I expect the odds of a national election hinging on one vote and that vote happening to be mine to be far, far, far [add in lots and lots of zeroes] less than one in 30 million) or Y would be a miracle.

Thus is shown the difference between an engineer doing philosophy and a philosopher doing philosophy. To an engineer, anything that is very small is morally identical to 0. Once you are beyond prescribed tolerances, it is "good enough". But the nature of an act is not subject to "tolerances."

Counterargument: Zippy. Let us suppose as you say that odds of 1 in 30 million of the hoped for outcome are sufficient to make the outcome morally the same as "impossible without a miracle". Now, let us also say that you can win the lottery if you buy a ticket for $1, winning the lottery is a 1 in 30 million chance, and the initial jackpot is $10 million. The mathematical "expected return" on an invested $1 is the probability of winning the jackpot times the payoff, for a net result of 30 cents. Not a very good return on $1 invested. Let us also now say that the lottery jackpot has grown to 300 million. The "expected return" on your investment of $1 is now $10. This is indeed a pretty good return. Considered as an investment, it would now make sense to go ahead and spend the $1 for a ticket.

I am foreseeing you saying no, it still does not make sense, because 1 in 30 million chance of winning is still morally equivalent to 0. But this reply would be nonsensical. On other investments where the chance of getting a good payoff is, say, 1 in 3, but the payoff is 3.5 times your investment, everyone agrees this makes sense as an investment - because of the mathematical laws which determine the relationships. But these are the very same mathematical laws which control the lottery.
And, in fact, there are people who buy lottery tickets under such considerations who win. It would be astoundingly irrational to say of their decision that they were effectively counting on a miracle, when they were only using the God-given mathematical tools that are built into the universe to guide their decision. They didn't expect to win the jackpot, as such... they only reflected that the overall expected return was more than the investment amount.

But the nature of an act is not subject to "tolerances."

Sure it is, in the case of acts involving deliberate material cooperation with evil. It is built into the moral language we use to talk about material cooperation with evil, which must never be deliberately chosen without a proportionate reason.

It is true that there are other kinds of evil acts, intrinsically immoral acts, which cannot be justified at all, with or without proportionate reason. And there are good acts which do not involve deliberate material cooperation with grave evil. But this whole discussion is about voting as material cooperation with evil, so it should come as no surprise to a learned philosopher that the traditional parameters around material cooperation with evil are in play.

(Oh, and as an aside, I consider the lottery to be a tax on idiocy. And I don't invest in arbitrary probabilities, I invest in businesses where I understand the fundamentals).

Thus is shown the difference between an engineer doing philosophy and a philosopher doing philosophy.

And with that, I bid you farewell. Feel free to continue the discussion with your wise and skeptical self.

Please allow me to offer my comments in this conversation, however late it may be. I'm not a Catholic, I'm an evangelical, but I hope that won't disqualify me!

I put in my browser, "My vote is a voice for the unborn" and this article came up. I've spent quite a bit of time going through the comments and it's been a heady discussion, to say the least.

I have to say, I probably stand with Lydia and Zippy on this one, although I'm conflicted about it. byronicman and skeptik make a good case for voting for the lesser of two evils, or in terms of this discussion, the lesser of two cannibals, but I've always thought you still just end up with evil...or cannibals, if you do.

Zippy said: "Your vote does affect the outside world though, because it affects the kind of person you are and become, which in turn affects everything you ever touch in any way. What it doesn't affect - at all - is the outcome of a national election." I feel this is the reason why I'm not voting for either. Interestingly, my husband and my just-turned-18-daughter are voting for McCain because the alternative is unacceptable to them.

A poster midway in the discussion pointed out that the POTUS is elected electorally, suggesting that in certain states, one's vote won't make a difference. And in this case, I would have to agree. As a conservative and evangelical Californian in this ultra-ultra liberal state, I have no doubt that Obama will win in this state by a landslide. So will my non-vote count? Probably not.

And yet, on the other hand... I knew the day that Obama received the Kennedy endorsement, he was going to win the nomination. It's funny, I used to say, "Anybody but Hilary," thinking that politically she was orbiting somewhere outside of Pluto. That is, before the-most-liberal-voting-record-in-the-Senate Obama became a viable candidate. I have no doubt that he will probably win the election.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to make. Way back in the discussion, a poster pointed out the historic nature of this election, in that, many will want to see Obama elected because of his race. I do believe there is tremendous momentum in his favor, not only because of the "historic" nature of his candidacy, but also because of the unpopularity of the war, as pointed out in a recent Yahoo "news" story that discussed how the unpopularity of a sitting president often, if not always, affects which party is likely to win. Thus, my non-vote is not going to be made in a vacuum. I strongly suspect that a non-vote in California will essentially be equal to a vote for Obama. How I vote, or in this case, don't vote, (as Zippy pointed out in the quote above, and Lydia said in her original post, "Who am I willing to stand with? Who am I willing to be associated with?") indicates who I am as a person. To go back to how I came upon this discussion, I believe my vote, or non-vote, is a voice for the unborn.

My life changed the day I saw my now 18-year-old-about-to-vote daughter on an ultrasound monitor at 12 weeks. Not that at any point was I even thinking about abortion, but I had been sucked into the falsehood of the choice argument which I believe is simply a smokescreen for the real issue. The shackles fell away, to use a Biblical analogy, and I had an epiphany and realized in an instant the lie of "choice."

In Lisa Beamer's book, "Let's Roll", which wasn't a great piece of literature by any means, toward the end of the book, she contrasts her husband Todd who lived his faith everyday to the terrorists who "died for their faith". He was heroic for the way he lived his life in the ordinary moments, not in the way he died, she says. Now yes, I know there were others on Flight 93 who were not believers who were equally heroic on the horrific day. I guess I would like to know if I were faced with a terrible situation as they were, would I step up to the plate? I don't think one can, unless you live your life in those ordinary moments in the same you would in the big moments. If the Nazis or fascist muslims came to my door, could I be a Corrie Ten Boom or Todd Beamer and do the right thing? I would hope so. Now, I'm not saying that not voting is heroic, and that voting for McCain (which my husband and daughter are doing) is not. Not voting for either is what I have to do for me to be able to live with my conscience. For me, the abortion issue is a basic question as to who we are as a people, as a society. Yes, a litmus test.

I think back when Clinton (Bill) became president. A few days after the inauguration, he made his mark by making some sweeping changes regarding abortion (and gays, I believe) as a thank-you for their support. I remember it being a very dark day in Conservativeland. I have no doubt that Obama, assuming he wins, will do something similar or perhaps even more spectacularly offensive, most likely for some other liberal interest group or groups. I'm resigned to the depressing thought that he will win, and while admittedly McCain might do less harm than Obama, either way, I will be weeping for the unborn.

Thanks for your comment. I'm not Catholic either. Just very briefly, one thing I want to say is that you should not think that your failure to vote for McCain is equivalent to a vote for Obama. That just isn't true. It can't be. I know people say it a lot, but it isn't true. The only way someone could think it was true would be if you somehow "owed" your vote to McCain to begin with and were taking it away from him by sitting out. But you don't owe a vote like that to somebody to begin with, so you can't be taking it away from him. A non-vote is just a non-vote. So don't sweat it if your family gets on your case. :=)

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