Friday, April 29, 2016

What Would Socrates Do?

I've been thinking, as I'm sure most of you have, about the coming presidential election. As you are probably aware, I've been backing Ted Cruz since day one. He is the only candidate with an actual record of standing on the principles of the Constitution (unlike Hillary Clinton who actually stands on the Constitution - couldn't resist a little dig - Hillary does respect the fifth amendment, at least).

So at this point in the race it looks like the election will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton has so far received 55% of the Democratic vote, and Trump has gotten 41% of the Republican vote (so much for the "will of the people"). If these things do not change, and given recent polls, and recent election history, I'm calling Hillary Clinton our next president by a landslide.

For her part, Clinton has already started maneuvering her positions to take away as much of Sanders' power at the convention. And Trump long ago ceased caring about his constituency or positions (which is why his base has been eroding, or as he would say, which is why he's being cheated out of what's rightfully his).

But that's not what this post is about. What I'd like to address is, if you are a Cruz or a Sanders supporter, what do you do when faced with a Clinton/Trump ballot? Quite a number of my friends subscribe to the "you must vote with me or "X" will win (where "X" is a candidate they know I don't like). However, this to me is political blackmail - it is using a negative consequence ("X" will win) to try to make me do something I don't want to do (vote with them). It is a fact that if you will always vote for someone you don't like over someone you do like, then you will always get a candidate you don't like, and will never get one you do like.

So let's talk about some of the principles involved. I am not trying to convince you to vote one way or the other, I am telling you why I will vote the way I will, and why I don't want to listen to the same old arguments of people trying to influence me to vote for their candidate, for whom I do not want to vote.

1. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is based on two fallacies. First, that there are only two choices, and second, that choosing an evil is good.

In voting for president there are more than two choices. At this point someone will no doubt chime in with "Oh, but Mike everyone knows that only one of the two big parties will win." That's only true if everyone follows the "vote to keep 'X' out of office" strategy. There is nothing preventing large numbers of people from voting for a third party, or even writing in the candidate they like. So, faced with a myriad of choices, why should I vote for evil, even if it is less than another evil choice?

2. Don't vote like Onan. If you recall, in Genesis 38, Onan neglects his duty to produce a child for his sister-in-law by spilling his semen on the ground. I've heard the term used to describe voting for a candidate who has no chance of winning (aka is not one of the big two parties).

The fallacy here is that your vote matters more if it is for one of the two parties than if it is for someone else. In reality, your vote counts as... ready for this? One vote, regardless of who you vote for. When you look at it from a mathematical perspective it is one vote. From a philosophical perspective we could say that only one vote actually counts - the one that puts the winning candidate in the lead. But I think that's a pretty negative view, and doesn't do justice to the democratic system of elections. If my vote counts for little it's because there are so many other votes, not because it doesn't count.

3. Don't let perfect be the enemy of "good enough." The problem is, who defines "good enough?" There is a problem in ethics called "The Trolley Problem". It goes like this. There is a trolley going down the tracks. five people are on the track ahead and will be killed. If you pull a lever, the trolley will be diverted to a different track on which there is one person, who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? Don't be too hasty to pull it - with minor changes to the description of the scenario you will say "no."

Socrates said "it is better to suffer evil than to do evil." Likewise, the "correct" answer depends on whether the pulling of the lever is cooperating in evil (explore the variations on the problem if you think the answer is obvious). The principle on which the lever can be pulled (or not pulled) is called "double effect" and I find t interesting. You can read more about it here.

You may say "well, neither candidate is going to kill people" but that's not true. Abortion kills a million Americans a year. A(nother) war could kill millions. Foreign policy and/or immigration policy could allow thousands to die from terrorist attacks. The things many people think will kill people (elimination of entitlements or an environmental policy) are unlikely to have much of an effect, but it's something to think about. So it is literally a matter of life and death. Don't think I don't take that aspect seriously.

But if I say "candidate A will get us into a war and not really change anything else" and conversely "candidate B will get us into a war and make things worse" why should I participate in electing either of them? It's the trolley problem, with a third option. I could yell "stop" and hope the trolley stops. The odds are as small as my voice (e.g. my vote), but at least I will not have contributed directly to the deaths of millions.

4. It's fine for you because you have the luxury of not having your vote matter. Yes, I live in NJ, which is a heavily "blue" state. No matter how I vote (one might be cynical and say no matter how everyone votes) my state will throw it's measly 14 electoral votes behind Hillary Clinton (I also think "winner takes all" policies are the worst abuse of power in the political system).

So, does this mean that my vote counts for less, and therefore I can throw it behind whomever I choose? I don't see it that way. As I said above, my vote counts for one vote, no more no less. I take voting just as seriously as if I were the only one voting, which is precisely why I will not vote for someone whom I do not like.

Conclusion? Let's see who actually gets on the ballot and we'll see. If it's Trump/Clinton you can bet I'll be researching third party candidates. Worst comes to worse I can write in a name. Laugh all you want, I will do what I feel is right, as long as I have a country that let's me vote I will vote my way. I recommend you consider carefully who you will vote for, and why...

Now, here's a shiny video of why our voting system sucks:

and some alternatives to think about (I am not endorsing these candidates, just mentioning them)


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