Saturday 4 May 2019

Voting and "But what would happen if everybody"... Plus, long term benefit Always requires short-term sacrifice

Take the example of not voting, refusing to vote - opting-out of all systems of votes - not because it often/ inevitably leads to bad-outcomes, but because it is intrinsically evil...

(But the same arguments could be applied to many other decisions, and most things to do with a bureaucracy.)

People say things like - But what if everybody with principles didn't vote - then... Or conversely, But one person not voting makes no difference, so you might as well...

The main point is that morality cannot truly be consequential; first because we can never know the consequences - therefore it is, at best, probabilistic. And the probabilities are usually not knowable.

But even if they were, outcomes are always mixtures of good and bad consequences, so an absolute (non-consequential) morality is still required to decide what is right or best given the mixed-picture.

Consequential arguments merely kick the can further down the road... So we ought to do what is right in the first place.

But what if we do agree that not voting-in - not participating-in, this committee meeting, or election, or peer review, or promotions panel... will indeed have a bad outcome, immediately. (As it very likely would.)

What then? Is it being proposed that we should always do what is best (from our perspective) in the immediate short-term?

That kind of blind, short-termism would - of course - be a recipe for disaster in any battle/ war/ sustained conflict.

And if a battle/ war/ sustained conflict is exactly what we are engaged-in... well, then we ought Not to be doing what is best in the short-term.

Especially when the opposition are already winning and have been for a long-time.

If we are serious about turning the trend when it has been for so long against us - then we must (surely?) be prepared to accept short-term, probably medium-term disadvantage in order to give any realistic hope of long-term victory?

So if a system without voting - a system based upon responsible individual human judgement - is what we hope for eventually, then maybe we should be starting work on implementing it straight away?

And we should be prepared to accept the inevitable short-medium term problems - because if we aren't prepared for short-term problems en route to a better situation - then nothing good, valuable or positive can possibly happen.

If we aren't prepared to accept short term disadvantage to reach a long term virtuous goal, we will be trapped on the down-escalator to damnation. 


James Higham said...

So we ought to do what is right in the first place.

I wonder how long it will take for most people for the penny to drop.

Seijio Arakawa said...

This argument (the short-term sacrifice of not voting to elect a 'lesser evil' is outweighed by the long term benefit) would work better if the people hearing it had an inkling of what long-term benefit they were aiming-for, and why that long-term benefit is precluded by participation in the act of voting.

Of course, I could make a start by pointing out that in today's society actually existing friendships and family relations are ruined by political arguments -- and clearly such behaviour is sick since clearly-more-important things are being destroyed for the sake of less-important things. But that doesn't translate into a full answer.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I suppose your (our) stance on voting has a lot in common with pacifism and is subject to analogous criticisms. Voting is inherently evil, but then so is murder. If we can accept killing people in the defense of freedom, why not voting?

I don't know how to answer that. I just know that my moral instincts have led me to reject voting but have not made me a pacifist. I'll have to think about why.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Seijio - Yes for sure - it is because the mass of people have no idea of the nature of long term benefit that they cannot be long term. Not voting, as an isolated act, is meaningless - like all isolated acts; and we are trained to regard moral decisions as isolated acts... or rather, bureaucracy regards everything in such ways.

I found it an extraordinary experience to try-to speak morally inside a bureaucratic situation. For example, the idea that it is wrong to lie, simply has no point of entry into the flow chart of system-logic.

Likewise long-termist arguments that are not cross-referenceable to aims and objectives - they are met by a mixture of pity , incredulity and anger.

But long-term goals - such as inclusion, sustainability, equality - have an unassailable position - since they are embedded into the structure; any and all agenda items can be challened to conform to these goals.

Yet these goals have no coherence outside of the instantiations in the system! Nobody can even imagine what such things actually mean in practice! People implicitly claim to stand outside of the concepts in order to implement them, yet also claim that the concepts apply universally... (This was first obvious with communism.)

Such 'long term' strategies are self-sustaining, yet incoherent - which is why they are innately destructive.

@William - The difference is surely that voting and pacifism are different kind of things?

Different in conceptual structure, for example. Voting claims to be a means to good ends - which is therefore itself made a good; pacifism is based upon a prohibition that claims to transcend all other prohibitions; implicitly believing that violence is the worst of all possible sins.

But I see what you mean - that pacifism is usually attacked on consequentialist grounds (as when George Orwell attacked Ghandi on that basis). But CS Lewis and Charles Williams rejected pacifism because violence/ war was Not the worst of sins, so pacifism was simply wrong.

However, I think that such categorical/ general ethical discussions have lost much of their force - because all depend on the idea of morality coming from (or via) external authority - which hardly anybody truly believes nowadays.

When we ask our-selves 'why' we have one moral instinct and not another, we ought Not to expect that our goal is to bring all true morality under a few master concepts that could be embodied in unambiguous laws - which laws would then be regarded as the true and ultimate source of morality.

On the contrary, our personal morality needs to become understood as deriving from our personal apprehension of the truth of reality, with morality (and beauty) as an intrinsic part of truth and reality - not something applied-onto the facts. Moral truth is therefore something we understand, no something we have-imposed-on-us.

Sin works by interfering with our personal understanding, and by resisting our achieved personal understanding; Not by resisting our submission to the dictates of obviously-objectively-correct external authority.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Bruce, I wasn't comparing pacifism to voting but rather to the refusal to vote. Voting and killing are both intrinsically evil, and the question is whether we should nevertheless be willing to employ them in the service of good ends. As a pacifist believes no end can justify killing, so you seem to believe that no end can justify voting.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I hadn't misunderstood. I'm saying that I don't agree that "Voting and killing are both intrinsically evil".

Voting is evil because it is an abrogation of responsibility, implicitly claiming that the outcome of an arithmetical process has innate moral priority over individual morality. To regard voting as good entails a moral submission to the process, whatever its outcome may be (if the submission is merely expedient, due to e.g. fear of the majority - then that's a different matter).

I thought pacifism was about violence, rather than killing (and particularly about the absolute wrongness of war). You seem to be equating pacifism with an absolute prohibition on murder - which is a different thing, it seems to me. But I don't regard deliberate killing as intrinsically wrong, and I don't think many people do.