Friday, July 22, 2016

Seriously? A vote has no expressive content?

As the bullying gears up all over the country to whip people in line to vote for D.T., I am struck yet again by something that strikes me every four years: There are people out there who will (metaphorically speaking) look you in the eye and tell you that a vote is a purely pragmatic move and has zero semantic content.

I find it difficult to believe that, but I'm forced to believe it every four years, because I'm confronted by such people. Surely it should be obvious by the sheer meaning of the phrase "to vote for _____ for ____" that doing so is, at least among other things, a semantic act that carries the meaning, "I desire so-and-so to have the position of _____" and "So-and-so is at least minimally qualified for the position of ______." It needn't mean that you can't think of anybody better for that position. It needn't mean that you agree with so-and-so on everything. It needn't mean that he's perfect. But it should not even require discussion to say that at a minimum your vote says that you want him to have that position and that you think he's minimally qualified for it.

People apparently want to deny this self-evident truth because they want to justify voting for someone that they realize they couldn't justify voting for if they admitted it. They want to be able to say that some candidate really is completely dreadful and awful but that we should vote for him anyway for some consequential reason. Now, I'm not saying that consequences have no place in voting. They could lead you, for example, to vote for a candidate whom you weren't exactly thrilled with because you believed that he would do more good than harm in the position. But at the end of the day, if you literally think that someone would be a disgrace to that political office, that he is unqualified for it, and that he is a wicked person, you shouldn't vote for him for that position.

When we pretend (and it really is a pretense) that a vote has no semantic content whatsoever, that it is simply playing a move in a consequential game, we harden our hearts to endorse evil people. We do it by lying to ourselves that a vote is in no sense, however minimal, an endorsement.

Quite frankly, I believe that people psych themselves into this because they work themselves up to believe that the United States Presidency is so important that you are morally obligated always to vote for one of the two "viable" candidates for the office. Hence they are faced with what feels like a moral dilemma: They feel that they're morally obligated to vote for A or B, yet they know that both A and B are unqualified for the job and are wicked. So they convince themselves that there must be a "lesser evil" between A and B (why think that?) that we can tell which is the lesser evil (why think that?) and that one is obligated to vote for that lesser evil as a sheer game-theoretic move without semantic content. In this way they resolve that feeling of a moral dilemma.

But conscience will have her revenge. This is why so often those who do this are so angry, bitter, and bullying toward anyone who doesn't do as they do. J. Budziszewski wrote about this in The Revenge of Conscience. When you do something that you feel morally uncomfortable about, you end up trying to get other people to join you in doing it so you will feel less uncomfortable about it. You get defensive and angry. The conscience doesn't just lie down like a lamb when you suppress it. It rouses up and becomes a kind of raging false conscience, driving you to drive others into a frenzy of support for what you have done. We see this in women who have had abortions and who then write bragging pieces about them or who join pro-abortion organizations to make abortion more widely available. And we see it here. The proposition that a vote has literally zero semantic content endorsing the candidate is so manifestly false that it is a constant irritant to the person who has relied on it as a premise to get himself out of what felt like a moral dilemma. For many, this results in striking out at others who have come to a different decision and who aren't doing what he is doing.

I submit that this is a reductio of the proposition that you are always morally obligated to vote for one of the two viable candidates for the Presidency. Or always obligated to vote at all, if it comes to that. Since there is, obviously, at least minimal semantic content to a vote, a situation could arise in which you would be doing wrong to express that content concerning any candidate, and then you shouldn't vote. It's really just that simple. Don't turn your mind into a pretzel forcing yourself to think otherwise.


Unknown said...

Hi Lydia,

What do you think of this post arguing, in part, that conservatives should vote for Trump?

Lydia McGrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lydia McGrew said...

I don't have time to fisk all of the same-old same-old things being said in that post. We're hearing it ad infinitum these months. I'll just note a few things: First, the post assumes that this is all strategic. In other words, it assumes that there is no expressive content to a vote such as (as a minimum), "The person I'm voting for is not a scum-bag and is minimally qualified for the office for which I am voting." The entire post treats voting as a contentless pull of a lever. I think that's a bizarre and obviously false assumption.

Second, the point B in the post shows the corrupting effect of a Trump candidacy. Point B assumes the nonsense one hears now from the alt-right, the implication that Trump's babblings, including the crude ones, constitute some kind of "strategy" of "bringing a gun to a gun fight." This is nonsense on steroids. Making fun of the disabled, calling people schoolyard names, and talking dirty about women (and yes, I'm including more than just what Trump has said during the campaign) are just bad, pointless, childish behavior. They aren't strategic. They aren't an effective form of fighting. They're just dumb. They just reflect a lack of self-control and a big mouth. But Trump supporters, esp. the alt-right, think they are oh-so-smart by trying to fold Trump's infantile behavior into some Grand Theory according to which he's gettin' all savvy and no longer being "too nice" to the left. It's all hogwash from the start, but what it means is that Trump supporters are learning to think that there is something good about bad behavior as a thing in itself. From that flows the alt-right, who will talk in _precisely_ the same way about vile, anti-semitic or n-word-laced spewing on Twitter. Um, yeah, you guys are so, so effective. We're all so glad we have you to "do our dirty work for us" and "bring a gun to a gun fight." Meanwhile, _really_ effective workers on the right such as the ADF, Ted Cruz, et. al. get called vile names because they don't happen to like the alt-right.

That is the world of Trump supporters, and that is the world into which Bill V. is sticking his toes when he mouths misguided platitudes like those in point B.

Third, he calls Trump a patriot in the post. A selfish one, but at some point a patriot. Pardon me while I laugh out loud. Yet more confusion and corruption of the intellect. Anybody who thinks Trump is a patriot (yes, even "in second place" after his own ego) is just engaging in wishful thinking. No, Trump is using this country _for_ his own ego, and that is all there is to the story.

Finally, gotta love the "you're a damned fool" final line. Principles? We don't need no stinkin' principles around here. If you disagree, you're a damned fool.

To my mind, those who allow themselves to be taken in by Trump, in any degree, are courting that label far more. As witness the blind-siding of Ann Coulter recently as Trump back-pedals on immigration. The schadenfreude was hard to resist for those of us who always knew that Trump always just uses his supporters and is bound to, precisely, nothing at all.