I only started reading Zippy after I learned he passed away. So I’ve only been scratching the tip of the iceberg of his full body of work. So my discussion about his views of voting has been hindered somewhat, as T. Morris appropriately intimated in a comment on a previous post. I discovered two articles from Zippy, and an affirming analysis on Orthosphere, that I wanted to explore and condense into Scoots Layman TermsTM and then attempt to refute using what discussions I’ve already had, if they are still salvageable.
Before I get too deep, my ‘victory condition’ is this: Either I am satisfied that my refutation of Zippy’s thesis is adequate and I can successfully defend that thesis; OR I grok his ideas enough to follow them and ease my troubled conscience. But my argument must thread the needle of having not been addressed by any of his prior refutations, AND must also adequately address those common disagreements.
So, without further ado: lets Dig in!
The Bus Stops
I’m going to start here because this is a summary and provides a rubric for evaluating. He also helpfully includes refutations to common disagreements, some of which I’m embarrassed to say I have leaned on.
Zippy organizes his arguments about not voting in a sequential order he refers to as ‘Bus Stops’. Each stop has a premise. If you disagree with that premise, you can get off the bus. If you make it to the end, you agree with Zippy about not voting. Lets tackle them in order.
The First Stop: We have an obligation to avoid mortal sin. This one is fairly straight forward, and I need to eat crow a bit. Because Zippy is not saying that voting is mortal sin in and of itself, and that is how I have been characterizing his arguments. I am wrong. He agrees with me that voting is not formal cooperation with sin, and thus whether one should vote is a prudential judgement. That implies intent matters, and I believe Zippy’s thesis is that people’s intent is focusing on the wrong thing. That’s not material to this bus stop. if you agree that whether or not one should vote is a prudential judgement, you can remain on the bus.
The Second Stop: So voting is a prudential judgement. What does that mean, exactly? This stop is all about what it doesn’t mean. Prudential Judgement isn’t a free pass to come to whatever conclusion your heart desires. As Zippy describes it, Prudence is right-liberal code for the left-liberal idea of ‘conscience’, and both treat it like an unquestionable sacrament. Prudential Judgement doesn’t mean “it’s subjective and therefore I am free to decide”. If you agree that prudential judgement is a call to raise the analytical bar for your decision making, you can stay on the bus.
The Third Stop: The Church doesn’t require us to vote. This follows logically from the first and second stops. The Church is simply silent on how you participate in your local government, whatever form that government may be. It is not a moral choice, and it is not a blank check. If you agree that the Church has no guidance on whether or not to vote, you can stay on the bus.
The Fourth Stop: This is a bit more of a logical leap from the Third Stop. Zippy describes elections as game-theoretic contests and civic rituals which have negligible impact on the outcome of the election. The Church makes no statements about exercises of game theory, nor does it comment regarding forms of governance, so it’s up to our prudential judgement. Our prudential judgement MUST take into consideration the outcomes. Zippy says our action (voting) has no material outcome-dependent effects, and thus cannot be a pragmatic act. It must be idealistic because it is the hope for some outcome without any reasonable expectation of achieving it because you took that action. If you agree that your vote has no correlation to whether the desired outcome is achieved, you can stay on the bus.
The Fifth Stop: Because there are no outcome dependent expectations to effect change by voting; and all the outcome-independent effects apply to everyone whether they vote or not, there is no proportionate reason to vote, and at this level, any reason, however trivial, to vote is negated by the presence of Scandal. Zippy even says there are enough people that are formally cooperating by intentionally voting for abortionists that scandal applies at the very first bus stop. If you agree that, since your vote doesn’t matter, there is no reason to vote and that if you vote at all, it causes scandal, then you can stay on the bus.
You Have Arrived: If you made it this far, you agree with Zippy Catholic, and you probably don’t vote.
Objections by Ignorance
The first three objections on Zippy’s list of ten deal with people being fundamentally wrong about the purpose or consequence of voting. No, voting is not a license to complain. People that live in a society can complain about that society. No, the Church doesn’t say you have to vote. No, the government isn’t illegitimate and the non-voter isn’t a traitor. These are simple. I refer you to Zippy’s more detailed discussions of those arguments.
Objections by Misunderstanding
No. 4 on his list is a misunderstanding I myself was laboring under: “Aren’t you saying that everyone who votes will go to hell?” – No, that’s not what he’s saying at all. Those who vote intentionally for abortionists are formally cooperating in evil and as such are committing mortal sin. Those who don’t vote or who vote against evil are sufficiently removed to be considered remote, and thus the act of voting falls under the purview of prudential judgement (See Bus Stop #1).
No. 5 is addressed in Bus stop #2 – it’s not license to do whatever you want. Prudential Judgement calls you to a higher bar.
No. 6 is an objection I labor under and reserve the right to continue to do so. The objection is that “If enough people do as you do, then the bad guys will win!”. Zippy argues (poorly paraphrased through my limited understanding) that right-liberal conservatives do more to preserve the evil institutions than the evil institutions themselves. The issue here is with the idea ‘bad guys’ but I do still think there is a point here. I will elaborate later on.
Objections by Fallacy
No. 7 is objection by the fallacy that morality is supposed to be simple and easy. Appeal to ignorance, in other words: These ideas are worth exploring, and shouldn’t be dismissed because they are difficult. That’s why you come here, and let me do all the footwork to try to translate and help you understand!
No. 8 is a re-casting of Error No. 2, trying to put responsibility on the church for your actions of voting. The church is intentionally silent, prudential judgement requires us to evaluate for ourselves.
No. 9 is a fallacy by false comparison: Legislators have options, but we are voting for presidents and legislators, we can and should be more discerning, or (as zippy argues) just not vote! The exceptions for legislators do not apply to us.
Objections by Ad-Hominem
No. 10 is the accusation that Zippy is a sociopathic nut, which I don’t agree with. Zippy is many things but crazy is not one of them. He has a strong sense of Ethics and we have a lot to learn from him. My whole blog is essentially me trying to study at his feet, posthumously. So this isn’t valid.
I believe Zippy has created a false premise. Taken as a whole, it is hard–nay, impossible! to see value in voting. If you have 120 million people voting, and one person does or does not, what’s it matter? Zippy’s thoughts on voting I believe can be condensed to three broad points.
1- There is no practical reason to vote.
2- The system itself is a bad system (dare I say, an evil one), and should not be encouraged.
3- Scandal destroys any remaining reasons that may exist to vote.
Finding a Reason
The idea that I will propose to rebut Zippy’s methodology is that he is looking from the top down at voting as a whole. Personally, I believe that is an antiseptic approach and depersonalizes our participation in government. Government is not transactional, per se, all interactions do not have to be weighed by cost/benefit.
The catechism suggests that a persons deeds are weighed according to circumstance, if we assume that the rubric for mortal sin applies to other deeds as well. Is the matter grave? Is the deed made with knowledge of the grave matter? Is the deed made with full consent of the will (culpability)?
God values each person, individually. So I think it is fair that we can evaluate voting on a personal, micro scale.
When I was discussing this with my friend and brain trust, he presented the following scenario:
Let’s say there is a geyser outside a town that is flooding it with water and destroying it. Each of us drops pebbles in the geyser and eventually it fills up and saves the town.
I added the following modification:
A crowd gathers at the geyser and some people throw pebbles in and some fish pebbles out, and there’s no way of knowing the ratio of pebbles in to pebbles out.
Imperfect though the analogy may be, voting is like throwing the pebbles in. There’s no real way to tell if you’re doing any good, your pebbles could be the only ones being fished out. But throwing the pebble is doing an iota of good. Zippy seems to be saying that it is preferable to not participate in something without certainty about positive outcomes, and would rather you do something actually helpful like find a boulder to put in the geyser. In this case, not voting is predicated on the substitution. You’ll note that Zippy is not saying that voting is inherently bad, but rather that there is so little good that its indiscernible from the base noise distribution. But I would argue that God can discern, and if the amount of good is not zero then there is an iota of good. Is there MORE good that can be done through other means? Yes, absolutely. But I would argue that not voting deprives the system of that iota of good unless it is substituted with something which is known to effect more good.
You might argue that this looks like an elaborate version of Objection No. 6, that “if you don’t vote then the bad guys win”. I draw the distinction that i’m not arguing that not voting causes negative outcomes; I’m saying that not voting deprives positive inputs. No good can happen if no one does good. Bad things CAN happen if no one does good, but for good things to happen, people need to do good things. For bad things to happen, people need to do bad things.
Claiming that there is no practical reason to vote, then, is to ignore some fundamental information. It ignores first that voting does offer an iota of good. It ignores that voting is the only mechanism at our disposal to effectuate positive civil outcomes unless we do something else, which Zippy does not prescribe (an omission which neither helps or hurts his case). This is my retort to the idea that there is no practical reason to vote.
A Bad System
“How do you vote against voting” is a quip I saw from a commenter in one of the articles. This is where prudential judgement comes in. Zippy’s judgement is that he should not vote, my judgement might be that I should. Zippy and I already agree that voting is remote, non necessary participation, and either voting or not voting is a negligible difference. If the system itself is EVIL then we are obliged to overthrow it. But the system is not inherently evil. The people who use it might be, in some cases. So to rebut claims that the system is bad or broken or evil, I would simply point to my earlier article or even to Zippys own: We are distant enough from cooperating that it is negligible.
You might argue that this looks like an elaborate version of Objection No. 5, that ‘prudential judgement’ means we can do whatever we want. If we accept the premise that Voting can contribute some good, and not voting doesn’t contribute any good through that mechanism, regardless of outcome, between those two options taken independently, the one that contributes some good is preferable. If there is a mechanism for contributing more civil good into the system of Government, then let us know and we can do that instead of voting!
The Price of Scandal
I already kind of addressed this in my article about the proximity and necessity of cooperation. Scandal only happens when people know what you did, and what you did is or is perceived to be out of line with Catholic values. Anonymously standing in line at a polling place doesn’t inflict scandal. Not talking about your vote, or casting aspersions on other votes doesn’t invite scandal. If you want to talk about politics, it might be best to not vote. If you don’t care about talking or don’t want to, you can. But if you accept my previous premises, both options are equal in terms of prudential judgement.
Sitting atop a democracy, looking down at all the people, it can be hard to perceive the marginal value of a single vote. But God judges us all individually. A single good deed might not do anything to save the world, but at least it is a good deed. I believe a single vote, too, can contribute an iota of good into a system which has many faults. Enough of those votes can perhaps effectuate some kind of positive outcome. But it requires us to first believe that voting contributes good and second that we can convince others of this fact. Zippy, believing that a single vote can’t rise above the signal noise baseline, finds it to be impractical and with deleterious effects in the form of scandal or endorsement/participation in a system which is broken. However, the system itself is not inherently evil, and we can do good to counter the evil through means other than voting. But if Voting is a means of effectuating some good, even if just an iota, then I believe we should utilize it.
I set out my victory condition as either accepting Zippy’s thesis, or crafting a rebuttal which threads the needle in his already thoroughly reasoned argument. Zippy (God rest his soul) probably would disagree with me on the basis that I don’t answer the signal noise problem; but I don’t believe I have to. We will probably remain at odds!
Please let me know what you think of my reasoning and point out where you feel it is lacking. I invite criticism, to either encourage me to strengthen my argument or to force me to abandon it and accept Zippy’s argument.