Banannery Public

Part of this complete breakfast.

Vote for the candidate you want — October 12, 2016

Vote for the candidate you want

There is a political argument, common to the Left and the Right, that is wrong and lazy, and harmful to democracy in general and the United States of America in particular.

A vote for anyone other than Hillary Clinton is a vote for Donald Trump who is mentally unstable and is not qualified to be President.

The fact of the matter is that either Trump or Clinton will be president. Hillary WILL appoint the most radical leftist Supreme Court judges which will alter the course of the nation for decades to come. Sitting at home on one’s moral high horse will not alter that fact.…Doing nothing is a vote for Hillary.

(Source: Random people on Facebook)

This is an argument from pragmatism. It keeps appearing on social media and in political op/eds. The “lesser of two evils” argument is used by Trump and Clinton supporters to guilt and browbeat their fellow citizens into voting for someone they don’t want in office.

Perhaps you don’t like either candidate, and a friend or relative has targeted you with this argument from pragmatism. Let’s look at the essence of the argument, why it’s wrong and lazy, why it’s harmful, and how you should instead vote for the candidate you want. Then I’ll answer a couple objections that might occur to you.

The essence of the argument from pragmatism

Here are the logical steps that form the argument.

  1. Candidate “Bad” and Candidate “Worse” are the only viable options in a civic election.
  2. The candidate who receives the most votes will win the election.
  3. It is morally unacceptable for Candidate “Worse” to win the election.
  4. A voter who fails to vote for Candidate “Bad” is enabling Candidate “Worse” to win the election.
  5. Therefore, one should vote for Candidate “Bad.”

Can you identify the weak link? Premises 1, 2, and 3 are true. It’s premise 4 that is false. Let me show you why.

Why the argument from pragmatism is wrong and lazy

Here’s a brutal reality that no politician will ever tell you: Your vote has zero practical value.

Let’s suppose you were a US citizen who supported Mitt Romney in 2012. On Election Day, you were walking out to your car to drive to the voting booth, but you slipped on a patch of ice and fell and broke your hip. As a result, you failed to vote for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.

Did your failure to vote change the outcome? Would Romney have won if only your fragile hip had survived the fall intact? Of course not. Your vote had precisely zero influence on the 2012 presidential election. It had no practical value whatsoever. Only in the smallest civic elections might your vote have even a tiny chance of making a difference.

If you were truly behaving pragmatically in 2012, you would not have voted at all. You would have saved your half-hour at the polls and spent it on a more productive task—shopping for groceries, or vacuuming the house, or researching hip replacement surgery. The only reason that a pragmatist votes is that he or she has not followed this pragmatic line of thinking to its logical conclusion, but has quit thinking halfway to the end. He or she is a lazy thinker, blurting out an argument that is lazy and wrong.

So if your friend or relative is going to urge you to act pragmatically on Election Day, follow their argument to its foolish end. Tell them that the brilliance of their pragmatism has persuaded you. Tell them you have decided not to vote for Clinton and not to vote for Trump. Tell them you have decided not to vote at all, but rather to spend that half-hour on election day with a pragmatism and productivity that will put theirs to shame. For that half-hour, they can find you at home, folding your laundry.

Why the argument from pragmatism is harmful

The argument from pragmatism is harmful for at least three reasons.

First, it encourages people not to vote. Why is voter turnout so low in many democratic elections? It’s because people are acting pragmatically in the months leading up to Election Day and on the day itself. They’re not spending their time learning about the candidates and their platforms and their merits. They’re not spending the time to vote. They’re doing other things that have genuine practical value. They’re not lazy; they’re pragmatic. They are following the argument from pragmatism to its logical conclusion.

Second, it enables bad candidates and corrupt parties. How have the Democratic and Republican parties maintained the two-party system for the last 150 years? They have employed the argument from pragmatism. They have manipulated voters into believing that their vote must be cast for a candidate from one of their parties. It is in the interest of both parties to perpetuate this nonsense. Anyone who repeats this argument is either speaking as a cynical manipulator or working to recruit you as a fellow pawn.

Third, it guts our democratic process of its dignity. It encourages realpolitik, the embrace of amoral pragmatism and Machiavellian politics. It encourages citizens to vote out of fear, hatred, and loathing of the opposition candidate. It ensures that wicked campaigners will gain power, and corrupt elites will remain in power, by infesting voters with their fear, hatred, and loathing of the alternative. If all this sounds like America circa 2016, it’s because we have made our bed, and now we are lying in it.

Vote for the candidate you want

Your vote, and my vote, has no pragmatic value. It will not sway the results of all but the smallest civic election. So why do we vote?

You and I vote not because it’s practical, but because it’s our duty and our dignity. We vote for ideological reasons. We are citizens of a state that, for all its faults and corruption, protects us from harm, enforces justice, and promotes what is good. It is my responsibility to the state to vote in a civic election, because my vote is my voice. I use it to communicate what kind of person I believe should be in office, and what kind of platform they should run on. I want my community, my state or province, and my country to be led by someone who is virtuous and just and wise, and who makes decisions with virtue, justice, and wisdom.

There is only reason to vote for a candidate for public office: you vote for the candidate because you want him or her to hold that office. It is a violation of your civic duty, a betrayal of your citizenship, to vote for someone you don’t want.

If you’re an American citizen, here’s how you should vote in the 2016 presidential election:

  1. If you want Donald Trump to be President, then vote for Donald Trump.
  2. If you want Hillary Clinton to be President, then vote for Hillary Clinton.
  3. If you don’t want either one to be President, then research your third party alternatives, find a candidate that you do want to be President, and vote for that candidate.
  4. If you can’t find a third-party candidate that you want to be President, then write in the name of a person you would like to be President, if your state permits it.
  5. If your state does not permit a write-in vote, or restricts it to names you don’t find acceptable, then do not cast a vote for President. (Do, however, cast a vote for other elected offices on the ballot.)

Remember: Your vote has no practical value. It will make no difference. And so you are free to vote for the candidate you want.

Objections answered

If everyone thought this way, then Candidate “Worse” might be elected!

Don’t forget that if everyone were thinking this way, then the supporters of Candidate “Worse” would also be thinking this way. Many of them would vote for someone else. Remember, they are voting for this candidate only because in their opinion, it is Candidate “Bad” who is the worst! Given an alternative, many would choose someone better. So in the end, this objection only leads to speculation and worry, both of which are hardly pragmatic.

Al Gore lost Florida to George W. Bush by 537 votes. If the 97,488 Floridians who voted for Ralph Nader had instead voted for Al Gore, then Gore would have won Florida—and the election. So didn’t this ideological voting for Nader cost Gore the 2000 presidential election?

Once again, it’s speculation to assume that Ralph Nader’s supporters would have voted at all if Nader weren’t an option. And if we’re going to speculate, why not speculate about the party nominations in that election? Would Al Gore and George W. Bush have even been nominated as candidates if party members had voted ideologically rather than pragmatically? And would prior presidential elections have been reshaped by ideological voting, fundamentally altering the political landscape for the 2000 election? We don’t know.

The point is this: It’s not your civic responsibility, or mine, to speculate about the results of your voting. It’s your civic responsibility to vote for the candidate you want.

Furthermore, you are not responsible for other people’s votes, but only your own. And if you had been one of those Nader supporters, changing your vote to Al Gore would not have won him the election. With your help, he still would have lost—by 536 votes.

The Best of All Worlds #8: Venus — November 12, 2012

The Best of All Worlds #8: Venus

For millennia, Venus was known as the Morning Star and the Evening Star. It’s the brightest object in the night sky other than the Moon, and it can even be seen during the daytime if you know just where to look for it. Second from the Sun, Venus was named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. It became a symbol of femininity. In early science fiction, Venus was depicted as a warm and lush planet, a paradise of sorts. After all, it was the same size as Earth, but closer to the Sun while still remaining in the habitable zone of the star. Its apparent cloud cover must conceal a tropical climate, a world of wonders—that was the thinking. Surely Venus must be the best planet.

Beauty on the outside, a Beast on the inside.

Wrong. Venus is the worst planet.

In 1967, the Soviet probe Venera 4 entered the atmosphere of Venus. It didn’t even reach the surface because the atmosphere was so dense that the probe’s descent was slowed down and its batteries died. But even 26 km above the surface, the venerable Soviet robot measured an atmospheric pressure 22 times that of the sea-level pressure on Earth. Even at that altitude, the temperature had already soared to over 260° C, and the atmosphere consisted of over 90% carbon dioxide. Subsequent Venera probes would land on the surface only to be crushed by a pressure of 92 Earth atmospheres (and eventually melted into bubbling blobs by the infernal heat).

It turns out that our paradise sister planet is actually a ghastly hellscape.

What went wrong? How could Earth’s twin sister, more coddled by the Sun than even the Earth itself, end up a horrid mess? The answer is a runaway greenhouse effect. The carbon dioxide content in Venus’ atmosphere has led the planet to cook itself alive. Heck, you can’t even float a cloud city on top of the dense atmosphere because the upper clouds of sulfuric acid would batter your city and eat holes in it, holes which you would fall through and then be crushed and cooked and corroded to death before your body could be dashed to pieces against the volcanic rocks.

The surface of Venus can only be inhabited by infernal saw-toothed monsters like the Venera 13 lander.

And that’s why Venus is the worst planet. There was so much potential here, so much Earth-likeness, so much romance. And Venus squandered it all. Heck, it can’t even rotate in the right direction (it rotates clockwise instead of counter-clockwise like a good planet would do). Venus is a failure of a planet and we should all be ashamed of it, like that creepy uncle in the old family photo that your parents refuse to discuss.

But hey, feel free to vote for another planet as the worst. You’re among friends here; it’s okay to be wrong. And vote for the best planet too, while you’re at it.

The Best of All Worlds: Ranking the Eight Planets from Worst to First — November 7, 2012

The Best of All Worlds: Ranking the Eight Planets from Worst to First

Sibling rivalries are the best. They consist of irrational conflict, which is the best sort of conflict there is. And the most enormous and irrational sibling rivalry is the rivalry among the eight planets in our solar system family. Which is the best planet, and which is the worst? There are a lot of delightful astronomy facts to consider, but I’ll do all the considering for you and tell you the correct answers. You will learn the truth, and I will have justified paying another year of rent for this blog’s domain name.

That’s right: eight planets. Count ’em! Eight.

Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Everyone’s got a favourite. For some of you, your favourite is Pluto, and I’ve already offended you because I completely agree with the IAU that Pluto is not a planet. Well, tough beans. The fact is that we have to come up with some sort of definition for a planet. You can’t just say something is a planet just because it’s got the same name as your favourite Disney character. After all, our stellar neighbours have scads of planets of their own, so naturally we need to determine the standards for planethood. And if that means we kick a yelping Pluto to the curb, so be it. At some point, you gotta clean up the neighbourhood.

Besides, if Pluto were a planet, it would be the worst planet. It’s a dinky ball that Clyde Tombaugh discovered by chance even though it’s smaller than our Moon. What we didn’t know until recently was that Pluto is just another pebble in the Kuiper Belt of pebbles lying beyond the orbit of Neptune. And it’s not even the largest pebble. So it’s a dwarf planet now, and your grandkids are going to laugh at you for thinking anything different.

But enough about Pluto. Let’s get down to the real planets. You’re probably dying to know what the best planet is, right? Well, I’m going to string you along for a while, David Letterman style, by counting down the eight planets from worst to first. In the meantime, in honour of the recent American election, vote on which planet is the best and which is the worst! Your vote will have about as much influence on the outcome of my analysis as it did on the outcome of the Presidential election, but that didn’t stop you then, did it?

Let’s go!

Home improvement priorities — June 22, 2011
Augustine of Hippo, Satan comment on the Vancouver riot — June 19, 2011

Augustine of Hippo, Satan comment on the Vancouver riot

[Analyst Bob Whitelaw] says the riot would’ve likely happened whether the Canucks won or lost.

“With the loss, that seemed to give people the right to set police cars on fire, turn vehicles over, but the excitement of winning would’ve spilled over,” Whitelaw said, adding that it appears some of the instigators were not hockey fans.

—Tracy Sherlock, Vancouver Sun article

There was a pear tree near our vineyard, heavy with fruit, but fruit that was not particularly tempting either to look at or to taste. A group of young blackguards, and I among them, went out to knock down the pears and carry them off late one night, for it was our bad habit to carry on our games in the streets till very late. We carried off an immense load of pears, not to eat—for we barely tasted them before throwing them to the hogs. Our only pleasure in doing it was that it was forbidden.…

What did I enjoy in that theft of mine? Of what excellence of my Lord was I making perverse and vicious imitation? Perhaps it was the thrill of acting against Your law—at least in appearance, since I had no power to do so in fact, the delight a prisoner might have in making some small gesture of liberty—getting a deceptive sense of omnipotence from doing something forbidden without immediate punishment.

—Augustine of Hippo, Confessions II.iv.9,

[Augustine’s] thought went like this. “Everyone knows there is a divine law which forbids theft, so if I can steal and get away with it this will show that I am not subject to God or to any divine law. And if I am not subject to any law which defines what is good, then the good will simply be what I say it is. Hence I will be free and omnipotent. I can do what I want and what I want is the good.”

—Colin Starnes, Augustine’s Conversion, p. 42

Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?…You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

—Satan, Genesis 3:1, 4–5

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