Friday, October 31, 2008

There are some who say we should disregard the negligible effect our vote will have on the election, and instead consider the substantial effect our vote will have on our souls.

I think this is a worthwhile factor to include in the decision making calculus when we go to the polls (or abstain, if that's how you feel), especially when trying to weigh voting quixotically against voting tactically isn't making one candidate stand out. However, I think this philosophy is prone to a few abuses that should disqualify it from being used in isolation.

The first is presuming that the utility of voting is outwardly nil, but the spiritual effect is grave. The former is a reasonable statistical conclusion except in contentious districts, but we never really know how close a race is until the polls close. The latter is true as far as everything we do here echoes in eternity, but in my mind doesn't pass muster because otherwise if we do something, anything, in an attempt to mitigate evil, in a world where remote material cooperation with evil is often (not always, make no mistake) absolutely impossible to avoid, then either committing a particular act out of prudence rather than enthusiastic endorsement cannot be intrinsically grave or everything we do is objectively disordered and there's no point in singling out things that don't have immediate grave effects.

The second is that the primary ends of voting is subverted to the secondary ends, or really the ternary ends. The intent of casting a vote is to participate in the selection of a leader, whether the person is well qualified, relatively well or poorly qualified, or purely unfit for the job. A subsidiary end is to care for the state of our soul. Obviously everything we do should be done with an eye to our spiritual health, but that informs how we do something, not just what we do. For example, the fact that life should be protected and that one person may be too gentle to harm another does not preclude a different person from having the duty and disposition to become a soldier.

Taking our moral priorities as read, then, if we subvert an act's primary end in order to achieve a secondary end, then we commit an abuse of that act, and abuse is always disordered. Just as we are not to dismiss procreation in the marital act in order to pursue pleasure, we should not go to the poll thinking "It doesn't matter whom I vote for as long as I don't endanger my soul." Your soul may be your greatest responsibility, but it is not your sole responsibility, and you even fail in that duty if you are too blithe in disregarding the duty you have to be a conscientious citizen.

This is Catholicism, folks. The dichotomy between CYA and spiritual combat in a communal theater is false.

Maybe there is no good choice, but don't pervert the ends of an act because the effectiveness of achieving one result doesn't seem to scale with another. A safe choice isn't bad but it might not be the best one.

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