In Defense of Voting (sort of)

[cross-posted at Liberty & Power]

I say “sort of” because I don’t really think voting is terribly important. And I certainly don’t think there’s a duty to vote – Athena forfend! Moreover, the usual arguments in favour of voting (like “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain” – which Spencer nicely disposed of in 1851) are generally much worse than the arguments against. Still, there are some common (in libertarian circles) arguments against voting that don’t convince me. Let me briefly say why.

A HAPPY VOTER The voluntaryist argument is that by voting one immorally and imprudently lends one’s sanction to the state. I’ve responded to this argument a decade ago (see here and here), and don’t have much to add.

Another common argument, especially popular with economists, is that voting is irrational, because (barring the overwhelmingly unlikely possibility of the election’s being decided by a single vote) the outcome will be the same however, or whether, one votes. Even if one’s aim in voting is not to get one’s candidate elected but merely to increase the candidate’s vote totals for strategic reasons, still whether that result happens is independent of whether one personally votes or not – so why vote?

But if that were a good argument against voting, it would be an equally good argument against contributing to any cooperative effort whose success depends on other people’s cooperating also. And so, for example, it would be an equally good argument against being a libertarian activist of any sort – since no one libertarian activist’s contribution is likely to make the crucial difference as to whether libertarianism triumphs or not.

I would even say that we have a duty to make a contribution to public goods. But it’s an “imperfect” duty in Kant’s sense, meaning that we need only contribute reasonably often to a reasonable number of public goods; we’re not obligated to contribute to every public good on every possible occasion. Hence one has no duty to vote (despite Peikoff’s bizarre assertion – which I’d love to see him try to make to Howard Roark – that “anyone who … abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life”), since it’s a matter of choice which goods one contributes to and when; but one is certainly free to pick voting as one of the occasions for the exercise of this duty.

I VOTED for some doofus In response to this reply John T. Kennedy writes that my comparison between voting and other forms of libertarian activism, such as blogging, would be correct only “if the expressive power of your vote were equal to the expressive power of your writing.” But in fact, he argues, “[t]he difference in leverage between the two actions is so overwhelming that it would clearly be counter-productive to waste time voting when that time could be better employed improving your next blog entry.” I would note, however, that this response is a retreat from the standard economic argument against voting to a weaker position, namely that voting makes a smaller contribution to the ultimate triumph of libertarianism than other forms of activism (though participating those other forms probably won’t make the decisive difference either). Well, then, should I specialise in whichever one form of activism I think will make the greatest overall contribution? Should I focus on scholarly articles and forget blogging? Or should I focus on blogging and forget scholarly articles? It seems to me to make more sense to diversify.

A third objection to voting, the agorist objection, is one I have more sympathy with. On this view, the best strategy for achieving a libertarian society lies not with an attempt to seize the reins of power (whether by electoral or revolutionary means) but rather with an attempt to encourage people to withdraw consent to the state through mass disobedience, and this strategy involves education and building alternative institutions, but not necessarily electoral politics. Indeed, so runs this argument, trying to get people to vote is counter-productive, since we should be discouraging rather than encouraging people’s attachment to the rituals of the state.

Now I certainly agree that as libertarian strategies go, education and building alternative institutions are much more important than electoral politics. And I also agree that the danger of reinforcing people’s attachment to the state is a count against urging people to vote libertarian. (I say “vote libertarian” rather than “vote Libertarian” because the Libertarian candidate is not always the most libertarian candidate – especially in light of the recent unpleasantness in Portland. On the other hand, I don’t think the “don’t waste your vote” argument against voting Libertarian is any good; see once again here.) But I also think voting can be useful as a means of self-defense in the short run; and while the ultimate revolution will be preimarily from the bottom up, it will certainly go more smoothly, and with less danger of a violent crackdown from a government desperate to maintain power, if we’ve got some support on the inside too.

The Randian Vote

Ayn Rand on the roof How should a good Randian vote?

The Randian Right is mostly supporting the Democrats (see Leonard Peikoff, Diana Hsieh, John Lewis, and Craig Biddle), though Robert Tracinski (a rare ARI dissident from the Peikoffian party line) and Robert Bidinotto (a Center-Randian by institutional affiliation but a Right-Randian in terms of recent advocacy and attitudes) favour the Republicans.

The Randian Center (see Ed Hudgins and Neil Parille) seem neutral but with a slight leaning toward the Republicans.

And the Randian Left (see Chris Sciabarra and Arthur Silber) are crying for a pox on both houses.

Rand’s own first vote was cast for FDR, so who knows?

I guess I count as a Left-Randian; and tomorrow I’ll be voting for LP candidates Loretta Nall and Dick Clark.

Send Women Back to the Sink Before They Kill Our Kids

Happy Day-after-Hallowe’en!

Had a good (but busy) time the past two weekends, at the Alabama Philosophical Society and the Mises Institute conference on imperialism respectively. And this coming weekend I’ll be at Tulane to give a talk on free will.

But now, on to some blog business:

I’ve complained before (see here, here, and here) that religious conservatives’ attitude toward women is too often one that regards womanhood as fundamentally other-oriented and thereby encourages women’s subordination to the demands of men and of families. (I’ve also suggested that one of Rand’s valuable, though partly inadvertent, contributions to the cause of feminism is her revival of the 19th-century libertarians’ insight that an ethics of self-sacrifice contributes to the subjection of women.)       

Sharon Valerii wears army boots Larry Beane’s piece on LRC today illustrates the point I’m making. Commenting on the case of a female U.S. soldier in Iraq who ran over a small boy because she’d been trained not to stop, Beane writes:

First of all, as a traditionalist Christian, I have to say that this is not the proper vocation for a woman. We strain the gnat by exempting women from combat duty, but swallow the camel by training them like men (and usually with men), dressing them in masculine fatigues and boots, outfitting them with weapons, putting them in trucks in combat zones, and expecting (even ordering) them to run over little children.

This is not the biblical understanding of womanhood.

God has designed the female body from the womb up. Even her arms bend differently than those of a man to accommodate her hips. Women are completely designed around the uterus. Their very bodies are temples where the miracle of life begins and is nurtured – the safest and most gentle environment for humanity on the planet. Women are equipped with breasts to feed and nourish babies once they have been delivered from the womb. Women are the cultivators of life, the primary teachers of the human race, the defenders of civilization. Theirs truly are the hands that rule the world by rocking the cradle.

But how many mothers are away from the cradle, neglecting their roles as the teachers and civilizers of youth, doing something “more fulfilling” – such as driving supply trucks in Iraq? And what has happened since women in large numbers have abdicated their vocation as defenders of civilization? Well, we now live in a society that expects mothers to be soldiers and to kill children – and they do it. Their maternal instincts and godly vocation of nurturer do not override their orders to kill.

On this, three points:

Slave Girl movie poster 1. To say that women are “completely designed around the uterus” is to reduce women, insultingly, to a biological function, and specifically an other-directed one, and to take that function as determining their destiny; it is to say that women’s function is to serve others. But an entity whose primary function is service to others is a natural slave. Calling women’s bodies “temples” and telling them that they “rule the world” does little to soften the insult. If, as I venture to suppose, women are persons, then, just as with men, a woman’s central and ruling faculty is her reason, not her uterus. In Aristotelean terms, the reproductive capacity belongs to the nutritive soul, not the rational soul, and so its operation is subordinate to the needs of reason and not vice versa.

Nor will it be any defense to say that men, too, are destined primarily to service. For a) that would make men slaves as well, which is no improvement; and b) in any case the religious conservative’s claim is generally that women are especially oriented toward service, and adding as an afterthought “oh yeah, but men are too, somewhat” does little to counteract the overall tendency toward the subjection of women in particular.

2. Beane’s argument seems to be this: women’s primary function is nurturing; hence, when women are encouraged to neglect nurturing in favour of seeking a fulfilling career, this goes against the natural order, and the result of this unnatural deviation is that women end up doing bad things like running over innocent children. But first, the inference from the perils of careers that require being desensitized to inflicting death on the innocent to the perils of careers, period, seems a rather heroic leap. And second, even if women’s running over children were an argument against women valuing careers, why wouldn’t men’s running over children – which presumably also happens – thereby be an argument against men valuing careers?

Now it’s obvious from Beane’s overall discussion that he thinks running over innocent children is wrong whether it’s done by a man or by a woman. I am happy to say that this is a point on which Beane and I are in complete agreement. But given that fact, it’s hard to see how this is a special problem about women in military roles. The purported fact that women are divinely ordained to be walking wombs can’t be the reason why it’s wrong for them to run over children, because it’s wrong for men to do so as well, even though men aren’t walking wombs. Well, whatever the reason is for its being wrong for men to run over children, why can’t that be the reason it’s wrong for women to do so as well?

Beane does suggest an argument to show that women’s focus on careers can be blamed not only for women’s but also for men’s running over children: “Most men no longer have examples of manly and honorable fathers and grandfathers, not having been taught by their mothers from the cradle to revere chivalry and decency, nor to defend life and to protect the weak. No, our mothers are too busy wearing army boots.” But this won’t do; for it suggests that male violence against the innocent is a recent development, a product of women’s liberation from the role of compulsory homemaker. A glance at history suggests otherwise: when the Israelites “utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (Joshua 8: 26), men, women, and children, was it because their mothers had been too career-minded to teach them chivalry? What about the Athenians in Melos? What about the Romans, well, anywhere? When the French soldiers at Agincourt killed “the poys and the luggage,” were their mothers all in army boots? The patriarchal family has reigned for millennia without preventing male violence against the innocent; indeed, male violence against the innocent has been a not infrequent occurrence within the patriarchal family itself.

Jael and Sisera 3. While I don’t regard the Bible as an authority one way or the other on such matters, it’s perhaps worth noting that it’s not entirely clear that the “Biblical understanding of womanhood” consistently places nurturing first. When Lazarus’s sister Martha is pursuing her feminine nurturing duties, “cumbered about much serving,” and complains that her sister Mary is neglecting her household chores by pursuing religious studies with Jesus instead, Jesus famously takes Mary’s side. (Luke 10: 39-42) One could read this as a vindication of a woman’s choice to reject homemaking in favour of some other vocation.

The Catholic Church, of course, has traditionally interpreted this passage as licensing only the choice of nun – another nurturing role – as an alternative to wife and mother, but this interpretation is hardly inevitable. After all there is also the prophetess Deborah, who (though herself in fact a wife and – unless Judges 5:7 is metaphorical – a mother as well) “judged Israel at that time. … and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4-5) Hardly a conventionally feminine role! Moreover, she even participated in military operations: when Barak “went up with ten thousand men at his feet” we are told that “Deborah went up with him.” (Judges 4:10) We’re not told that Deborah was personally involved in acts of warfare; but we are told this (Judges 5:24-27) about another woman, in terms of high praise:

Blessed above women shall Jael
the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;
and with the hammer she smote Sisera,
she smote off his head,
when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
at her feet he bowed, he fell:
where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

In short, Jael and Deborah wore army boots. Whether they did so in just or unjust wars is hard to determine given the Bible’s narrative vagueness, but they certainly did so with the Bible’s approval.

The Sound of Cylons

Cylon down on his luck Check out this funny song and video comparing the old and new versions of Galactica.

Since it’s on the new Galactica’s website, you can guess who wins.

It is done, Imperious Leader!

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