When it’s unethical to vote your conscience

 

Imagine you are in 1930s Germany. There are two opposing candidates to Hitler, one you like very much and one you don’t like so much. The one you like is out of the race, so you have the option of voting for the one you like not as much (who is opposing Hitler) or not voting. You chose to not vote. Hitler wins. In hindsight, how does your decision look? Wise and mature, or short-sighted and even dangerous?

I know it’s somewhat unfair to compare Trump to Hitler, but sometimes it’s good to amplify a situation – in this case through a thought experiment – to make a point. The point here is that, in some situations, it can be unethical to vote (or, in this case, not to vote) your conscience.

Voting is not really about ideology or having the perfect candidate, it’s about having a practical effect on society. And in this case, the practical effect of not voting can harm other groups in society far more than your own. Most of the “Bernie or bust” people are white, educated, and privileged. And the ones who will be most hurt by his candidacy are non-whites, immigrants, Muslims, and other minorities.

I understand it can feel good to take a “Bernie or bust” position. You may feel hurt by not being able to vote for your candidate, and sometimes it feels good to act reactively to hurt. If I can’t get what I want, I won’t participate at all, I won’t give you what you want. There may also be good reasons to justify such a position.

Still, reality is that voting or not voting has a very real and pragmatic effect on society. And in this case, if Trump is elected – perhaps partly due to people choosing to not vote – it will harm others far more than you. In this case, not voting is a lack of solidarity. It can even be dangerous.

Personally, I would have loved to see Bernie win. As it is now, I would vote for Clinton without hesitation, and mainly for the reasons above. Mainly out of solidarity with those who would be most harmed by a Trump presidency.

Note: I know that a big part of the problem in the US is the – quite undemocratic – two-party system. Germany in the early 1930s had a large number of parties so people could, in fact, vote their conscience. And a majority did vote for Hitler, largely out of fear and despair coming from their own personal situation.

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Initial notes……

  • when it’s unethical to vote your conscience
    • Trump vs. Clinton / Sanders
    • if refuse to vote due to not being able to vote for the perfect candidate, can feel good and self-righteous, but overlooks that voting is meant to have a practical effect and that not voting also has a practical effect, and that it will harm other groups more than you and your own (white privilege), can be seen as lack of solidarity, lack of big picture view
    • on a more personal level, can be seen as childish, as a temper tantrum (I didn’t get what I wanted so I won’t participate anymore, I won’t give you what you want)
    • and there may be other reasons not to vote, for instance, wouldn’t vote for Clinton anyway (although that’s the same as above, can be seen as lack of solidarity, short sighted
    • thought experiment: 1930s Germany, two opposing candidates to Hitler, one you really like and one you don’t like so much, the one you really like is out of the race, so have the option of voting for the one you like less (who is opposed to Hitler) or not voting, and chose to not vote for ideological reasons. Hitler wins. That makes your decision seem very immature, short-sighted, and even dangerous.
  • ……..
    • to not vote the “lesser of two evils”, unethical bc of the consequences – especially for weaker groups in society
      • can be seen as selfish, childish, white privilege etc.
      • voting is meant to have an effect on society, both voting and not does have an effect, we have an effect no matter what
      • so let it count, let it have the effect you desire, in this case preventing Trump from becoming president
      • is a real difference between the two, even if don’t wholeheartedly agree with either (I don’t either)
      • will harm other groups more than the ones who, on principle, won’t vote for the lesser of two evils (tend to be white, privileged), lack of solidarity, lack of the bigger picture, lack of being able to vote for practical reasons, lack of flexibility and maturity
    • to not use votes in a practical way
      • can feel self-righteous, also an expression of hurt in not being able to vote for the candidate we want (bc of two-party system, less democratic), can find a great deal of reasons why – as we always can
      • mainly, acting on hurt and then justifying it in many different ways (childish, if I can’t get what I want I won’t participate)

And there are innumerable arguments for why you shouldn’t vote at all. The mind can always come up with reasons to convince itself.

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I understand it can feel good to take a “Bernie or bust” position. You may feel hurt by not being able to vote for your candidate, and sometimes it feels good to act in a reactive way to hurt. If I can’t get what I want, I won’t participate at all, I won’t give you what you want. There may also be good reasons to justify such a position.

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Note: I know that a big part of the problem in the US is the – quite undemocratic – two-party system. Germany in the early 1930s had a large number of parties so people could, in fact, vote their conscience. And a majority did vote for Hitler, largely out of fear and despair coming from their own personal situation. They wanted a strong leader with a simple solution.

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