Imagine an election in which both front-runners are, say, less than ideal. While such circumstance may sound incomprehensible, just try and pretend you are faced with a decision wherein neither candidate constitutes a choice you would independently endorse on your own.
What should you do?
Many suggest that, in such instance, your best bet is to go with whichever option will absolutely prevent what would otherwise be your worst-case scenario - in essence, the advice is to make an affirmative choice between the "lesser of two evils."
This quandary over whether and when to abstain from *any* form of evil whatsoever has reared its ugly head throughout America's political history. In fact, a "lesser of two evils" argument was the precise justification for support given by the United States to dictators of Third World nations, specifically relying on what was referred to as the Kirkpatrick Doctrine. The Kirkpatrick Doctrine was expounded by United States Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick in the early 1980s based on her 1979 essay, "Dictatorships and Double Standards." In sum, the doctrine was used to justify U.S. support of seemingly corrupt dictatorships around the world, advancing the position that because these dictatorships took an anti-communist position during the Cold War - communism, of course, being the absolute worst-case scenario - supporting them was justifiable under the circumstances.
Nonetheless, by making such choice, or better, by voting in favor of a candidate we do not necessarily prefer, to what extent are we needlessly forfeiting our own integrity by seemingly championing what might otherwise be a deplorable decision? When is it appropriate to stand on principal, rather than to simply act out of fear or anxiety?
To many, the answer is not that difficult: there is a time and place for holding fast to an ideal, and in politics, as in times of war, we are often left with no better choice but to follow through on the decisions we know are challenging. We are often forced to go with what is the least horrific of options – such is life.
Still, how can we know for sure whether the scenario we find ourselves in is, in actuality, just a choice between the "lesser of two evils?" How do we know the decision is not, rather, a perfect "no-win" set-up?
If an executioner, for example, offers a man condemned to death the choice of being either (1) hung, (2) shot, or (3) poisoned... clearly, there is no viable option. At the most basic level, one would be hard-pressed to argue that there is a "lesser evil" among the three.
The only real escape from these so-called Catch-22 scenarios takes root in a philosophical concept known as "game theory." Game theory posits that when engaging in any particular strategy that necessarily involves choice and consequence, perhaps the best decision is no decision at all. Take the game of chess for instance. In the initial stages of chess, every move a player makes only makes him or her worse off than before - because with each advancement, a player only becomes more exposed to threats of outside harm. While one may come out ahead in the end, all parties are progressively better off by not having made any moves whatsoever. Indeed, everyone wins simply by electing to abstain from engagement in the first place.
So, what does this mean for purposes of our less than ideal candidate selection? Does this mean we should not vote at all?
Unfortunately, I cannot provide a simple answer either way. And I certainly am in no position to be providing recommendations apart from placing a characteristic emphasis on the significance of voting in general.
My curiosity surrounding the “lesser of two evils” dilemma stems primarily from a visit I made recently to Glendale, CA while attending a conference hosted by the Center for Inquiry. The Center for Inquiry is a non-profit organization devoted to fostering a secular society based on reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values – it is an atheist association. The two featured speakers were both plainly transparent about their tepid vote in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election – which was also grounded primarily in a “lesser than two evils” analysis.
This made me wonder: if a vote in favor of a less than ideal candidate may be made by an atheist to stave off what they deem a worse-case scenario alternative, why not, then, in an environment of competing religious ideals, some of which are more suitable to Western culture and attitudes than others, make strides to advance one religion over another, rather than take a position of no religion at all?
To an atheist, there is no viable option among faiths. Religion, so it goes, is treated as a “no-win” set-up. They are all seen as advancing an untruth or a delusion - the existence of God, and life after death. To an atheist, because there is no such thing as heaven, the only sound position to take is that of no religion at all. Indeed, to a non-believer it would likely seem counter-intuitive to advance the precepts of one religion over another.
But in the context of this conference in Glendale, when the underlying tone appeared to be that there are, in fact, some religions that are more in line with American ideals than others (more accepting of fundamental American values such as freedom of speech, separation of church and state, individual autonomy, the rights of women, etc…), would it not be equally necessary, in a world full of faithful, God-fearing humans, to at least feign advancement of the teachings and accuracy of one religion over another, rather than condemn them all (i.e. rather than abstain from voting altogether)?
Before rushing to defend science, and rather than merely brushing aside the similarities between politics and religion, consider first how comparable they are. Indeed, are politics not merely a vehicle for opposing views to argue about how we are to collectively achieve a perfectly peaceful, Utopian society here on earth – something one may also contend is a delusion similar to that of *heaven* in the context of the Bible? In other words, are these collective attempts to achieve “heaven on earth,” whether democratic or otherwise, any less of a fantasy than divine assertions about “heaven after death?”
TL;DR: Is there a difference between (A) voting in favor of the lesser of two political ideals, and (B) tepidly siding with a less than pleasant religious philosophy – if all is done in the name of warding off a worst-case scenario?
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