Monday, 25 January 2021

The importance of strategic voting

 This applies both in the regular sense of casting your vote in a political election, but also in the wider sphere of how you allocate your resources of energy, time and money, to create the world you want to see.

Going back a couple of posts, a conversation developed between me and a very good US friend of many years, about the place for voting with a single issue in mind — abortion, in this case, and that's a very clear example but there are others.

When somebody holds strong principles over a single issue in this way, they may cast their vote in favour of that issue specifically and in isolation, without consideration for the effect of their vote on the wider picture. This can have the unobvious outcome of getting the opposite result to what they wanted.

Mentioning matters of deep and strong principle always triggers connected reactions, so I'd like to lift this right out of our actual social and political sphere into calmer waters (I hope) to try and demonstrate what I mean.

Imagine a scenario where 11 people are going to vote on their menu for the next three weeks. They'll all be eating the same thing every day, and once the menu is selected they have to eat it whether they like it or not.

The two main options are dressed crab or cheese omelette.

Of our diners, three have serious shellfish allergies and may die if they eat shellfish, five don't care what happens to anyone else, like shellfish and just use their vote to get what they want, and three are opposed to the taking of life to produce food.

So, when the votes are cast, you get three who vote for the cheese omelette because they don't want to die, and five who vote for the dressed crab because they care only about themselves. That makes up eight of the eleven votes.

Everything hinges on the remaining three votes. 

There are actually no options available that allow the diners to not kill in order to eat, because dairy farming inevitably implies the slaughter of male calves, and egg farming the mass gassing of male chicks; that's how it works. 

Our three outstanding diners (those opposed to taking life) might cast their votes as follows:

One votes for the cheese omelette option, on the grounds that doing so will stop crabs being slaughtered and also save the lives of three of the other diners. This voter knows that you don't actually have to gas male chicks or take calves from their mothers and slaughter them as babies; it is possible to work towards a kinder world.

The other two voters say their principles about taking life matter so much to them that they are going to cast their votes for the vegan option. There isn't one, so their votes are in effect lost.

The outcome is that you get five diners voting for crab, four for omelette, and two whose votes go for nothing.

The result of this is that everyone has to eat crab for three weeks, three of the diners die, and so do a great many crabs.

But there was another way, as follows:

The five shellfish voters choose crab, because that's what they want.

The three diners with the allergy vote for omelette so they will live.

The three opposed to taking life all vote for the omelette because, although vegetarianism involves a certain proportion of taking life, it has wiggle room for compassion and at least will save the lives of the crabs and the three allergic diners.

The outcome is that you get five diners voting for crab, and six voting for cheese omelette. The allergic diners and the crabs are saved. 

Two days into the experiment, the diners discover that the dressing on the crab includes chopped egg and cream, so if they'd voted for that they would have lost the crabs, the other diners, and the calves and the chicks.

This is not a perfect world. You have to vote strategically.

Here in the UK, at the last election I cast my vote for Jeremy Corbyn and to remain in the EU. I lost. We have Brexit and a government that includes Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove. As a result, we have the highest Covid death rate in the world (partly driven by poverty), thousands of hungry children, refugees kept in the most appallingly inhumane conditions, corruption and misuse of public funds on a breathtaking scale, and every week the rich are making a killing while the poor sink into destitution.

Meanwhile Keir Starmer has taken over as leader of the Labour Party. I have a very low opinion of the way Keir Starmer was willing without scruple to throw Jeremy Corbyn under the bus in our UK political in-fighting. Corbyn is a principled man and Starmer let him down. I don't admire it. But if, at the next election, Starmer still leads the Labour Party, then I'll vote for him. I won't forget what he did, but I will do everything in my power to stop the dressed crab going through, because I don't want any more diners to die.


Suzan said...

Every single time I vote I have to remind myself that I may have choice but my choice is diluted with other votes. Sometimes the choice is what is the least of the evils. Very rarely do I find myself truly happy with the result. I have to smile because I am allergic to egg and crustaceans...I would have to be vegan for those three weeks.

God bless.

Pen Wilcock said...

That was the thing, you see. There was no vegan option. At the end of the three weeks you'd be dead. This is the point of the story, that when we cast our votes, we do so not for ourselves but for everyone who must participate in our society — with all their needs and vulnerabilities. A perfect society is impossible, because we are all different and all flawed and frail; so we have to use our vote to secure a political framework in which there is some kind of way forward for everyone, because we are all part of it and once it's done, the die is cast; no opting out.

Anonymous said...

Yes your analogy is good , even though I’m vegan , but ok what you say makes sense. However a single issue as abortion would be the litmus test for me and many as to how to vote or not to vote. To be sure one must always keep in mind the common good and say not having voted for the democrats in the US over abortion would seem like reducing the common good to a single issue but in all conscience could there be any sort of common good for a nation who exterminates millions of babies? Personally I think not,

Pen Wilcock said...

Abortion is a highly emotive topic, and the word means many things — covering everything from termination of pregnancies that are merely inconvenient to those where the baby has terrible deformities compatible with life, or is developing in (eg) the Fallopian tube and endangering the mother's life.
An abortion is always sad and an awful choice to have to make — but in my view it is sometimes the lesser of two evils.
But having said that, looking now at this circumstances where abortion is a social choice — for instance because of poverty — it seems to me the appropriate response is not criminalisation of abortion but dealing with the social circumstances (eg poverty) that pressure people into choosing abortion.
There's a really interesting article on the Snopes website (the well known fact-checkers) that enquires into exactly what it is that affects abortion rates (I'll put the link below). Perhaps surprisingly, they say that though abortion has been declining since the 1980s, it's not possible to establish a clear link between that decline and the party in power. So the decline may be due to other factors than political.
If this is the case, then it seems a pity to vote for a particular party over that particular issue, since the party in power does not affect that it but does make a huge difference to a great many other urgent and important things (eg climate change and treatment of immigrants to name but two).

Anonymous said...

Yes you are right , I wrestle with this a lot even at times argue with my son about it , but I’m satisfied with your answer thank you . I just finished listening to several of your advent videos and really found great comfort in them . I am looking forward to reading your Hawk and dove novels I ordered the first one yesterday. I came across your work while I was looking up “novels similar to Kristin Lavransdatter which is my favourite novel in the world. Will you be doing a series of videos for Lent? It would be awesome if you could .
Thank you so much Penelope

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Gabriella — I don't know "Kristin Lavransdatter" — I'll go and look it up.
I'm glad you enjoyed the Advent videos. The publisher for that book was very generous in allowing me to put the whole book online. I do have a Lent book written in the same way, but that came out with a different publisher, and they are less keen on me making my work available like that. The Lent book is called "The Wilderness Within You". x

Anonymous said...

Hi Penelope, I will definitely look up the Lent book, I’m sure it will be great , though listening to you reading it would have been an added bonus , something about the peace in your voice. Yes look up Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigurd Undset make sure if you read it to get the Tina Nunally translation, it is a book , a trilogy, of such depth, a riveting story a heroine like no other . His Bless. Gabriella

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you! x