no, a vote for a third party is not “a vote for candidate X” (unless the world is more absurd than I expected)

no, a vote for a third party is not “a vote for candidate X” (unless the world is more absurd than I expected) May 27, 2016


This seems so simple, no one should need to point it out, but every election season I run into the same accusations of anyone voting third party: that in so doing, one is apparently giving one’s vote to the Bad Guy (whoever the Bad Guy is that year).

So, let’s look at it via an analogy, using cookies and poets, because cookies and poets are pleasing, soothing even:

Everyone is handing out cookies to their favorite romantic poets. Wordsworth has ten cookies. Coleridge has seven cookies. I have my cookie ready, and everyone expects me to give it to Wordsworth, but I’ve decided to give it to Keats, who only has four cookies. Wordsworth is a little goopy about peasant girls, and Coleridge has that opium thing going on; Keats really is the best.

But Coleridge’s fans are horrified. “You can’t do that! A cookie for Keats is a cookie for Wordsworth! Think of the rustic maidens he gawks at!”

Au contraire, my friends. Mathematically, if I give my cookie to Keats, he will now have five cookies; Wordsworth will still have ten; I will not have increased his cookie count in any way. Giving Keats a cookie does not magically increase Wordsworth’s cookie-count to eleven. Yes, it is the case that Wordsworth still has more cookies than Coleridge has, but I do not owe a cookie to any poet; I have an obligation to think seriously about who most deserves it, yes, but it is mine to give as I please. 

Wordsworth’s fans, meanwhile, complain that I didn’t give my cookie to their guy. “A cookie for Keats is a cookie for Coleridge! You depraved opium addict!”

It would appear that I have the magic cookie that can defy the principle of non-contradiction, and be given to both Wordsworth and Coleridge at the same time and in the same respect. Oh, and to Keats as well, since he’s the one I actually gave it to. 

We should all have such magical cookies.


Of course, it’s possible that Wordsworth’s thing about rustic maidens is so impossibly goopy, that it’s worth giving cookies to Coleridge just to prevent more goop. This is certainly a legitimate stance and – when we step out of the analogy, back to this election – one to which I am sympathetic: not “voting for the lesser evil” but rather “voting to stop great evil.”

But the world is absurd enough, without our mucking up mathematics and first principles on top of everything else.

A vote for a third party is not a vote for Hillary. Nor is it a vote for Trump. It is a vote for a third party.

Postscript: Yes, I am aware that the consequence of the action is that Wordsworth will still have the most cookies. But a) the mathematical claim that my cookie went to anyone other than Keats is still ridiculous, and a false accusation intended to shame third-party voters; and b) you cannot legitimately weigh the morality of a vote, or of anything at all, on the basis of ethical consequentialism, because this ignores the entire formal element of the act, which I touch on elsewhere. True, the analogy is imperfect, as any analogy must be, because voting is a unique act due to the complex and diluted reverberation of the consequences, and because the formal element of the act involves a great deal of personal, informal reasoning – Newman’s “illative sense.”

Image credit: Titian, The Myth of Sysiphus. PD-US


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