The Straw Consequentialist Tries to Fix an Election


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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11 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    These sort of things appear a lot during the election time.

    Blackmun wrote a Supreme Court case about the kinds of time, place, and manner restrictions that were allowed at polling places during election day.

    IIRC this sort of thing is done fairly frequently, more so on the right than on the left. You do it pre election day. The opposition tries to counter the information and so do many civil governments. SF has a ton of information about how to find your polling place.Report

  2. Avatar Mo says:

    Maricopa County, home of Joe Arpaio, has a copyright on that idea. They liked the idea so much, they did it twice in the same election.

  3. Avatar j r says:

    How confident are you that you can pass the Klan-member Turing test?

    I am going to say that if you believe that explicit KKK/white nationalist propaganda, then you have already failed the ideological Turing test.

    I’ve mentioned before that I was an undergrad philosophy major and that one of the things that stopped me from going further is that I never felt that I could have a home in either an analytic philosophy department or in the post-structuralist camp. And that left less than ten other programs in the country that do the sort of continental philosophy in which I was interested.

    I get that it is impolite to spend too much time critiquing thought experiments, but sometimes the thought experiment highlights a significant conceptual flaw in how folks are thinking about the issue at hand. This was always my biggest problem with analytic philosophy. It always seems based on these contrived scenarios and artificial categorization that does not really sync with how human beings experience the world or how we think and make decisions.

    Talking about the relative merits of consequentialist v deontological frameworks is useful to an extent, but taken beyond that, philosophy becomes little more than a act of taxonomy.Report

    • I have to agree with you 100%, j r. I was originally going to study philosophy, but then I talked to a lot of philosophers (most of whom I liked!), and eventually realized that there was little that I found productive or interesting in philosophy, so I switched to economics, political science, and math.Report

  4. And I have to agree with Vikram as well. Indeed, that the straw formulations of utilitarianism and consequentialism are so ubiquitous and defended so fiercely — and, IMnsHO irrationally — as canonical by professional philosophers is probably the biggest reason I left philosophy.

    The argument, stripped to its bare essentials, seems transparently fallacious:

    Utilitarianism is about doing what we like. Utilitarianism demands that we do X, but we do not like X. Therefore, utilitarianism is wrong.

    (There are equally fallacious arguments against subjectivism.)

    I came to the conclusion that philosophy as actually practiced, especially ethical philosophy, is mostly learning how to obfuscate fallacious arguments to avoid a conclusion that philosophers have been trying to avoid since Thucydides: there is no objective or absolute right or wrong, just what we want and what we can do to get it.Report

  5. Avatar Kimmi says:

    So, um, subtlety is apparently a lost art, and thus you muddle the argument about “Let’s Mislead the Klan” into “BUT WHAT IF I SCREW UP?????”

    I consider understanding even the subtle signs that you’re in a neonazi neighborhood to be a matter of life and death.

    [This may have something to do with living in the same house with someone who helps with the SPLC hate group list… The lawyers in the room are invited to envision exactly how useful that position is.]

    It is quite possible to construct a “misleading polling place form” and give it only to people who are racist shits.

    So can we please cut this argument back to: “is it okay to do so, if we only get 50% of the racists — and no people we like?”Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      The consequentialist/utilitarian argument that Bath is making is that such precise targeting with no false positives is impossible.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I’ll retreat from the assertion that there are NO false positives — but she’s also making the argument that “you can’t do this, because you might have more effect on people you want to vote”… and I’ll submit that simply isn’t true, if you’re willing to accept a decent passel of false negatives.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        As Kimmi says, you don’t need no false positives, just more true than false ones.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I’m wondering if the best thing that could happen is that, if it comes to that, Diebold steals the election for Hillary.

    52%. Man, how did the polls get everything so *WRONG*? Whelp, time to start nominating judges!Report

  7. Avatar dragonfrog says:

    Clearly, you follow the lead of the Conservative Party of Canada, and use individually targeted robocalls.

    Obtain hacked / leaked Klan chapter contact lists and police arrest records for Klan members.

    Robocall only the listed Klan members with incorrect polling place information.

    When the criminal investigation comes around, arrange for an intern who wouldn’t realistically had access to all that information without considerable logistical support from within the party, to nonetheless be targeted as the sole culprit.Report