Saturday, April 23, 2016

"Discovering" Morality in Personal Advanage

Because Bernie Sanders lost the primary election in New York on April 19, there are people declaring that independents have a moral right to vote in party primary elections.

The relationship between those two facts comes from the observation that independents who tend to support Sanders tend to vote in the Democratic primary where they are able. Consequently, Sanders would have been able to pick up a higher percentage of the vote if New York had an open primary than he received under the closed primary. From this it apparently follows that closed primaries violate a fundamental voting right of those who are not members of a political party.

This is clearly not a valid argument. However, it does illustrate how people often approach moral issues. What is asserted to be a fundamental right is something that the individual "became aware of" because it provides them with a personal advantage.

We can well imagine what those who are making this claim would have discovered about morality if it were the case that independents tended to vote for Clinton rather than Sanders. In this case, Sanders would have been collecting a higher percentage of the votes among Democrats. However, when independents were allowed to have a say, Sanders' share of the votes would have dropped.

In this case, it is not difficult to image that Sanders and his supporters would have "discovered" the moral principle that an organization has the right to choose its own leaders and representatives. Nowhere else - or almost nowhere else - are people who do not belong to an organization allowed to come in and help decide who the organization selects as its leaders and representatives. If an individual wants a voice is the decision of a group, a minimum requirement is to join the group.

In other words, the moral principles being embraced in this case are those of convenience, with no reliance on any type of impersonal standard.

Further evidence of this comes from Sanders' attitude towards the use of a caucus to select a candidate.

Sanders has tended to do well where states select their delegates during a caucus system.

To vote in a caucus, a voter must devote a considerable amount of time out of their day, on a specific day, to go to a common location with other caucus voters, to engage in a long discussion and debate and, from there, to select delegates.

This is an exceptional burden for many people. Those who have family and business commitments, those who are ill, and those who find it difficult to travel tend to be excluded from the caucus system. The decisions are made, instead, by those who are younger, healthier, and with fewer commitments to family or work.

In this election, the type of voter who could make it to a caucus tended to support Sanders, whereas the rules tended to provide excessive burdens on those who supported Clinton. Consequently, Sanders received more votes (and, thus, more delegates) in a caucus system than he would have received if the state had selected their delegates in a primary - whether open or closed.

Yet, Sanders failed to become aware of any moral problems with a caucus system that tended to prevent even registered Democrats from having a say in the selection of their group's representatives.

This suggests a highly selective sense of moral awareness, tuned quite closely to what provides the individual with a personal advantage.

In effect, the caucus system has the same practical effect as voter ID laws. Republicans claim to support voter ID laws because it limits voter fraud - even though there is almost no voter fraud to limit. As a matter of fact, Republicans tend to favor voter ID laws because it places an extra burden on certain types of voters, and those types of voters tend to vote for Democrats. In other words, they favor the law for its practical effect at preventing eligible voters who would otherwise have cast their votes for Democratic candidates from voting.

Democrats tend to object to voter ID laws - again, claiming that it interferes with a right to vote, though we would have to ask if they would find voter ID laws so objectionable if it were the case that such a law would tend to reduce the number of Republican voters from voting. A disposition to discover moral principles promoting acts and policies that provide the discoverer with a material advantage is clearly not confined to members of the Republican party.

Indeed, the practice of "discovering" moral principles that provide one with an personal advantage is very common. These simply provide some clear illustrations of the practice. Yet, the fact that it is common is not an argument in favor of continuing or even promoting the practice. It is a practice that ought to be uncommon - even rare. It is a practice that we have reason to criticize and condemn.

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