A Series of Heresies #5: Certitude

December 31, 2018

If there’s one feature that religious beliefs are thought to have, it’s the assumption that people are expected to believe them with conviction. Being more religious is associated with being more sure of one’s religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter whether this surety is based on logic or experience; indeed, sticking to one’s beliefs /despite/ a lack of logic or experience can strangely be considered to make a person /more/ devout.

In Christianity this mindset is defended by pointing to the many times Jesus talked about the importance of having faith. There are many cases where he did miracles and said they worked because people had faith. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains and so on. One of the most frequently quoted passages used to stress the importance of being sure of oneself is the one about “doubting Thomas”, where Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had been resurrected just because his friends said so, and this is considered to be a weakness of his.

But in contrast, the value of questioning everything in one’s day-to-day life cannot be overstated. You learn /so/ much by being skeptical of everything. The professors that I’ve encountered generally have the attitude that “the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know”. The scientific method consists of trying to disprove what you thought you knew. In computer programming, you never know when software works, only when it doesn’t work, and you find mistakes by second-guessing yourself at every step. And so on.

How, then, could religion apparently get it so wrong? I claim it’s because the idea that “being sure of your religious beliefs is a good thing” is a heresy. It may help a religion spread, but it’s not based on truth.

In particular, there’s an assumption that “faith”, the concept Jesus talks about, means “intellectual certainty that something is true”. But how can it? There are a thousand objections to that definition, and perhaps the most common one given is “how are people supposed to believe in Jesus if they never heard of him due to living in a particular region through no fault of their own?” The absurdity of requiring people to believe something they’ve never heard about should be obvious to someone who hasn’t become accustomed to this heresy. The dishonesty of believing something you don’t have any evidence for may be common human behaviour, but is at least not thought to be a good thing in any other discipline besides maybe marketing and politics.

So what is faith then? Another way to understand it would be something like trusting what seems true or that what you have evidence for is true, rather than giving way to what you want or fear is true. E.g. if you have reason to believe that miracles can happen and you see one, then faith means accepting what your senses are telling you, rather than falling back on the fear of “what if I’m crazy” or the desire of “I don’t want to accept the consequences of that being true”. If you don’t have reason to believe that miracles can happen, then don’t believe in them (although wouldn’t it be even better to let go of certitude altogether, and simply say “I don’t know anything about whether miracles can happen”?). I doubt God even expects everyone to believe in his existence, and I don’t know of anything in the Bible that says he does. All that kind of thinking is the product of this heresy, which has created a regime that has now stood for over a millennium, and which it’s high time we abandon. It’s not intellectual or cognitive beliefs that have moral or spiritual value, but rather choices or attitudes or dispositions. And an attitude of Certitude is a bad one!

Once a person realizes that certitude isn’t based on anything substantial, it can potentially free them from quite a few mental prisons, depending on how entrenched they were. For example, you can admit you don’t have 100% certainty of what will happen to you when you die (which can also be scary, but freeing to admit to yourself). You can read things that contradict your (religious or otherwise) points of view, without fearing that they’ll be valid, and without resisting a change of mind if they are. You can disentangle your emotions from your beliefs and let each of them be what they will without interfering with each other. You can let go of abstract doctrines that just don’t matter, becoming agnostic about them, with the comforting assurance that if God cared whether you believed in that doctrine, then he would have given you enough evidence for it. You can just generally be a more honest human being.

Well, I think that concludes my Series of Heresies. There are many other heresies I could mention, but my focus has been on broadly defined ones that seem to be widespread, and which have had a devastating effect on people’s lives through history and / or in the present culture. The five I’ve covered are the five big ones that stand out in my mind with respect to those conditions, and I know all of them have impacted my life in significantly negative ways, especially when I’ve believed them to some degree. I assume by this point you’re thinking that I’m definitely a heretic, and I’ll agree that I definitely am, as most people who are constantly modifying their beliefs will be at some or all points in their journey. If you learned something and / or had fun, great! If you /unlearned/ something, I’m ecstatic.


A Series of Heresies #4: Authoritative Control

December 24, 2018

When I think of the traditional view of a “good Christian” it includes the image of people doing what they’re told, often without questioning. Children obeying their parents / teachers, soldiers obeying their superior officers, citizens obeying the law, and so on. I don’t think this mindset is as bad as it used to be in past eras – I think people in western culture especially have, thankfully, become fairly resistant to authoritative control, relative to centuries ago – but I think this progress is no thanks to religion.

For some reason the idea of blindly obeying is often considered acceptable within religious circles, and authoritative figures are at least tolerated, if not explicitly admired. This may have something to do with natural selection – a religious institution is more likely to survive and thrive if willing sheep fill the pews and funnel money in its direction. But, as it turns out, they’re heretics.

To see this from a Christian perspective, consider the overall Biblical story. In the Old Testament, God rescued the Israeli people from an authoritarian regime. The story of their escape from slavery makes up a good chunk of the Bible. Later, they feel like they need an authoritative ruler, a king, to lead them. God explicitly tells them that’s a horrible idea and will cause them many problems in the future, but they insist, so he relents. Then another bunch of the Bible is spent telling stories of how horrible the kings ruling over Israel were. In the New Testament, people expect Jesus is the Messiah that will rule over them. But he repeatedly tells them he’s not interested in political power and refuses to take control. Finally, in the prophecies about the end times, there are visions about evil rulers that will take control of the Earth. All in all, a fairly clear message: it’s bad to rule over people authoritatively, so don’t do it.

In contrast, to support a policy of blind obedience and / or acting authoritatively, people must resort to misapplying a few specific Bible passages – a trend that I hope I quenched in my first post in this series. The one usually given to support an authority-obedience relationship with respect to both children and employees / bosses is Ephesians 6. Now, this is where it gets interesting, because the Bible really does say children should obey their parents, and slaves (or “servants” or “employees” in modern terminology) their masters. But it /also/, in the same passage, says that parents / masters should respect children / servants, as equals. It’s fairly clear that it’s not saying to /introduce/ any authority-obedience relationships, but is talking about how each side should act in the presence of such relationships that already exist in the existing culture. Viewed that way, it’s saying to children, for example, that in general, your parents are probably trying to tell you things that are best for you and they go through a lot, so don’t just ignore them for the sake of your own selfishness. Or to employees, for example, don’t produce a bad product and screw over your company’s customers just because you’re lazy, but instead do a good job like your boss would normally ask of you. Those ideas do seem like good ideas that, in my experience, people in western society need to follow a lot more often.

The heresy is taking it too far, and taking it as an absolute: “always do what you’re told”. It should be obvious that it’s morally wrong to always do what you’re told, because if you assume it’s right, there will be moral contradictions when you’re asked to do something immoral. If your parent hits you and demands that you stop associating with your friends that they disapprove of, it’s not time to obey them, it’s time to call child protection services. If your employer asks you to build weapons that, for all you know, could be used to cause a genocide in Yemen, it’s not time to obey them, it’s time to get a new employer and publicly condemn the old one. One reason I think these kinds of horrible situations exist is that the victims or the people involved still have this mindset of doing what they’re told and not asking questions or not “making it into a big deal”. They still think of obedience as good, or at least not bad. But in these and in many other situations, /obedience is morally wrong/, or against God’s will, or whatever wording you like to use.

Unfortunately, the idea of authoritative control, though it may have originated as a religious heresy, pervades many areas of our life. With children especially, it’s common for parents to have a model of: “it’s an adult’s job to tell children what to do, and a child’s job to do it”. Children pick up this mindset (I know, because it’s often them telling me what they’re “supposed to” or “allowed to” do), and in turn develop the model of: “it’s a child’s job to get away with as much as they can”. This is the model many people have when it comes to parenting and children, and they can’t imagine any other without assuming their children will be going crazy. It’s so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to teach in the school system (both the system having an authoritative model over teachers, and teachers expected to exert authority over students). This model undermines moral development and ethical reasoning, by short-circuiting the child’s thought processes of “is this the right thing to do?” that they would normally undergo. The way I read the Ephesians 6 passage, it’s trying to end this model: as both sides do their part (parents reducing their authoritative rules and children obeying the fewer and more reasonable rules), the authority-obedience relationship will eventually dissolve and give way to a normal relationship. Then comes the difficult job of actually /teaching/ your child what’s right and wrong, rather than merely telling them and expecting them to just listen.

Someone may be wondering about all the parts of the Bible that proclaim God as an authority to obey, which is fair. To that, there are a few things to say: first, I don’t have a problem with treating God as an authority, the heresy is extending that to the idea that humans should exert authority over each other. Second, Christianity makes it pretty clear that we don’t have a master-slave type relationship with God, but more of a if-you-put-your-hand-in-the-fire-you’ll-get-burned type relationship. (After all, if God wanted us to always obey, he could have created robots – instead, it’s humans who created robots.) Finally, we still need to beware that we don’t listen to people who say they know what God wants them to do – just because God is an authority doesn’t mean anybody knows what he wants. It’s still up to the individual to determine what God wants of them.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m constantly bombarded with people trying to tell me what to do. Whether it’s the government, the military, a corporation, a boss, a teacher, or a parent, we need to pause before we obey them, and think for ourselves about what they’re asking of us. We may need to investigate why they’re asking of us what they are, deduce what their motivation might be, and think about the impact on the world around us if we obey. In some cases, we need to say no. And if religion gives us an aversion to going through this process, we need to recognize that we’ve been indoctrinated by heretics.

And of course, we need to quit telling other people what to do all the time.

A Series of Heresies #3: Human Superiority

December 18, 2018

If I had to choose the worst heresy that humans have ever deluded themselves into believing, I think it would have to be human superiority. Christianity clearly teaches that God created the earth and gave humans the task of ruling it, and ruling it clearly means taking care of it benevolently. The reason that’s clear is that any good ruler clearly has the job of being benevolent toward their subjects, and God clearly would require us to be good rulers. Some people have twisted this teaching to mean we can use the earth any way we want, or use animals any way we want, or that the purpose of reality centers on human interests, or that human interests trump other interests. None of that is found anywhere in the Bible. Not that it should even matter whether they’re found there or not – those beliefs are clearly heinous, clearly the musings of a dictator with an inflated sense of entitlement rather than a benevolent ruler. This attitude of human superiority is so depraved that I suspect we’d be better of without religion at all if abandoning religion could cure us of it.

It was in fact not the Bible that introduced the notion of a hierarchy among living things, but Aristotle (the jerk). From him our western tradition derived such non-sequiturs as the idea that animals can’t reason, or that animals don’t have inner experiences, or that animals have no concept of morality, or that human developed land (i.e. land developed for human interest) has more value than natural land. All complete nonsense that serves only to rationalize humans acting as greedy rulers – and a greedy ruler is itself a purely human invention. I mean, I get that you guys insist on human life having greater value than other life, since you’re human. But how does any of the rest of your superiority complex follow?

And then there are the people who believe God commanded them to have children, even in an overpopulated world, as if the whole point of existence is to turn the earth into a rock with the highest percentage concentration of human flesh possible. I shouldn’t even need to refute this – math shows that continued exponential growth in a finite space is literally logically impossible – so instead I’ll simply quote Tom Robbins:

“‘After all, they were divinely commanded to “go forth, be fruitful, and multiply.”‘”

“‘You mean their tribal antecedents were so commanded. Four thousand years ago. Before a person had to stand in line for an hour and a half just to get a whiff of fresh air. It’s tough to say who’s a greater threat to the world, an ambitious CEO with a big ad budget or a crafty cleric with an obsolete Bible verse.'” – Tom Robbins (Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates)

“Obsolete” is the key word here. God gave that command to people /at the beginning of the species/, when (in the mythology) there were only approximately 2 human beings. And even then, why would you even interpret it as a command? It could just as easily have been a formal goodbye, as in “OK humans, I’m done talking to you for now, so why don’t you go off and do your thing and be fruitful and multiply”. Indeed, the whole idea of humans as rulers could also be interpreted as descriptive instead of prescriptive, and if that interpretation is correct, there are some people who I suspect will be pretty screwed on judgment day.

As shown in the “Ishmael” series of books, there are other ways to interpret the mythology in Genesis, if you interpret it as mythology (and I don’t see why you wouldn’t interpret it as mythology, now that we’ve discovered the universe is billions of years old!). Their illustration is way saner than this classical interpretation, and it goes something like this:

In pre-civilization, humans (hunter-gatherers, or maybe just gatherers) lived in harmony with nature (the “Garden of Eden”). God gave them everything they needed. But they desired to control their environment (“be like God”) to be able to have greater assurance of being able to eat the food they enjoyed, so they built civilization through agriculture and procuring land (Cain and Abel). They “knew they were naked” and started wearing clothes (i.e. made up rules for civilized society). The start of civilization was the beginning of evil and the fall of humankind and cast them out of the Garden of Eden (alienated them from nature). This was the point at which everything started going wrong.

That’s not such a human-centric interpretation, eh? As history has taught us time and again, the truth never is.

A Series of Heresies #2: Soul Mates

December 16, 2018

There are a huge number of heresies (beliefs that are commonly held by Christians but aren’t actually Christian beliefs) I could discuss. But, as with my Series of Fallacies, I’m trying to focus on significant beliefs that have had a big impact on people’s lives. And for many people, this is one of the biggest.

For many Christians, there’s a standard assumption of “one man and one woman united by God in marriage for all eternity” who have “saved themselves” until they’ve finally met “the one”, etc. etc., blah blah blah. But /none/ of that follows from the Bible or first principles or ethics or anything else. It’s 100% a cultural construct.

For starters, there are several prominent Biblical characters who had multiple wives, and God never criticizes this situation. Why not? That alone should be sufficient to shatter a Biblical certainty of this very specific, monogomy-centric view, and make us realize that things are complicated. If we’re considering overall Biblical themes, my impression is that marriage and sex in the Bible is treated as a relatively everyday event, no more or less important than other regular life events and human interactions, and certainly less important than the important spiritual things it talks more about. There is certainly a concept of sexual immorality, but the only things this clearly includes is rape and adultery. For example, premarital sex isn’t discussed, and the idea of God finding someone to complete each person who will be with them forever is totally absent.

Dating is very new, having existed for only a few centuries so far, and for most of history, the idea of someone with whom you share every aspect of your life has also been absent. Marriage seems to have been more of a structured or financial arrangement or one that helped the family or communities to survive / function. Sure, that mindset may have been even more screwed up than the magical fairy tale soul mate mindset, but it doesn’t follow that the magical fairy tale soul mate mindset is true.

But what’s that, you say? You’ve already found your soul mate and the two of you are happy together? Great! That’s awesome. That model has clearly worked out well /for you/. As long as you don’t say things like “I’m sure there’s someone out there for you also” to single people, or assume that your choice is holier than the choices other people have made, there’s no problem. Indeed, mating with only one person for life is a personal choice that makes many people happy. And I don’t blame them – dating sucks, and once you’ve found someone to stick with, it would be great to never have to date again. There are different preferences for different people, and they’re just that – preferences.

The realization that the idea of soul mates is made up can be a difficult truth to accept, especially for people who feel like they’re missing something in their life and are holding out hope that one day God will provide them with another person who will fix everything that’s missing from their life and give it meaning. Realizing that this isn’t the case means taking ownership of your own life and finding meaning despite the non-existence of magic. For people who already have a significant other, it /also/ means taking ownership of your own life and finding meaning despite the non-existence of magic, and it could mean learning to love your significant other for the normal person they are instead of the magical person you always dreamed they were.

And it’s important to realize that soul mates are a heresy. Otherwise, two problems can result: (1) Astronomically high expectations, leading to never finding a significant other, or (2) Christians can think they love each other because they’ve found that they both love God and have similar beliefs. It’s their principles that get married, rather than anything to do with each other’s personalities.

A Series of Heresies #1: Biblical Infallibility

December 11, 2018

In the spirit of my “Series of Fallacies” collection of posts from years ago (https://humansarentrational.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/a-series-of-fallacies-1-resistance-to-turning-back/), I’ve decided to start a new Series of Heresies: beliefs that Christians commonly have that don’t actually follow from the Christian worldview. I hope this series will be interesting not only to Christians who are trying to figure out what’s true, but also to others who may have made assumptions about Christian beliefs based on some Christians they’ve met (or even just read about in the news) and who would like to be made aware of the wider diversity of beliefs that exists. (And if I’m not branded as a heretic by the end of this, I’ll just have to assume nobody’s paying attention to me.)

OK, here we go:

A Series of Heresies #1: Biblical Infallibility

I chose to start with this heresy because to determine whether something is a heresy we have to first get straight how to tell whether something follows from a Christian worldview. It is often assumed that Christians believe that the Bible is never wrong and therefore it’s the source. But there’s actually no basis for the belief that the Bible is infallible. Not even from the Bible itself. Not even from a /literal/ interpretation of the Bible itself.

In Islam, there is the concept of the Quran being transcribed as God dictated it, which is why there is often importance placed on learning and preserving it in the original Arabic. But the Bible isn’t like that – it’s a bunch of books written by a bunch of people over a long period of time, and we don’t have all the original manuscripts, and even many of those are based on handed-down oral tradition, and humans have made decisions about which books are considered “The Bible”, and even on that point Catholics and Protestants disagree and have different lists. So how can someone honestly maintain that the Bible is infallible? If God really cared about us treating the Bible as an infallible source of his will written down, then why all this ambiguity?

I don’t think he does care about that because I think instead he wants us to use our minds. This doesn’t mean the Bible is useless or inapplicable. You can still learn from the Bible. You can still derive overall principles from it such as “be nice to people” or “don’t be greedy for money”, when the principles are widely supported throughout. It just means you can’t pick an obscure passage to support your preconceptions or the actions you want to take. (But even if you insist on doing that, stay tuned, because some of my future heresies will have no Biblical support whatsoever. Pun intended.)

The passage that people usually quote to support the doctrine of Biblical Infallibility (and you should already be pausing at this point), 2 Timothy 3:16, is consistent with this saner method: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. Inspiration doesn’t imply word-for-word, and indeed the language used seems more consistent with a method of searching for God’s voice /within/ the Bible, self-questioning, seeking, and applying ethical reasoning as well as regular reasoning.

I suspect that the idea of Biblical Infallibility, at least among Protestants, arose as opposition to the church being considered infallible. People probably had some need to have an authoritative source of what to believe, and using the church as that authoritative source was considered worse than using the Bible, which I agree with. But why do you need /any/ authoritative source for what to believe? I consider truth to be far too important to entrust to an authority.

Note that I haven’t disproved the idea of Biblical Infallibility nor have I proved my method of considering overall Biblical themes and learning from them. I’ve just said that there’s no evidence for or reason to believe in Biblical Infallibility even if Christianity is true, i.e. it’s a heresy. So rather than giving a single argument for some writings being God’s will and then basing a lifestyle around them, we’re forced to fall back on giving individual arguments for each aspect of our lifestyle. I think that’s what God intended.

Early Retirement Extreme

November 10, 2018

I don’t expect my ability to breathe is enough of a motivator for most people to live a low-impact lifestyle. But maybe money and / or freedom would be. The author of this book / website shows how he did a PhD in physics, then worked for 5 years as a research assistant, then retired:


Even if you don’t want to retire, perhaps because, like me, you find some kinds of work enjoyable or meaningful, becoming “financially independent” – a more appropriate term than “retirement” – might still motivate you. I think many people who are stuck in a consumerist / wage earning model may not realize the possibilities. Of course not everybody has the option of working at a normal job, and many people worldwide live this lifestyle out of necessity rather than choice. It’s more geared toward people who already work at a normal job but who feel overworked and don’t realize that there are alternatives or don’t know just how much money you can get if you don’t spend all your money. It’s so easy to underestimate compound interest / debt! The math is all there – go check it for yourself.

If you want to read about the philosophy in detail, the book is also at the library.


November 2, 2018

It used to be that Googling something was the way to find out about it. These days, I find that for many topics, Google (and also better search engines, such as DuckDuckGo) often return results that send me to blogs / news sites that are covered in ads, often with video ads, and which pop something up in my face asking me to register after a few seconds of trying to read the content. This has caused me to resort to finding specific sites to search for specific types of information. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find useful sites for all the types of content I frequently look up. Here’s the ones I have so far:

Definition of a word, store hours, conversion between units => Google still works fine because the info appears in the search results Geography => Google Earth or Maps
How to DIY something => Youtube (although I’d still like a way to find written instructions without having to watch a video) Movie / TV show synopsis or ratings => IMDB
Computer errors / problems => Stack Exchange
Math => Wolfram Alpha
History / person / place / technology => Wikipedia
Board game rules or ratings => BoardGameGeek

I’m still missing a place to search for:
(1) News
(2) Ideas for kids activities
(3) Food-related info (recipes, how to make something from scratch, substitutions, etc.)

Does anybody have any suggestions as to how to find info on any of those 3 without running into the “clickbait” problem that occurs when you use Google? Or anything else to add? (Obviously I could fall back on things like books, but that defeats the purpose of having access to the whole body of human knowledge from my home.)

Hidden Life of Trees

November 1, 2018

I highly recommend learning about the info in the book “The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate” by Peter Wohlleben. It describes so much new and significant research on forests that everybody should be aware of – this stuff really needs to be taught in high school. Some highlights:

-Trees have a network of roots underground and they send electrical signals (“messages”) to each other through this network, and fungi underground carry the messages between the roots of different trees. But this only works properly in old-growth forests – human-planted forests don’t have these fungal connections, meaning we’re growing trees in isolation from each other.
-Trees share resources (water, nutrients) among their connected group, giving extra water to those that need it more, like communism.
-Trees produce chemicals that have certain smells as reactions to being attacked, which can call predators of the things that are attacking them, or signal to neighboring tree communities that an assault is going on, prompting those trees to send substances into their leaves that are toxic to the things eating the leaves.
-The human-planted trees that are cut down within 100 years are all babies or adolescents. Normally trees live to be hundreds of years old, but depending on how you look at it, may live to be much longer. That is, when the trunk dies, a “new” tree often grows out of the stump, but in many cases it’s still connected to the roots of the same old tree. Carbon dating on the roots shows the age of the “real” tree, which in one case was found to be 9500 years old!
-Parent trees look after their children, teaching them to not grow super quickly but to limit their growth to be stronger and live longer, and giving them resources – but not in human-planted forests, where there are only children and no parents.
-When a thin branch breaks off a tree, it can heal itself, similarly to when we get a scrape. But a wide branch breaking off leaves a wide gap which will probably kill the tree “soon” (within a few decades, which is soon for a tree), because it allows things to get inside it and attack it which the tough bark would normally protect it from.
-Trees hibernate in the winter, shedding their leaves (which are essentially their lungs) to protect them from strong winds (by reducing air resistance). So if you try to grow a tree that loses its leaves inside, with lights always turning on and off and a constant temperature, it will always feel like summer to that tree, and it will never be able to sleep. This will eventually cause it to die of sleep deprivation.
-Trees play an important role in pumping water to various places. If there were no trees all the water on the planet would run down into the oceans and all the land would be desert, with rain only occurring near the coasts, and only evaporating and forming clouds in those areas near the ocean. That means if you were to cut down all the trees around the coasts of a large body of land (e.g. a continent), all the trees in the middle of the land would also die, because water wouldn’t get to them.

And there’s so much more we don’t know about trees that could impact how we should relate to them. We’ve been doing it completely wrong!



October 15, 2018

When I was in the cities in Guatemala I had breathing difficulties. I went to a doctor who thought I probably have asthma, which was triggered by the poor air quality due to air pollution, volcano activity, and/or altitude. This seems feasible since I’ve occasionally have these difficulties for an hour or two at a time in Canada, except in Guatemala they were fairly constant all week, and went away once I got out of the city and into nature. And a puffer did indeed seem to help.

This made me worried about the future. I suspect the forest fires in B.C. have been causing other people similar breathing problems. Maybe it hasn’t been too bad for me up until now because I’ve had the luxury of Fredericton’s better air quality, but will there come a time where some of us will have nowhere to go to be able to breathe? Air pollution already kills many, many people per year. Since I seem more vulnerable than most, maybe I won’t be able to live to old age because of it. Or if I’m one of the lucky ones who do, maybe my children won’t, or their children. If the trend isn’t reversed, then it will definitely happen to somebody’s children, and reversing the trend would at the very least require the majority to not drive cars regularly, among other things. Maybe I deserve to get breathing difficulties (the flight causes a lot of pollution, and I don’t plan on doing it again), but surely some people who have them don’t deserve them.

To those of you who live a minimal lifestyle, thank you for caring about my ability to breathe and to live a long life.

Strategic Voting

September 5, 2018

Remember: “Strategic Voting” is a logical fallacy. Someone who votes strategically has the idea that voting for their true preference won’t make a difference because there probably won’t be enough people voting for their true preference. But by the same reasoning, voting at all probably won’t make a difference because elections probably won’t be decided by a single vote. Also, voting for your true preference makes a tiny difference towards that party /eventually/ having power, even if they don’t gain power immediately, and that’s just as much of a difference as the equally tiny difference you would make voting for the second worst option. Face it: your whole existence has a pretty insignificant impact on the world.

So while a pragmatist might not even bother to vote, there’s still a good reason to vote: idealism. You should act in such a way that you would be happy with everybody acting that way (as Kant said). Which means voting for your true preference. Whether or not you make an outward difference, you avoid being responsible for the worse actions of the worse parties / politicians. If you vote for the second-worst option, then you’re responsible for any bad actions they do that the least bad option wouldn’t have done, but if you vote for the least bad option, then you’re not responsible for anything the government does.

I described the more general form of this fallacy in more detail here: