Friday, September 7, 2012

The Evil of Two Lessers

You're the Diet Coke of evil.
Just one calorie, not evil enough.
Some speak of voting for “the lesser of two evils” in the upcoming presidential election and that voting this way only brings more evil.  A more accurate phrase may be “the evil of two lessers” IF we understand the reality of evil.

Thomas Aquinas tells us that good signifies “perfect being” and evil signifies “the privation of perfect being”, so when a thing lacks a perfection it ought to have, we perceive the deficiency as evil (see his Compendium of Theology). 

Another important point is that evil has no substance, nature or being. We may say for example, Satan is evil, but the word "evil" is an adjective. Satan is not evil itself in the way that God is Goodness itself. Think of darkness; it is merely the absence of light. Darkness doesn’t come from anywhere or find its source in anything; it is merely the lack of something. No one can bring more darkness or take away darkness; one can only take away light, bring light or stop light from dimming. Once we understand all this, we can see that any candidate is a “lesser” in the sense that everyone is imperfect and the imperfection can be called evil. So we are really talking about the imperfection of two candidates or “the evil of two lessers”.
Think of monetary debt as an election issue. Candidate “A” has a plan that will grow the debt by 20% per year. Candidate “B” has a plan that will grow the debt by 10% per year. Let’s say debt or negative dollars = evil and positive dollars = good. No one really brings negative dollars. I can’t hand you a negative dollar bill. Both plans result in more debt, but "B" is better. Going back to our light metaphor, Candidate “B” will slow the dimming of light better, or bring more light to help compensate or some combination of both. The result is more light (more dollars) than "A".

We can easily relate this to the topic of abortion or the killing of human beings. Suppose Adolf Hitler died before the fall of Nazi Germany and there was an election for a successor. Candidate “A” wants to keep the killing of all Jews legal. Candidate “B” wants only the killing of Jews who are a product of rape/incest or any Jew unintentionally threatening the life of a German. Both are imperfect because both will allow killing, but Candidate “B” brings more good , moving closer to perfection like lighting one candle brings more light in the darkness.  Is choosing NOT to vote at all in this scenario a sin of omission, because “B” could possibly save many lives? Just a question.

Of course, there is always a third party or a write-in candidate. This option reminds me of the contemplative side of Catholicism. A big part of contemplation is to be in the present moment because that is where we find God. The past is gone and the future does not exist; there is ONLY now. In the present moment there is no time to build-up a more perfect (or less evil) third candidate that can win. In our moment in the voting booth, we can only try to bring more good (more light) based on the candidates we have.
It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.


  1. I have always believed that we have been given a great gift in this country. Our Constitution was a unique concept that was the first of its kind. It clearly marked certain freedoms that were not given by government but by our Creator. Voting in elections, in other words, trying to direct our future for the common good, is another gift that should not be trampled on or ignored. We may not always have the best candidates for whom to vote, but we have a responsibility in this country to vote despite what we have before us. We work with what with what we have. As you said, not voting I believe is truly a sin of omission and we will be called on it.

  2. One problem: As Evangelium Vitae puts it (my emphasis):

    "A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.”

    Romney's absolute opposition to abortion is not well known. He is, in fact, a classic Three Exceptions Republican. In other words, abortion is just fine and dandy in certain circumstances, and a vote for him is at best a vote for the status quo.

  3. Who knows? Maybe a majority would vote for a third party candidate if they weren't repeatedly told that it is better to vote for the lesser evil. My conscience tells me to vote for the best candidate, no matter what the odds are of winning. If I wait for a majority to vote their conscience before I am willing to, I will wait forever.

  4. I agree with what Anonymous (8:37) said -- "My conscience tells me to vote for the best candidate, no matter what the odds are of winning" -- at least if the lesser evils are sufficiently bad, or if I can see that voting for a "lesser evil" will not actually lessen the evil. In this case, as has been the case for the past two dozen years (at least), what we have is candidate A, who promises that, if re-elected, he will fight the nasty party of candidate B so that he can absorb 20% of the light, and candidate B, who promises that, if elected, he will fight the vile party of candidate A to absorb 10% of the light. If actually elected, though, they will both actually absorb 15% of the light and move on to what they consider "more important issues". The "lesser evil" is lesser in word only, not in deed. Hey, if he actually solved the problem, how could his party tell us in 4 years that "this is the most important election in American history!"?

  5. Or, to repeat a comment I made on the Disputations Blog several weeks ago, "People who think the way to bring about positive political change is to vote for the lesser evil must think the way to house-train two dogs is to give the treat to the one that pees closest to the door."

    1. Hi Howard,
      If I was FORCED to live with one of the two dogs, I’ll take the one that goes closest to the door and do what I can from there to get it out the door. BTW, your profile says you are a physics teacher; you may like the post “Professor Ratzinger on Modern Physics” on the left under popular posts.