Sunday, November 6, 2016

How are you voting?

This week we asked Philosophy faculty members how they are voting in the election on November 8th. Here's how they responded.

(Editor's note: These responses are limited to 250 words. They were published in the order received. Read through to the end if you are interested in how orthodox or heterodox we are for an academic philosophy department.)

Kyle Swan

I am purely a one-issue voter this election cycle. I will vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 64, which proposes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 years or older.

The passage of Prop 64 would mean that people will no longer have their lives ruined by the state because the state is worried that using marijuana ruins people’s lives. Because of the way our criminal justice system functions, a disproportionate number of these people are minorities. Passage would mean that people will no longer be subject to stops and searches because a police officer smells (or pretends to smell) marijuana. They will no longer be subject to potentially crippling fines, or losing their jobs, because of a marijuana conviction.

Also, the proposed changes include provisions for people with convictions to be released from state and county prisons and clear their records of felony convictions. So the California provisions are more sane and humane than the four states (plus D.C.) that have already legalized recreational marijuana use.

Were it not for this issue, I would not have bothered to register and vote (it's my first time). I’m glad that Trump will not win the presidency and that Clinton will have no perceived mandate. Perhaps this fact will temper her troubling hawkishness. I will vote for Gary Johnson hoping that he will achieve the 5% threshold necessary for his party to receive presidential election campaign funding next time around.

Randy Mayes

I would vote to abolish the initiative process. It exists so that citizens can bypass a gridlocked legislature to bring about needed social change. It has done that on occasion, but it also promotes rent-seeking behavior on the part of special interests and contributes to gridlock by relieving our legislators of their responsibility to work together.

So I typically vote No on ballot initiatives whether I agree with their aims or not. This year I surprised myself by voting Yes on two of them: Proposition 62 to repeal the death penalty and Proposition 64 to legalize marijuana. My objections to the process are just not strong enough to pass on either of these opportunities to right grievous wrongs.

The Trump candidacy is the most nauseating political spectacle I have ever witnessed. I am not a party member and want to see conservative, progressive and libertarian views represented by able candidates. Clinton is a flawed candidate, but she is a sensible and experienced politician who can be trusted with our nuclear arsenal. Trump appears to be mentally unstable and has neither an intelligible set of views nor any relevant experience or interest in democratic processes. More importantly, he embodies the rejection of everything philosophers value. He is an instinctive liar who is utterly unaccountable for his actions and views. If Trump wins it will not only be a national disgrace but a national emergency, and he does have a real chance of doing so. I voted for Clinton.

Mathias Warnes

I was a supporter of Bernie Sander’s campaign, and so was disappointed at his loss, but I was impressed by the graciousness of his endorsement of Clinton, and proud of his campaign’s achievements in helping to create a more progressive DNC platform.

While supporting Sanders, my car was vandalized due to a bumper sticker, and my mailbox was damaged. On another occasion I was trailed menacingly. The driver slowed then sped up, honking and shouting, as if threatening to drive me off the road, before dangerously overtaking. His vehicle had Trump and NRA bumper stickers. So, in this election cycle, I experienced scare tactics designed to suppress my political self-expression no less than 3 times. While, I have little to add to the sea of reasoned and appalled voices as to why a Trump presidency would be catastrophic, these experiences speak volumes on the direction that Trump’s America is heading.

I will be voting for Clinton, and she has grown on me a lot. Our first woman president would be an incredible accomplishment, on any analysis, and her legacy may be worth admiring if she follows her DNC approved platform, and democrats retake the house.

Regarding Prop 64, I will be voting No. There are compelling social justice reasons to vote in support of legalization, but Prop. 64 will create an exponentially more precarious economic reality for small growers. It is a highly contentious bill in Placer and Nevada County, where I live.

Saray Ayala-López

If legally you were an alien, living in this country for years, working and paying taxes, but couldn’t vote because well, you are an alien, how would you not-vote?
This is how I’m not voting: with concerns both about Donald Trump’s winning and not winning.

I’m observing with horror how the public discourse in this country has been swelling with awfulness. Conversations, like sports games, have scoreboards that track what is said, presupposed, and implicated. But unlike sports games, conversations accommodate almost anything (so David Lewis argued). Whatever you say, presuppose or implicate, becomes part of the conversational score - unless someone blocks it. Importantly, the score sets the norms of what is acceptable, in words and in behavior: in a conversation that has accommodated racist, xenophobic and sexist content, racism, sexism, and xenophobia are permissible (so Mary Kate McGowan argued). When someone introduces bigoted speech in a conversation, the conversation is corrupted in a way difficult to restore. As McGowan puts it, restoring a conversational score thus corrupted is as difficult as unringing a bell.

The things Trump has introduced in the public discourse are setting norms of what is acceptable in this country, and it’s going to be hard to unring this bell.

Just today Jennifer Saul warns that the scary things happening in the UK since Brexit could follow in the US (e.g. academics asked to present passports to give a talk). She urges US voters to act and repudiate racism and xenophobia.

I’m more pessimistic: the harm has already been done

Phillip Baron

In this election, I am most excited about the opportunity to vote for Proposition 62 to abolish the death penalty in California. Capital punishment is cruel in its conception, cruel in its application, and relies for support on a barbaric and unreasonable idea of governmental authority.

Like every other aspect of our deeply flawed criminal justice system, the death penalty has been marred by significant racial bias throughout its history. The US death penalty is also rife with gender discrimination.

It is not effective as a deterrent. Homicide rates in California have been on a steady decline since their peak in 1993. Similarly, while California has the largest death row in the nation (currently more than 740 people), it has one of the lowest rates of execution. Since 1993, California has executed only 12 people.

Finally, the logic of retaliation appeals to our baser instincts and not to what is best in us. While any friend or family member of a victim of murder may be emotionally driven to want retribution for the loss of their loved one, for a government to carry out that retribution is to participate in its own premeditated murder.

For these reasons, I am hopeful that the electorate of the state of California will take this opportunity to abolish the death penalty. To paraphrase Albert Camus, in a better world we would be neither victims nor executioners. 

Patrick Smith

Measure Q in San Francisco would make tent encampments on sidewalks illegal. The primary supporters of Measure Q are members of the thriving tech community. The measure has been cast in a benevolent light (“we’re doing this for the safety of the tent dwellers”), but this looks like a red herring. The real motivation seems to be the unsightliness of tent encampments in neighborhoods quickly being transformed by gentrification . This represents, I think, a combination of privilege and entitlement, NIMBYism, and a myopic knee-jerk reaction.

Homelessness is a complex issue, and my own reaction to homelessness varies. Most days I react with a sense of empathy: “here are human beings living in tents on the street, struggling hourly to have their basic needs met. They deserve better.” On other days, the internal dialogue is a bit more harsh: “why don't these people have the motivation to get themselves out of this plight? I would.” After I think this, though, I realize that my reasoning is mistaken: I am imagining what it would be like for me to be homeless. I am a person in a fairly privileged socioeconomic demographic, with a multitude of financial, psychological, and familial resources that, for the most part, rule out the
possibility of my ending up on the street. So, it is literally unimaginable for me to know what it's like to be homeless. Here's where the empathy kicks in, and why I will be voting against Measure Q.

David Corner

I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, though Bernie is a Social Democrat and not, as he says, a Democratic Socialist. When Bernie lost, and Hillary did not take a progressive running mate, I considered voting for a third-party candidate. But I cast my vote for Hillary.

Hillary negatives: Her hawkishness, which has caused me to vote against her in the past. On the other hand, her so-called “scandals” are mostly smoke and little fire.

Hillary positives: A wealth of experience as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. She’s very smart. And it’s time for a woman president. I just wish it could be Elizabeth Warren.

My opposition to Trump is almost post-partisan. My worries about him are too numerous to mention, but foremost is his disregard for the truth. He makes up his own facts and sticks with them even when proven wrong. He knows little about how our government works, and little about foreign affairs. This would be OK if he were prepared to educate himself, but he isn't. And even *this* might be OK if he listened to his advisors, but he doesn’t; he prefers to ‘listen to his own brain.’ But he overestimates his own genius. He runs on his record as a businessman, but his business record is not good. He’s openly vindictive. He disrespects women. These are catastrophic flaws in a president.

Propositions: Legalize marijuana, abolish the death penalty, but reject a well-intentioned yet flawed gun control initiative.

Tim Houk

I’m voting YES on Prop 62, which will repeal the death penalty in California. I agree with the Phillip Barron’s excellent points above. Retribution does not represent the best in us. And although I would not go as far as to say the government commits murder when carrying out the death penalty, execution is too great a power for the government to possess. 

If you are even uncertain about whether the death penalty is justifiable, then I suggest you err on the side of caution and vote to abolish it. Better to have some who deserve death end up spending life in prison than to have some who do not deserve death end up being executed.

Furthermore, even if one thinks that the death penalty is justifiable in principle, there are numerous problems with the way it is currently implemented (e.g. disproportionately applied to minorities, extremely costly, etc.). And although another proposition (Prop 66) claims it will “speed up the death penalty appeals system while ensuring that no innocent person is ever executed” (CA Voter Info Guide), I cannot see how it could ever make good on that promise. Speeding up the process might make it cheaper, but it will only exacerbate the other problems.

Finally, I’m voting Yes on Prop 64, which will legalize recreational marijuana. As Kyle Swan outlined above, the current system ruins lives and wastes resources that the criminal justice system could put to better use.

Tom Pyne

Mancur Olson described the process by which a stable democracy is over time captured by organized interest groups which extract great benefits for themselves by raising the costs of ordinary transactions (including government!) in a way not immediately noticeable by the unorganized citizenry. The cumulative effects of this over time produce economic decline and a decrease in the power of ordinary citizens to pursue their legitimate interests. The only cure Olson could see was the destruction of those stable coalitions of interest groups by defeat and occupation in war – glum thought. Any travel abroad will reveal that predatory government and rent-seeking officials are the norm in most of the world.

I didn’t think that was true of the United States until recently, but I have come to the realization that we are in a middle stage of what Jonathan Rauch calls ‘demosclerosis’. I am, however, still hopeful: We’re not Nigeria quite yet.

But Clinton and Trump see a dirigiste state as an achievement, not a problem.

I’m a lifelong Democrat. But a party that threatens to put nuns in jail is Jacobin. And the moral collapse of the Republican Party despite some admirable individuals in office leaves me with no home. I don’t know who will win next Tuesday. My goal in voting is to do my part to see that neither Clinton nor Trump can claim a mandate for anything they may wish to do.

Russell DiSilvestro

"I'll believe in anyone or anything," said Nikabrik, "that'll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces or drive them out of Narnia. Anyone or anything, Aslan or the White Witch, do you understand?" (Prince Caspian, chapter 6)

Nikabrik was mistaken. The other dwarf, named “Trumpkin” (!), knew that bringing back the Witch would be even worse than the foul Miraz the Usurper they were fighting against.

Readers of this blog know I have written publicly against Trump not once but twice.

Indeed, I wrote against him to every paper on this list just before the Wisconsin primaries (and likely violated both the etiquette and ethics of letters to the editor).

But I plan to vote for him November 8.

This may make me one of the “naïve suckers” who Brian Leiter says think “supporting Trump is instrumentally rational given what they want.”

While many conservatives I regularly follow won’t vote Trump—French, Goldberg, Krauthammer, Will, Medved—the ones who will are just more persuasive to me—e.g. Hanson, Hewitt, Prager.

Prager (for example, here) often makes a point like one I made to Randy Mayes in comments of this blog in May: if helping bad A may defeat worse B, then help bad A.

I sense some of Clinton’s vote uses this point, too. We disagree on who is A and B.

I know my vote in California is mere spittle in the wind.

But I will really kick myself if she becomes president by a narrow win in Wisconsin…

Chong Choe-Smith

In a typical election, I vote according to my conservative leanings (minimal state interference with people as they live out their different conceptions of the good life, minimal state control over the economy and private affairs, and primarily local control over public affairs).

But this is not a typical election. What is most troublesome about Trump is that his words and actions tend to objectify women, people of color, and others who are the most vulnerable among us. Kant usefully distinguished between things (objects) that have a price and can be used and replaced and persons (subjects) who are above all price and have an inner worth. Trump makes a kind of category mistake when he places women and minorities into the category of things. He does this when he speaks of Mexicans or the Chinese as obstacles that stand in his way, rather than as people who have their own interests and concerns. He does this when he generalizes about immigrants calling them “rapists and murderers,” mocks a reporter with a physical disability, ignores the legitimate complaint of Blacks about racial bias in law enforcement, threatens to exclude an entire people group based on their religion, and describes women as fat, ugly, or beautiful pieces of ass.

A person might say Trump objectifies and thereby dehumanizes everyone for his own advantage, not just women and minorities, but this would not undermine my point; it only requires broadening its scope.

And I’d that person may be on to something.



  1. Wow.
    I had no idea the span of opinion about politics and society was this wide.
    This department is so cool we should bottle it

  2. I'd like to add something. (Is this violating the spirit of the 250 word limit?) I often get students in my classes who will hear about some strange philosophical view and ask, "How in the world could anyone believe such ridiculous things?" I usually reply something like this: "If you cannot understand why anyone could reasonably hold a particular view, then you probably do not fully understand the issue. That is not to say that every view is reasonable. But it's important to understand and appreciate why reasonable people would hold views that you think are unreasonable."

    I think something similar applies to political views. I am not voting for Donald Trump, but I've been troubled by the conversations that I've had where disparaging remarks are made about people who are voting for him. In an election like this, we should remember the importance of civility with, and empathy for, those we disagree with. Try to fully understand where they are coming from. It might even help you better persuade them to change their mind.

    (Note: this comment is not directed towards any participants in this blog post. It is a response to many sentiments I have heard expressed in private and in public by others.)

  3. No it is not violating the limit in spirit or otherwise.

    I agree with you Tim. Moreover, that's just what philosophers are supposed to be good at. To me the fundamental philosophical skill is cognitive empathy.

    When I assign articles for critical analysis the most common student complaint after "I don't understand this," is "I can't formulate a critique because I totally agree with this." Which of course is just another way of saying I can't develop a critical perspective on my own views.

  4. I write this as the results are still coming in and the race is still undecided. Thinking about Prof. Pyne's response:

    I do not think it is possible for Hillary Clinton to claim a mandate, no matter how wide her margin of victory may turn out to be. Donald Trump, on the other hand, will be able to claim a mandate if he wins by the slimmest of margins.

    1. With the Senate and House seemingly in Republican hands, it appears that my one-person project to deny Trump a mandate is failing miserably.