Sunday, October 16, 2016

Clay Shirky opposes acts of political principle and conscience - except when they support Trump

A while back, Clay Shirky wrote a piece arguing that There's No Such Thing As A Protest Vote, where he rehearsed the familiar liberal argument that we should judge protest voting based on its practical outcomes - not on abstract principles or appeals to conscience:
People who believe in protest votes do so because they confuse sending a message with receiving one...But it doesn’t matter what message you think you are sending...People who plan to throw away their vote on Option C usually argue that their imagined protest won’t be futile...[but] none of the proposed theories of change change anything...
Throwing away your vote on a message no one will hear, and which will change no outcome, is sometimes presented as ‘voting your conscience’, but that’s got it exactly backwards; your conscience is what keeps you from doing things that feel good to you but hurt other people.
I've already taken on this odd theory that protest votes are inconsequential, but here I'd like to make a different point: Shirky isn't some kind of results-oriented pragmatist. Shirky does not actually ground his politics in the ruthless logic of the two-party binary choice. Shirky is not operating in some kind of post-ideological space outside of the dictates of principle and conscience. Shirky is an alt-centrist, and it's that ideology that brings him to do stuff like this:


Let's be clear: Shirky can rationalize giving the Trump campaign money by appealing to all kinds of principles. He can argue that he is "sending a message" to whoever attacked Trump's office. He can argue that helping out any campaign that was victimized by a violent attack is just "the right thing to do", and that we should listen to our conscience and follow his lead. If you happen to agree with Shirky's principles, or if you want to "send a message" for the sake of symbolism, or if your conscience is prevailing upon you to give your money to Trump, you might find these kinds of arguments persuasive.

What Shirky cannot do, however, is claim any kind of consequentialist high-ground over protest voters. By the accounting of most political scientists, Shirky's investment in the Trump campaign has certainly just bought him votes. The zero-sum logic of FPTP voting combined with the realities of campaign finance leave us no way around this conclusion. In fact, at this point, the self-identified Democrats who've donated $13,167 to the fund have now bought Trump anywhere between 75 and 2,633 votes. One can plead that this money is exclusively to be spent on the rebuilding effort, but obviously this is just an accounting designation, and any money that gets donated to the rebuilding fund is money that won't come from Trump or the NC GOP.

By any electoral calculus, the material support these Democrats have just given Trump far outweighs the marginal impact your typical protest voter will have by (say) supporting Stein on social media or voting for her next month. But the odds that they will receive even a fraction of the criticism that protest voters have endured are approximately zero.