Sunday, 11 December 2016

If you can’t be lawful and good, be good

As a last-ditch effort to save our democracy from a Donald Trump presidency, there have been campaigns to pressure electors whose votes were pledged to Trump to vote against him. Ideally, they would vote for Clinton and give her 270 electoral votes, rather than choosing a random Republican, splitting the vote, and allowing the House to pick Trump anyway. But *any* vote against Trump at least gives us a chance of not allowing Russian influence, voter suppression, and FBI misdeeds to install a blatant con artist as our President.

One Texas elector, Art Sisneros, chose to resign rather than vote for Trump. Here’s how he explained his position on his blog:

“Since I can’t in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and yet have sinfully made a pledge that I would, the best option I see at this time is to resign my position as an Elector,” Sisneros wrote. “This will allow the remaining body of Electors to fill my vacancy when they convene on Dec 19 with someone that can vote for Trump. The people will get their vote … I will sleep well at night knowing I neither gave in to their demands nor caved to my convictions. I will also mourn the loss of our republic.”

While I have to commend his willingness not to vote for Trump, I wish he’d had the courage to take it a step further, and vote against Trump himself. I understand and sympathize with his desire not to break a pledge that he has made. I believe honesty is a virtue, but I don’t think breaking his pledge would be a sin against God in this case, any more than telling an SS officer that there were no Jews in your house was a sin against God in Nazi Germany. He made a promise in good faith, but he received additional information after that promise was made, and found that he could not keep that promise.

Ironically, for all the religious paranoia about Dungeons and Dragons, the D&D alignment system provides an excellent framework for analyzing moral issues.  It has two axes: law/chaos, and good/evil.

Good and evil are straightforward.  Good people help others, even sacrificing their own well-being for the sake of those who need it.  Evil people willingly harm others to further their own ends. Neutral people fall somewhere in the middle, anywhere from “I’ll help if it’s not too dangerous,” to “I’d give my life for my close friends, but I’m okay with screwing over random strangers.”

Law and chaos relate to rules and authority. Lawful people follow the rules and respect authority, while chaotic people believe in individual freedoms and reject strict hierarchies. Lawful people also tend to give more weight to abstract principles like justice or honor, while chaotic ones focus more on the specifics of an individual situation.

Honesty in and of itself is a law/chaos decision rather than a good/evil decision. Whether a lie hurts people or helps them depends on the specifics of that lie. To go back to the Nazi example, telling SS officers the whereabouts of hidden Jews falls squarely in the lawful evil category.

Although it seems vaguely heretical to try to ascribe a D&D alignment to Jesus, there’s a consistent theme in the Gospels of Jesus choosing people over rules. Healing on the Sabbath, touching lepers, talking to women. This doesn’t mean he threw the rules out completely, but in choices between people and rules, people always won.

While resigning as an elector means Art Sisneros won’t personally be responsible for Trump’s election, I think breaking the rules, choosing to protect people rather than keep a promise, would have been a better call in this case. But, that still puts him far ahead of the electors who are voting for Trump, knowing full well his corruption and complete lack of qualifications.




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