USA Presidental Election – Expected Outcomes of Votes

Many voters consider both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to be extremely bad potential presidents, yet consider one to be far worse than the other, and so think they should vote for Trump, to help ensure that Clinton isn't elected, or conversely, vote for Clinton, to help ensure that Trump isn't elected.

This attitude, I believe, fails to take into sufficient consideration the effect a vote in 2016 will have on the candidates in 2020, 2024, etc. Since we can expect be a presidential election in the USA to occur in those years as well, in assessing a vote overall, we have to consider the influence a vote made now has on what kind of candidates we will likely have in 2020 and subsequent election years.

Basically, a vote for either of the two major parties' (bad) candidates increases the likelihood that one or both of those parties puts forth similar (similarly bad) candidates in 2020, 2024, etc. Such a vote is a "vote" for the "system", so to speak — it not merely supports a particular candidate, but supports one or both of those major parties in putting forth in the future the kind of candidates they have this year.

In more detail: Assuming the vote between Trump and Clinton is close: a vote given for either of these two candidates (rather than a third party candidate significantly better than either of them) is a strong support for having two similar candidates to the current ones in 2020 (and in 2024, and 2028). For, to the degree that the major parties get more votes, they have little motivation to change significantly.
Assuming that one candidate, e.g., Hillary wins by a large margin: a vote for that candidate (rather than a third party candidate or for the other major party candidate) is a slight opposition to having a republican candidate similar to Trump in the future, and a slight support to having a candidate similary to Hillary in the future.

By "support" for a future outcome I mean that an action in fact increases the probability of a given outcome, and by "opposition" to a future outcome I mean that an action in fact decreases the probability of that outcome.

So, the more likely your vote might be the deciding vote between Trump and Clinton, to that extent your vote is simultaneously a vote (i.e., supports) having two candidates similar to them in 2020 (and in 2024, and 2028, etc.)
The less likely that your vote is unlikely to be the deciding vote between Trump and Clinton, to that degree your vote for one of them is less likely to affect the future major party candidates in 2020. (In addition, one influence of your vote in this respect is good, the other bad.) Consequently, to that degree does the value of a vote for a third party in supporting major party candidates in 2020 different from the current ones, outweighs the positive value of a vote for one of the major candidates.

To sum up, whether or not the race between Trump and Clinton is close, a vote for either one of them rather than for a third party candidate who would be significantly better than either of them, has a much greater expected negative value due to its expected probable influence on the 2020 (and 2024, 2028) candidates, than the expected positive value in hindering the "worse evil" 2017-2020.

The rigorous game theoretical proof of this is left as an exercise to the reader.

Seal of Confession in Court – The Case in Louisiana

Recently the Supreme Court of Louisana made a decision pertinent to a civil lawsuit naming Rev. Jeff Bayhi and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge as defendants. According to the official statement of the diocese, the decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court "attacks the seal of confession and the attempt by the plaintiffs to have the court compel testimony from the priest, Fr. Bayhi, as to whether or not there were confessions and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were." (sic)

While the original lawsuit filed is itself under seal, the course of events implied by the published statements are as follows:

1. On July 6, 2009 the parents of a minor child filed a lawsuit alleging that Bayhi, having heard their child's confession regarding her abuse by a church member, was negligent in advising the minor regarding the alleged abuse and failed his duty to report the abuse as a mandatory reporter in compliance with the Louisana's Children Code. It also held the diocese vicariously liable for the alleged misconduct of Bayhi and for failing to properly train him regarding mandatory reporting of sexual abuse of minors.

2. The defendants made a motion in limine to prevent the plaintiffs from "mentioning, referencing and/or introducing evidence at trial of any confessions that may or may not have taken place" between plaintiffs' minor child and the priest, including testimony by the minor child herself about the confessions, on the grounds that nothing that was said in confession could lead to a mandatory duty to report; consequently, there could be no breach of the duty to report arising from anything said in confession, making any and all testimony regarding confessions, including testimony of the minor child, irrelevant to the alleged failure of duty to report.

3. This motion was denied by the court, on the grounds that the legal privilege of confidentiality in confession belongs to the one making a confession to a priest, and as such can be waived by this person. In addition, it noted an apparent inconsistency in the law, one provision of which states that clergy are excepted from being mandatory reporters for anything that is a confidential communication (603(15)(c)), and the mandating reporting "notwithstanding any claim of privileged communication." (609)

4. The decision was appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal, which agreed with the defendants, and thus granted the motion in limine, excluding from trial all evidence regarding confessions between the minor child and the priest. Regarding the claimed inconsistency in the law, it noted that the mandatory reporting "notwithstanding any claim of privileged communication" could not be interpreted to apply to priests as mandatory reporters, since that would make the exemption for clergy meaningless. (In addition, the appeals court found a peremptory exception of no cause of action, effectually dismissing all of the claims against Jeff Bayhi and the Church, on the grounds that he was not a mandatory reporter, that even if he were, it would be a matter of criminal law enforcement, not a civil cause, and that, finally, no standard is established by which his advice to the child could be judged negligent.)

5. This decision was appealed to the Louisana Supreme Court, which reversed the appelate court's decision; (1) it reversed the motion to exclude all evidence regarding confessions on the grounds that the legal privilege of confidentiality in confession can be claimed by the one who made a a confession to a priest, or by the priest on behalf of this person. Since the privilege belongs to the penitent, if the penitent waives the privilege, the priest cannot invoke it to protect himself; (2) it reversed the appelate court's dismissal of the case, on the grounds that the question of an alleged mandatory duty to report is here a mixed question of law and fact; two questions of fact in particular it held to be open: (a) whether the communications between the child and the priest were confessions per se, and (b) whether the priest obtained knowledge outside the confessional that would trigger his duty to report.

Some remarks:

Neither the appelate court's decision nor the supreme court's decision directly implies or supports the trial court's right to "compel testimony from the priest, Fr. Bayhi, as to whether or not there were confessions and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were." The claim by the diocese the the plaintiffs attempted to have the court compel this testimony may or may not be true, but is not implied in the statements made by the appelate court and the supreme court, which deal only with the question of whether all evidence about the confessions, including the testimony of the child, may be excluded from the case.

The question of whether there were confessions

Granting that the court were to hold the content of confession relevant, and that the legal privilege of confidentiality of the confession cannot be invoked by the priest, having been waived by the penitent, so that her testimony regarding the confession could be introduced as evidence in court, it remains a separate question whether the priest could be compelled to testify about the confessions, despite appealing to the freedom of religion together with the Church's prohibition of speaking about the contents of an individual's confession.

The facts do not seem to indicate any real reason for doubt about whether the child's communications with the priest fall within the confidentiality of confession (apparently the talks were made just before the evening Mass, in the time and place for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the girl herself described what she was doing as going to "confession"); still, it does seem in principle to be within the court's right to inquire as to the criteria by which the communications are held to be confession, or more precisely, within the confessional forum. (Otherwise a priest could theoretically claim that everytime someone had spoken with him, whether about finances, plans for a celebration, or anything else, it fell under the rubric of confession.)

According to the official statement of the Diocese, "Pursuant to his oath to the Church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him." As pertinent to the case, the second statement is false, and indeed, the defendants argued precisely that certain testimony must be excluded because it fell under the confidentiality of confession!

A priest may not say whether someone actually confessed sins to him. But a person has to say or do certain things in the external forum in order for the context of confession to be established; for example, he has to come into the confessional, to say "Can you hear my confession, father?", or by some other means indicate his intention to present himself and his conscience in the confessional forum. Since these things by definition take place prior to confession, and thus in the external forum (or in some cases, an internal forum such as that of spiritual direction), they do not as such fall under the sacramental seal, and a priest may testify as to whether someone did or did not enter into the forum of confession, though prudence and justice demand a general confidentiality about exactly what someone says that indicated his wish to make a confession.

Indeed, in many places and for a long time, penitents would in various cases receive a certificate testifying that they had been to confession. Till today couples in Poland have to present certificates of confession in order to get married!

The official diocesan statement further maintains: "for a civil court to inquire as to whether or not a factual situation establishes the Sacrament of Confession is a clear and unfettered violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States."

While there may be legal nuances of which I'm not aware, it seems rather that a civil court's purporting to determine what establishes the Sacrament of Confession, or any other sacred matter, would be a infringement of the state into the religious sphere, but that it's inquiring into what establishes the Sacrament of Confession, and indeed, for purposes of civil consequence and liability, making a judgment in a particular case on the basis of principles given by a respective religious authority, is no infringement, and falls within its competence. If the state is to protect various goods connected with the exercise of religion, it has to be able to make some judgment as to what things pertain to religion. For example, many states of laws against desecration of places of worship. Now let's suppose I'm upset about spray-paint vandalism of my back-yard shed. So I take it on myself to declare it a sacred chapel, to raise the stakes for vandals… if a civil or criminal case is then brought against a vandal, the court will need to ask whether it is truly to be considered a place of worship.

The question of knowledge gained outside of confession

Since according to the allegations and the deposition testimony, Fr. Bayhi met with the man accused of sexual abuse, Mr. Charlet, concerning the "obsessive number of emails and phone calls" between him and the girl, there does seem to be a question about whether he had grounds for suspicion outside of what he learned in confession that would have resulted in a mandatory duty to report suspected abuse.

The question of the right to waive the confidentiality of confession

The diocese statement claims: "Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession."

Now, the penitent is not bound to begin with by the seal of confession. In this case the Church did not seek to exclude the penitent's testimony about confession on the grounds that it was forbidden for her to disclose the contents of the confession, but on the grounds that the testimony was irrelevant to the case, as nothing that the priest knew from confession could result in a duty or imply a breach of duty to report suspected abuse.

The issue rather concerns whether the penitent can release the confessor from the seal of confession, so that he can reveal to another person the content of a confession. The issue is not a simple one; St. Thomas Aquinas seems to indicate that the penitent can do so in some way; while there has always been disagreement, the majority of moral theologians and canonists maintain the same; and canon law presupposes it — canon 1757 §3 (2) of the 1917 code excludes priests at ecclesiastical trials from "giving testimony pertaining to matters known to them through confession, even if they have been freed from the obligation of the seal", and canon 1550 § 2 (2) of 1983 code similarly prohibits testimony at ecclesiastical trials "as regards everything which has become known to them by reason of sacramental confession, even if the penitent requests their manifestation". Due to its complexity, I'll take up the issue in a separate post.

The Fallacy of Incommensurability II – Gun Control

In the past months there has been a lot of talk about various gun control measures. And a lot of the argumentation has presupposed the fallacy of incommensurability I mentioned in the previous post.

The idea that one has to do everything possible in order to save even one innocent life naturally leads people to the conclusion that, if the gun control measures X, Y, and Z will save even one person from being murdered, one has to take those measures.

Now, some of those measures can also be expected to result in the death of innocent persons who are killed because they, or someone around them, did not have a gun as a result of legislation or other pressures imposed by government or media. We may suppose, though, that at least some measures can be taken that will per year save more lives than those lost as a result of the same measures.

But what about the possibility that personal ownership of guns is a safeguard against a possible tyrannical government? Should that be a significant consideration in deliberation about gun control laws? Or is it ridiculous, as some have claimed, to avoid taking current measures helpful to save lives in order to safeguard ourselves from some imaginary future scenario of a tyrannical government?

I'll run through the numbers, but before I do that, let me state the summary result for those less interested in the numbers behind it. Basically, when one works out the various risks involved, one comes to the conclusion that a rational legislator considering any significant gun-control laws, is obliged to consider the risk of an increased probability of tyranny, and to take that risk into account in considering those laws.

Let's look at the numbers. Looking history, it is a pretty conservative estimate to say that there is a 2% chance that the government of the USA will within the next 100 years have become a tyrannical power that has murdered at least 5% of the civilian population (15,000,000 persons) due to personal characteristics (race, beliefs, infirmity, etc.) or in order to maintain its own power. Note that by this 2% chance I do not mean there is a 2% chance of tyranny if the country keeps going in such and such a direction, but that the chance is this high all things considered.

Statistically this risk of murder by a future tyrannical government is equivalent to the certain murder of 300,000 persons in that same 100 years, or 3000 persons per year. There would of course be a great deal of harm done to the other 95% of the population being a part of or living under tyranny, which would increase the evil of tyranny and the importance of considering the possibility of a future tyrannical government, but let's set that aside.

Now suppose a set of gun control laws increases the mentioned risk of murderous tyranny by a small amount, but enough that the increased risk is perceivable and plausible, say 5% (for a total of 2.1%). That additional risk is the equivalent of an expected 150 persons per year murdered.

So, if it is even plausible that a set of gun-control laws will increase the risk of an eventual tyranny by even a very small amount, those gun-control laws would need to have an expected outcome of at least 150 lives saved from murder per year. And there is, indeed based on historical evidence a good deal of plausibility, indeed probability for the opinion that the enaction of serious gun-control increases the chance of tyranny.

Consequently, the argument of gun-control opponents that the second amendment and the possession of guns is a safe-guard against tyranny is a significant argument, that a rational legislator is obliged to take seriously. It could only be set aside on the premise that there is no plausibility to the opinion that gun-control laws increase the chance of a future tyranny, or that it is just as probable that gun-control laws decrease the chance of a future tyranny.

Note that I make no claim to evaluate here the prudence of any particular legislation on guns, only a kind of meta-claim about what is necessary in order to establish the prudence of such legislation.

The Fallacy of Incommensurability

"if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try."

"If there's anything we can do to save even one life… we should do that."

"One life lost on the job is one too many."

"If even one innocent person would be convicted, that's too many."

Frequently in speech about policies pertinent to human life and safety, one hears absolute claims such as the above. The true principle that "one may not do evil that good may come," is transformed into the seemingly plausible, but false principle "one must do everything possible to prevent such-and-such evil [e.g., innocent human death]". The plausibility of this principle derives from the fact that human life is, in a sense, of infinite value, so it seems that the loss of innocent human life can never be weighed up and considered as an altogether acceptable risk.

President Obama has on several occasions invoked such a principle to justify his positions. He even gives the impression that he actually believes the principle is valid, which would be a strong indication that he is quite incompetent to lead any community, let alone a country.

It is hard to know how genuinely any politician holds such a principle, since it seems to have settled so deeply into popular consciousness that it may be difficult for a politician to truthfully and rationally justify such decisions without risking being widely regarded as inhuman and inconsiderate. Imagine a politician publicly stating something like the following:

"This health-care legislation could be expected to save 1000 lives per year, but it would cost 12 billion dollars per year, and would a burden for doctors and other medical professionals; it's not worth it."

In actual fact, it is quite impossible to apply this principle consistently in practice, and attempting to do so leads to many contradictions. In almost every case, one of the things one could do to prevent certain bad things from happening would be to refrain from certain actions one is purportedly obliged to do in order to hinder other bad things.

Imagine, for example, that a city is deliberating whether to build a bridge over a large river. As the situation stands at present, 10,000 persons are driving daily on average 40 miles to work and back; with the new bridge, they would only need to drive an average of 20 miles. The construction of the bridge is expected to cost 20,000,000 dollars, and is estimated to have an 85% chance of involving at least one fatality for a construction work, and probably several.

Given that at least one death is expected in the construction of the bridge, it seems the city must forbid its construction. On the other hand, by constructing the bridge, 100,000,000 miles less would need to be driven per year, which over just ten years would save 15 lives. So, according to the principle that if something can be done to save even one life, one is obliged to do it, the city must build the bridge.

What will someone do who pretends or thinks that he abides by this principle of incommensurability? Who thinks that, because human life has a kind of infinite value, one can never consider an expected loss of human life to be an acceptable consequence of some policy? Faced by such a dilemma, he will either choose randomly, or in accordance with personal or basic human prejudices.  Most frequently, he will be inclined to over-rate probable and proximate events, and under-rate large but improbable and remote events. In the case of the bridge construction, he will likely underrate the importance of the deaths in traffic accidents that would be avoided by building the bridge, and overrate the importance of the deaths involved in the construction of the bridge.

Obama Administration Opposes Religious Freedom

The Department of Human of Health and Human Services came out with a statement today, January 20, 2012, regarding a decision for which Obama is ultimately, and should be held responsible, which requires employers to include contraception in their health insurance plans, removing the exemption for organizations opposed to contraception on account of religious convictions. Instead, they are to be allowed an extra year before they are forced to include contraception in their plans — until August 1, 2013, instead of just till August 1, 2012.

It is said that "This decision was made after very careful consideration, including the important concerns some have raised about religious liberty. I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services." This looks like a case of extreme mental reservation. It seems probable that Obama did not want his opposition to religious freedom to have all its consequences this year, because he knew he would then not be re-elected, and is hoping that the decision and postponement of enforcement will please the left, without alienating Catholics, other Christians and believers all too much.

Bishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, expressed his and the U.S. bishops' opposition to the mandate. "The Obama administration has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand,” he stated. “The Catholic bishops are committed to working with our fellow Americans to reform the law and change this unjust regulation."

I don't know what the bishops will be seeking, but I wonder whether it might be most prudent not to seek to have the unjust decision repealed immediately, but to deal with it in such as to see to it that the issue ensures that Obama is not re-elected, and that it is repealed by the next president (or recognized by the supreme court as gravely contrary to the first amendment).