Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, May 02, 2015

So, Just How Large Can A "Lesser" Evil Grow Before It Becomes Too Evil For Me?

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, a question is asked of a certain democratic socialist of your acquaintance who has the temerity to support the less progressive and occasionally quite awful by my lights Hillary Clinton:
How large can a "lesser" evil grow before it becomes too much evil for you?
Ethically? Morally? I condemn evil by my lights as evil in no uncertain terms. Always. Just read through my archive to discern whether this green anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian socialist feminist atheist queer teacher and writer and activist passes muster by the reckoning of your moral compass, my friend.

But how evil can the lesser evil get before it no longer recommends itself over the greater politically? Let me be as clear as I can be: ANY difference that makes a difference is enough of a difference to adjudicate a political decision to vote one way or another.

I make a lot of fun of what I see as falsely equivalent "a plague on both house" complaints about (obviously often awful) Democrats, ridiculing these as amounting to treating voting as looking for a dream date or perfect parent or Revolutionary Daddy or what have you. But, putting the point more modestly, you really do seem to think voting for a candidate is an endorsement of their every policy in some sense. What nonsense! Politicians scarcely know what their policies will even play out as in the scrum of events themselves, for heaven's sake. I'm nearing fifty years old and there hasn't been a President whose every policy I was remotely close to endorsing my whole life. What part of green anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian socialist feminist atheist queer in the United States of America are you not getting? But do I vote in every election every time? Oh, yes, I do! Trust that.

I am a broken record on this score. Let me repeat the chestnut once more: The lesser of two evils is still evil, but the difference between them can still make a difference. Ethics Is Not Politics.

Look, I'm all for uncompromising ethical and factual and aesthetic stands, but to demand them of political compromises in a diverse shared world is no sign of high principles but of a straightforward mis-recognition of the nature of politics -- especially what passes for representative politics in capitalist countries!

Why the repeated recourse to atrocity porn? Parading all the war crimes and rapes you want is quite beside the point actually at hand. Can you possibly be self-congratulatory enough to imagine you know more or care more about such atrocities than I do? Because I am a pragmatic voter, among the other ways in which I engage in political struggle? You don't know me very well, to say the least.

Partisan politics, especially the partisan politics focused on voting and contributions of time and money and that sort of thing are not the place for making ethical stands. Perhaps running for office, or organizing campaigns to inspire legislative outcomes come closer. Certainly broader educational and agitational spaces of action are fine places for such unqualified judgments. At any rate, it isn't unless politics in the other domains I mentioned has done the real work of preparing the way for viable partisan politics on such questions. That simply isn't what voting is for, or usually even should be for.

Perhaps you lack the stomach for the debased choices that happen at the level of voting for the best actually-existing candidate actually on offer, or the heartbreaking reconciliations at the heart of legislative reform. But don't expect me to admire you for it, or to pretend that you are a more ferocious activist for justice and sanity in history than I am because I can walk and chew gum at the same time. If you can't vote for the lesser of two evils to restrain the greater of them -- all the while condemning the evil for the evil it is and organizing to defeat it or expressing yourself creatively to change general perceptions to better accord with your sense of that evil -- then I just think you are being lazy, irresponsible, and narcissistic.

Voting is certainly usually insufficient to achieve justice, but it remains necessary all the same. I can't say I admire those who confine their politics to voting and yet declare themselves principled, but I have less patience still for those who refrain from the costly demands of voting in the compromised service of principle and who would pretend this is the sign of their principle. At best, it indicates profound ignorance, at worst it is privileged self-indulgence.


diphead said...

"Ethics Is Not Politics"

but isn't that the entire problem? that we are expected to give up, or downplay are ethical attachments to be "seriously" political? shouldn't ethics trump politics? in other words, why aren't you voting (if you're gonna vote at all) for a "green anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian socialist feminist atheist queer"????

brian said...

"Ethics Is Not Politics."

but isn't that the problem? why can't one be ethically political? must politics trump our ethical attachments? like, why not vote for (if one votes at all) for a "green anti-racist anti-militarist vegetarian socialist feminist atheist queer"???

Dale Carrico said...

I do not agree it would be a better world if "ethics trumped politics" -- indeed imperialism and theocracy represent efforts to trump democratic equity-in-diversity with ethical universalism. Your ethical beliefs can define the ends in the direction of which your political struggles aspire, but the actual political struggle itself will involve opportunisms, compromises, contingencies in the face of ineradical diversity and interminable dynamism. I think you only think you wish politics could be reduced to ethics, but even if you continued to think that after thinking about it more deeply it wouldn't matter because the differences between reasonable political praxis/theory and ethical/moral/aesthetic/legal/professional forms remain real and consequent come what may. Similarly, some reductionists wish that moral/ethical norms were reducible to factual/scientific facts -- this leads them into scientism and pseudo-scientific triumphalisms and technodeterminisms. Such views have loud constitutencies, but they are irrationalisms and yield skewed understandings.

As for voting only for someone exactly like myself -- how very odd. I share a time and place with many people who are not like me in the least, which is why politics takes place. I've never met anyone who agrees with me about everything -- thank heavens! Political representation is choosing someone who will participate in day to day policy processes in light of the diversity of her constituency and in the scrum of the diversity of her fellow representatives at the relevant site of governance. It is good to know her stands on key issues and guiding principles more generally and qualifications and character and competencies I suppose -- but people are different from one another, that is the point of departure for the political, voting shouldn't be a search for an ego ideal or a dream date. A representative who managed to mirror me perfectly would probably be as incapable of negotiating effective compromises with other representatives as I would be myself in my stubborn idiosyncrasy.