A speaker at school today argued that because it is hard to change people’s political ideas, it is better to discourage people who you disagree with from voting. My initial thought: Very clever, and very wrong.
As I continued to think about this speaker’s remarks, I began to wonder why I never come up with these clever, effective, but “wrong” ideas. The issue, I think, is that I feel things are right or wrong based on my assessment of whether we’d all be better off by doing or not doing them. But thinking in terms of how people should act, while ignoring how they do act, can lead to bad results. If most people aren’t doing the “right” thing, and can’t be persuaded to, then it might well be stupid–and ultimately immoral–of me to persist in doing that thing.
Take the example of disseminating false information to voters. If we all told the truth, we’d be better off. But as soon as, say, the Pink party will not be truthful, then everyone else needs to engage on their level or lose. In that context, Pink’s opponents should probably sacrifice moral compunction about methods of getting elected to the higher goal of being in a position to set their preferred policy. Unless having civility and compromise is an end in itself–and maybe it should be–that needs to take a backseat to success on larger goals.
I’m sure the political theorists out there could label this phenomenon for me. But at the moment, I’m struck by how pervasively I let my moral feelings guide me, without thinking about whether my beliefs about what actions are “right” make sense in context because they help me achieve higher goals. If doing things I feel are right in a situation leads to not accomplishing things I care more about, maybe I should drop them.
But how do I recognize when this applies? How does one get away from moralistic impulses? Where have you noticed yourself clinging to moral stances that block success on more important ones?