Beyond Good And Evil


It is tiring to hear voters complain about having to stump for a lesser evil.

The whole notion of purity in life — but especially in politics — is Manichean at best, and sophomoric at worst. Every choice in life and politics is a shade of grey. Pretending that any political candidate is anything other than a mesh of good and ill — much of it unintentional — is facile. Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are shades of grey. Policies that appear to be unadulteratedly pure and progressive can have negative consequences for many people. Ban fracking? Lose jobs, reduce economic activity. Never intervene militarily in a foreign country again? Fail to prevent another Rwanda or Nazi Germany. Turn away from free trade agreements such as NAFTA and TPP? Lose cheap imports, reduce economic activity globally, and risk expensive and damaging trade wars.  Overturn Citizens United? Quieten wealthy campaigners you agree with, as well as those you disagree with.

That’s not to say that those policies would not also have some positive effects, too, for some people. The reality is that the outcome of these supposedly pure and progressive policies is a patchwork quilt of good and ill, just as it is for any policies. Politics is an art of trying to counterbalance to maximize the positives against the negatives. This is tough. And politicians are trying to do it in foresight, not hindsight, which makes it much harder.

The pursuit of purity and perfection in politics is a delusional pursuit, and a showcase for naïveté. Every choice in politics is about trying to identify and pursue the lesser evil (or, in other words, the greater good). It was forever thus. Hillary Clinton makes no bones about being a pragmatist, and a shade of grey. Yes, the Clinton Foundation accepted money from  countries with questionable human rights records. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war (a decision she accepted in hindsight was wrong and apologized for).  Yes, she voted for the bank bailouts. All of these choices have had mixed effects, a combination of good and ill.

I admire her pragmatism, and her rejection of puritanism. She’s no High Sparrow. (Nor is she Mussolini, another ardent political purist). And I like that about her.

9 thoughts on “Beyond Good And Evil

      • ‘Which American presidents have not participated in things that could be described as war crimes?’

        Quite a few, actually. I’m going by the definitions given by the charter of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal here: — see especially Section 6. It wouldn’t matter to me if they all had, though. Stalin supposedly said, ‘If you kill one man, it’s murder; if you kill a million men, it’s a statistic.’ I think it’s time we stopped tolerating that kind of thinking in our great leaders, just as we have long since stopped tolerating it in our neighbors.

  1. There is no such thing as bad beer. The same applies to people, everybody is wanting to set his/her activities for doing the greatest good in the terms of the individual involved. So it is not a good verses evil situation but only one of trying to find out where the greatest good is located. We need to see what activity can do the greatest good and then to defend its application.

  2. A question is…..
    Are there things we should NOT compromise on?
    Like transparency? Is it a right to know what is in our food and products we put on our bodies? GMO labeling?
    Truth? Not just a contrived assortment of “facts” repeated so many times that it is considered true? (Smoking does not cause cancer)
    JUSTICE? Should justice be determined on race, religion, wealth? Victimless crimes…. Evil weed?
    Kindness, compassion, empathy?

      • Not tolerate mass murder? Great! Especially if YOU, yourself, friends or family member does not happen to be collateral damage? (Ie also with drone strikes). Then is it ok to murder? For the greater good? We are so sophisticated! We even have “rules of war”. No poison gas. Laser guide missle ? Right on! I am sure it makes a HUUUGE difference to anyone, their families, or friends that were murdered, “HOW” they were murdered…..
        Politics aside….. is my recommendation. Who do you know that does not know, what is right? Murder in war is still murder whether 200k, or 1….. If you take the profit out of killing, there would be a lot less of it.

  3. I’m not going to challenge your political option because I have another, and a lot more important, objection.
    “The pursuit of purity and perfection in politics” might indeed be seen as a “delusional pursuit” but is not necessarily a ‘showcase of naivety’.
    As a matter of fact, I prefer Clinton to Trump only I don’t think any of them is good enough for the job.
    “Every choice in politics is about trying to identify and pursue the lesser evil (or, in other words, the greater good)”
    Other people think that ‘primum non nocere’.
    First of all ‘good’ is a matter of personal preference while ‘evil’ is something a lot more objective. Choosing between two Michelin stared chefs is a highly personal matter, choosing not to eat something that has been cooked by a guy who didn’t wash his hands first is a matter of common sense.
    if you can resist without food for a day or two – and in this time you are sure that palatable food will become available – you’d be better off refusing the crap.
    Sometimes going for purity is not at all a ‘showcase of nativity’ but a desperate cry for something completely different from what is currently available while letting yourself drawn into ‘choosing the lesser evil’ is akin to accepting evil as a principle.

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