Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Good" versus "Evil"

No matter how good you try to be, someone will accuse you of being stupid or up to something.

This point of view gains strength from the existence of so many people who actually are stupid or up to something. And this is before we start to sort through the honest differences of opinion.

Somewhere under all the obfuscation and misinterpretation some things must be true. We can destroy our environment and render our planet at least highly unpleasant if not utterly uninhabitable. We can create widespread misery by picking on each other. Greed and corruption are worse than laziness. More people are thoughtless than are evil, but some people are genuinely nasty. Among them, some choose to do it retail, as criminals, while others go wholesale as national leaders with global aspirations. Initially, the key factors are a willingness to hurt others with little or no provocation and an enjoyment of their suffering.

Niceness and nastiness represent the ends of yet another continuum in human behavior. Almost no one is entirely nasty or totally nice to every living thing they meet. But you can generally pick up on reliable trends to indicate a person's probable bias.

All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. That seems like a simple call to action. Get up! Do something! But you get the same result when a whole bunch of people who think they're doing the right thing are busy busy busy promoting their agenda and obstructing competing agendas with the result that nothing gets done. Problems grow worse as the argument goes on. We can't even agree on what the problems are. And some of those agendas will only make things worse. So we can't just randomly decide to throw all our weight behind any proposed solution as being better than nothing. We could hasten the destruction much more easily than we seem to be able to develop a consensus about what constitutes the common good and how we can attain it.

Political advertising fills the media right now. It's all pretty cynical. The campaign geniuses who produce the ads obviously believe that a significant number of people will be swayed by these little bits of melodrama that are stuffed with emotional triggers and very short on actual information.

All political advertising on broadcast media should be banned. I would rather sit through an endless Public Broadcasting fund drive, and those make me want to scream. However, the ads do fit the Halloween theme extremely well. What could be more horrifying, terrifying, sure to open the gates of Hell than The Opposing Candidate? Mwa ha ha ha ha ha! None can stand before The Opposing Candidate! Spawned by Satan! MBA from Hades University! Steeped in corruption, perversion, greed and lust! Thou shalt not vote for The Opposing Candidate! Dooooooom!

This message paid for by Americans for a Better America. We bring you everything you hope someone will bring you. Honest.

The little films give you a villain and a hero. Just as the annual flu vaccine contains three or four strains expected to be most common, a political ad can only contain a handful of key points the makers of it hope will inoculate you against infection by the wrong political choice. If distortion or outright lies seem like they'll have the desired effect, the end justifies the means.

After all the political theater dies down we'll be left with another batch of elected or re-elected officials. Most of them will have their sights set on 2016. Whatever they do or don't do will be shaped to fit the campaign narrative regardless of actual events.

The rich really benefit from expensive elections because even the well-meaning populists have to spend so much time raising money and building their image that they have much less time to spend on meaningful debate. Lots of people want to be in the information business. If people are properly informed they can make better choices. Ah yes. Better for whom?

I want to believe that people I perceive as good are good. But I think the principle of the secret ballot is as much to prevent embarrassment as it is to facilitate free expression of political will without threat of coercion. It's a sickening feeling when someone for whom you had high hopes turns out to be an idiot or a sleaze. Nobody's perfect. But when you've bet on someone's integrity and judgment you hope they manage to continue to display both at least until their term ends.

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