5 Questions for . . .
3. In a recent Guardian editorial Sonia Sodha wrote “There isn’t some utilitarian calculus that means abuse gets outranked by other considerations.” True? Don’t we use a utilitarian calculus every time we vote?
The language here is too abstruse. If, by “utilitarian calculus,” Sodha means, equating poetry with a pushpin (Jeremy Bentham), I’d agree with her. Unless you mean choosing the least rotten from a barrel of rotten apples, voting and abuse are false equivalents. Both leave the abused without agency.
Yes I think we do. And perhaps should. But perhaps we need also to talk about what we mean by abuse here. I cannot imagine a consideration that would outrank the abuse committed, say, by a convicted rapist. But I can imagine circumstances in which a politician whose personal life was distinctly messy – an adulterer, say - would seem to me irrelevant to his qualifications for a particular office.
I believe there is truth to Sonia Sodha’s statement about the presence of some utilitarian calculus that allows for abuse to get outranked by other considerations. Judge Kavanaugh, despite the controversy he brought to his hearing, was considered the perfect pick for the Supreme Court in the eyes of conservatives in our country. President Trump soundly endorsed him. The credible accusations against Judge Kavanaugh did nothing to sway support for him despite the last gasp hope that Senator Susan Collins and Senator Jeff Flake would vote no.
It sounds terribly cynical to say we use utilitarian calculus every time we vote, but I’d be foolish to say this particular reasoning doesn’t enter the decision making process. I believe utilitarian calculus also means voting for the lesser evil especially in our current hyper partisan political environment. But, always the optimist, I think this brand of calculus isn’t always present as we decide our votes. I’m referring to the midterm elections when new, energetic, impassioned candidates ran for office to unseat incumbents who did not represent their constituents and instead became part of the big political machine. I don’t believe my recent midterm votes were the product of utilitarian calculus and I hope this trend continues.
I had to look up this particular Guardian editorial and read it through several times. I found myself agreeing with Sodha’s general wariness about expecting some revolutionary push in the collective understanding, that all this “movement” is going to change everything for the better, and quickly. I’m neither overly optimistic, nor am I as cynical as many people my age, which makes me something of a centrist on the “enthusiasm scale.”
That said, naturally the igniting story and the original impact will be harvested and marketed by both sides. Each side will second-guess the narrative strategies of the other, and use it to ally themselves to the coattails of a tragic event or a toxic environment, or to separate and define themselves against the other/the problem/the enemy.
It’s when we see political infighting in “our own ranks,” whichever side we’re on, where we overlook or call out hypocrisies amongst our allies, where we nitpick, where votes get diluted, or we can’t bring ourselves to vote at all because of that one thing we don’t agree on. (I’m guilty of this myself. Never again.)
If I understand Sodha correctly, I can’t entirely agree with this particular quote, that there is no utilitarian calculus. Either we find our own tolerance level, that point where we hold our nose while we’re voting for someone because we have “done the math” according to our conscience and we believe they are the best possible representative of what we stand for, or … we tend not to vote at all. Participation in the process really is the critical thing. The no-show isn’t a vote. It isn’t a voice.