Morality 3: politics
December 12, 2010, 1:26 am
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When I talk about ‘politics’ I’m not so much talking about someone who is a politician, I’m more talking about someone who believes in a certain political system, like socialism or anarchism or libertarianism or laissez-faire capitalism or whatever, and takes action of some sort to try to make that system a reality.

Is doing politics the same thing as doing morality?

My first reaction is yes, or at least they certainly should be the same. My gut feeling is definitely that my political beliefs arise from my moral beliefs.

But political actions are different from moral actions. A moral action, like giving money to someone who needs it, has an immediate good effect, whereas a political action, like going to a protest, doesn’t necessarily have any good effect at all. The protester is hoping that the protest, as part of a wider social movement, will lead to some positive change in the future in the way society is run. But that’s a gamble: the protester has no way of knowing whether or not her action will have any positive effect at all.

So you could argue that going to a protest isn’t a moral action, since it doesn’t particularly help anyone. Sure, you hope for some hypothetical positive effect in the future, but that isn’t a moral action in the same way as, say, giving a meal to a hungry homeless person in the here-and-now.

But you could argue it the other way too: if you give a meal to a homeless person her hunger may be eased for a few hours, but you leave her in the same place as you found her, so the action has not had any lasting good effect. The only morally adequate response would be to change the system that causes some people to be homeless in the first place.

This business of changing the system is tricky though. Even if you can manage to make any change at all, how can you be certain that it’s the kind of change you want? There was a time when a lot of people all around the world were really excited about the Russian Revolution, which was going to bring in a wonderful communist system free of all forms of oppression… but that didn’t work out so well.