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Whoever wins, utilitarians will survive Election Day

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Election Day promises seismic change. Not that we haven’t heard that before.

For utilitarians, the political landscape may seen depressing. Campaign rhetoric has been full of flame-throwing and short on facts — perhaps no different from past years but held under a magnifying glass this time around. And the candidates’ capacity for sheer ignorance — from Sharron Angle’s take on “autism” and maternity leave to Rand Paul’s scientifically unsound medical views to Christine O’Donnell’s every word — is dispiriting.

We’ll also see several decent Congressfolks tossed out with the bathwater. Acting for the general good often fails to pay for politicians, and this election is likely to be a bloodbath for those who tried. Several politicians tried to steer the middle course, giving enough of a stimulus to stave off further calamity but not enough to rev up the debt much more. A lot of them will be voted out on Tuesday. That’ll mostly be Democrats, but a few Republicans have already lost their jobs to one of those periodic “RINO” hunts.

Given all that, how is a utilitarian supposed to stay optimistic?

The answer is found in history. And outside government.

If you’ve studied British history, you may have wondered how England, Scotland and Ireland ever contributed anything to the world while being ruled by a succession of scumbags through centuries of pointless wars. And yet they did. Writers make compelling cases that the Irish saved civilization and the Scottish modernized it. (The English contributed as well, but historians haven’t found a way to paint them as plucky underdogs.)

We’ve been doing that in the USA as well. Our most fruitful musical period rose out of a more turbulent time than we’re seeing today. Businesses are going “green” even if the government isn’t. As a society, we’re far more tolerant of diversity today than we were 50 years ago. Medical researchers are flirting with wonders beyond imagination, cranking out a miraculous H1N1 flu vaccine recently and continuing to refine treatment for everything from cancer to mental illness. (The common cold still proves elusive, unfortunately.)

This year, if you take away the overheated rhetoric about socialism and “Obamavilles,” the argument is over the role of government. The utilitarian agenda doesn’t depend on that.

The utilitarian agenda may overlap with the progressive agenda, but much of that agenda can be accomplished outside government. Businesses can reach overseas even if the government represents people who want to call the police every time a person of color walks by. Ending discrimination must take place in everyday business, not just in government. The economy and employment are ultimately in the hands of business, no matter what the government is or isn’t doing to keep it competitive. Nongovernmental organizations, including one led by former president Jimmy Carter, do amazing work overseas. Charities and private individuals aren’t powerless.

So congratulations in advance to those who are rising to power with an odd mix of populism that we all know is actually designed to take America back to some time that never really existed. Just remember that the wheels of progress keep turning for the betterment of all, not just you, and you’ll need more than 51 senators to stop them.

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