The Moral vs. Self-Interest Basis of Politics

We’re doing this on Nov. 5, and Jim and/or I will post more on the topic later. But I wanted briefly to mention why I recommended this topic and why I think it’s one of the most important ones we’ll ever do. So we can be thinking about it in advance.

In our heated discussions on health care—and on so many political topics–I feel like the left and right talk past each other. We couch all of our arguments and objections in strictly empirical terms, and appeal almost exclusively to either self-interest or national interest (defined in strategic or material terms). Therefore, when we disagree, we must pretend that we’re disagreeing about facts and figures, and not anything deeper. I know–I’m the worst at doing this, since I spew so many facts and figures. It’s a good thing, usually, especially for group comity.

But, lately I’ve grown tired of this because I’ve realized that it limits our understanding of what’s behind many of our conflicts. I think we need to be more honest about the moral bases of many of the disagreements that underlay our group and American politics in general. On health care, foreign policy, war and peace, and many other things the divide between right and left seems to me to be fundamentally about different values systems. We just have different visions of the Good Society.

No, I’m not asserting that one side is moral and the other is not. I’m just saying they are relying on different but unstated assumptions about which personal moral values should be expressed in the public sphere. I’d like to explore this further on November 5. What could possibly go wrong?

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2 responses

  1. what could possibly go wrong? the mind boggles – you’re a very brave, intelligent man dave, and we all love you and we’re all rooting for you (and by association, for all the rest of us). Its a true test of civilized conversation to be able to trot out our deepest unspoken world-views to the group and feel safe and respected and heard – which i guess is really what it means in part to be civilized.

  2. Thanks, Ken. I respect everyone who comes to the group. In some ways, the conservatives more so, because they get beat up more these days.

    I hope our discussion of moral differences can focus on teasing out what those differences are, rather than on loving my values and hating yours.

    After all, as moral differences, they are kind of by definition immune to the art of persuasion through new facts. But, lets shine the light of day on them and see what happens.

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