Private virtues v. public life

Politics is hopeless arena in which to enact individual values. Commercial interest will always win because of the enormous cost of modern politics. As I’ve written before[1] I think that voting is an inefficient way of effecting change in a way that aligns with personal values. Persons can only be elected when they affiliate themselves with a package of values whose source is largely commercial interest. For example, if I placed the highest values on a balanced federal budget, low defense spending, universal health care, and inclusive rights, who would I vote for?

Perhaps the key to living with one’s own conscience isn’t in choosing among imperfect political choices at all. What if we simply decided that the political process was an inferior way to live peacefully with one’s choices. What if the answer isn’t found in trying to compel others to believe and act as we wish? What if we all decided to ambiguous choices to the individual, for the vast majority of choices are ambiguous. (The question isn’t whether they should or shouldn’t be ambiguous. Take a look outside your bubble and you’ll see that they are.)

What if we all stopped trying to use a political process to force these ambiguous choices on others and started living according to our own private virtues - something akin to Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues. Early in adulthood, Franklin resolved to live according to a list of virtues such as temperance, frugality, moderation, tranquility and resolution. What would happen if we all cared a little less about using politics and public policy to foist our moral precepts on others and simply practiced them ourselves in a committed organized way? Humans have a strong and universal moral sense about impermissible activites. Murder, for example, is proscribed under most circumstances in nearly all societies. Apart from these universally-held moral instincts, what use do we have for politicizing and legislating the myriad values that aren’t universally-held? The size and commercial bias of our governments has made it all but useless to engage in a political struggle over moral interests. We would all be better of if we simple clarified our own individual personal values, lived as faithfully to them as we could, and went on with our lives.

  1. Voting and Efficacy, April 2, 2014 link