Morality vs. Self-Interest

There is an interesting sub-debate going on the coalition politics thread that I wanted to bring out. Here are a few comments.


If you truly believe a policy isn't in your interest, than you really should oppose it. I like Andrew and all, but I don't support gay marriage because I expect him to recant on the Bell Curve. I support it because I think family is a societal good--which benefits me individually. Raise your kid right, and I don't have to worry about him sticking up my kid. Pool your resources, and maybe I don't have to worry about you defaulting on your home. More abstractly, I simply don't enjoy living in a country that discriminates. That's my feeling. That's about what I want, how I want to live. I don't expect a reward for it. I don't expect a cookie.

DJ Moonbat responds to the point about not voting for policy that isn't in your interest:

No, you really shouldn't. You should try to behave in keeping with some sense of morality. American democracy, contrary to popular misconception, was not so spectacularly designed that it can produce good outcomes with a completely amoral populace.


This depends on how you understand interest, not to mention morality. After all, it may be in my interest to get eg. my rabid fox bite treated in hospital, but my morality may insist that such treatment is forbidden because of some religious imperative. Equally, one might argue that by being polite to the guy on the street one gets better directions, while one's morality might insist that a sincere, blunt request for information would be more appropriate.


Do you really mean this? That seems like a really cold way to look at politics, and it's certainly not the way I and a lot of other folks in my particular slices of the demography see things.

I'm an Arab-American (and a Muslim-American, albeit a secular one), and I can tell you that there's a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the black community for sticking by us on Palestine and on profiling and on all the other bullshit national security issues of the Bush years.

And so on...

Perhaps this is where I break with my fellow lefties, I don't know. But I don't think people really do things--en mass and maybe even individually--that isn't in their interest. I don't believe whites began supporting Civil Rights in the 60s strictly out of an attack of moral conscience--they were not interested in being a member of a community which sanctioned the fire-hosing of children. It's clear that Jim Crow and segregation worked to the immediate advantage of some white people, but I've never believed that it worked to the long-term advantage of most white people. The price of international embarrassment, of essentially shrinking the middle-class, of destroying valuable brain-power, of sowing resentment amongst a substantial minority of the populace, of creating ghettos is high.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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