Obama and necessary evils

by squelchtoad

Why does the Obama administration make policy choices that are both arguably immoral and also arguably inexpedient, from the very major (detention policies) to the more minor (abuse of IRS power)?[1] Immoral and expedient – now that would make sense, though it would also be condemnable. But immoral and inexpedient? Huh?

I’ve got a theory that I admit is irritatingly psychoanalytic in the way that much TV political commentary is. I hope it’s also philosophically interesting enough to make the TV-style punditry tolerable.

Obama does not display a bleeding heart. He has proved himself willing to commit “necessary evils” if the alternative is a greater evil. I worry that he has begun to let the evilness an action cause him to overrate the necessity of that action. After all, surely cheating works better than following the rules! And cheating is transgressive and therefore fun.

But cheating isn’t always the winning strategy. Herein lies the problem, perhaps, with encouraging people to conceive of themselves as what some of my geekier friends might call “Chaotic Good.”

If you break the rules, ostensibly for the sake of the greater good, you may become desensitized. You then no longer hesitate before breaking the rules to check whether it’s really “worth it.” You perhaps come to enjoy breaking the rules and to enjoy thinking of yourself as a pragmatic, manipulative operator. You perhaps even begin to commit, without thinking, a logical error: because you “know” that you only allow yourself to take evil actions when they are necessary, any evil action you consider taking must therefore be the only means of achieving something necessary. The more any of these things happen, the more likely you become to commit unnecessary evils.

[1] I do not have time and space here to justify the assertions of immorality and inexpediency. Grant me them and some interesting conclusions follow.