An interesting thought: We shouldn’t always prefer the best?

This just flittered into my head on the way back from lunch with my landlord. We normally assume (or I would think most of us normally assume) that if there’s a real best out of a group of options, that’s the one we should prefer. For instance, if we’re faced with choices of meals, and one of them is the healtiest, best priced, most readily available, most delicious, etc., it would be pretty stupid to prefer one of the others. We might not be morally wrong to choose another one, but we’re being stupid. We’re not making sense, because we’re not choosing the (objectively) best option. This holds all the more obviously in moral situations. I’m faced with a choice to save a drowining person, watch the person drown and do nothing, or help drown them. The best option is obvious. If I don’t choose that one, I’m just plain wrong.

But here is what seems like a situation where I have a strong preference for something, but I don’t believe it to be the best of the available options, and yet I don’t think I’m wrong to prefer what I prefer: government. I honestly think I’d prefer a socialist or communist government. That’s actually a pretty strong preference for me, but, I don’t think that either of those is the best form of government. I tend to think that something pretty close to what America has now is the best form, because it allows for the most personal liberty – a value I hold pretty highly. So why would I prefer communism or socialism over this capitalist, constitutional republic, even though I think the latter is overall a better form? Well, like I said, I think our government makes the most room for personal liberty (while also safeguarding its citizens), and I think that’s the general role of  government. But, it affords a lot of liberties that I don’t care anything for (like the liberty to dominate competitors in the marketplace, hoard material posessions, etc.), and those liberties come with costs that, since I don’t want them anyway, I don’t care to pay. Communism generally doesn’t carry these costs, so I’d really prefer that system. And all that is justified; there’s no reason I should prefer our government over communism or socialism (personally). I’m totally within my rights to wish (personally) to live in such a society. So, my preference is unscathed. But, considering the role of government, I have to say that our current style is the objective winner, since it does what government ought to do better than competitors (generally). The result? – an odd situation where I rationally, justifiably prefer one option, and yet hold that it’s, in the end, an inferrior one. Weird.



  1. #1 by Ryan Junkin on 5.20.09 - 10.23 pm

    But, perhaps, the implication is that the point at which your preference and the objectively best option converge doesn’t currently exist. One might imagine another form of government which maintains the protection of personal liberties you value while not allowing for those abuses you despise. Your task would be to make the general propositions of your newly-formed government broad enough to incorporate some individuals with dissenting opinions in some areas. As a result, you would merely be exchanging certain things with which you disagree for more tolerable ones. Thoughts?

  2. #2 by Michael Glawson on 5.23.09 - 11.37 am

    So let me make sure I’m getting you right here. You’re saying, well what we’re really seeing is that there just isn’t yet the right governmental system that captures what I like about both, so that then I’d really be preferring the best option in both ways. Is that right?

    If that’s what you’re saying, I see the idea, but here I don’t think there could be any ‘compromise’ or ‘hybrid’ government that would give both, because I would really like to live in a place where we’ve all sacrificed real liberties we have in order to have peace and simplicity. That means I personally want a place where we’ve all thrown out our right to amass huge personal wealth, dominate one another economically, etc., but I think people probably really do have those rights, and the best government would make room for people to exercise their rights as fully as possible. So I’m back in the same place. What I think is really going on, the more I’m thinking about it, is that I’m really wishing people would be a certain way.

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