Why do good people do bad things?

Discourse, futuretalk.co6 Comments

What do Coca-Cola and city council meetings have in common? I don’t give a crap about either of them, but I should.

See, Coca-Cola has been repeatedly accused of using paramilitary forces to intimidate, torture and even murder union organizers at its bottling plants in South America. You can go research that and make up your own mind about whether or not it’s true, but I believe it. And I still occasionally buy Coke products. It’s possible that I am an awful person.

City council meetings, on the other hand, are the site of a lot of discussions and decision making both as boring as they are productive. A lot of things I complain about absentmindedly were decided in city council meetings, or by other legislative bodies, and if I truly cared I could attend and speak or at the very least send letters to my representatives. But I don’t. So am I a bad person?

Let me guess: you don’t think I’m a bad person. And the reason you don’t think I’m a bad person is that these things are familiar to you. You saw Food, Inc. but still eat Tyson chicken. You remember when they were first talking about the Patriot Act and you didn’t do anything about it. You’ve looked at Fair Trade products in a store and put them back on the shelf after seeing the price.

Well, I don’t think you’re a bad person either, but it actually doesn’t matter. Determining our moral character won’t get us any closer to finding a bridge between discontent and constructive action. Here’s what will help us: knowing that normal people like us generally do as they please until it becomes inconvenient. We aren’t interested in doing hours of research before each shopping trip and we have no patience for windy politicians.

Now, to figure out a way to make bad things inconvenient.

SorenWhy do good people do bad things?

6 Comments on “Why do good people do bad things?”

  1. Eric Komosa

    We are not bad people. But we do lack discipline and self-control. Holding a value intellectually takes some cognition and some self-reflection. Upholding our values through action takes the type of hardscrabble self-control very few of us have learned.

    Bad things will always be convenient under under-regulated capitalism. Normal people like us are infantilised by our economic system. And infants are notoriously bad at self-control. The task at hand is to begin the dual process of unlearning instant gratification and learning self-control.

  2. futuretalk

    I agree, and you said something pivotal: “Normal people like us are infantilised by our economic system.”

    Society is structured such that our worse selves are nurtured and come to the fore. What would the opposite look like? And if we can discover a social structure that nurtures the best parts of people, can that lead to social improvements without requiring individual improvements?

    If we can design a means of social change that doesn’t require very much individual change, we can create something both accessible and potent.

  3. Dani

    Not just making it inconvenient, but inconvenient to the right people. Honestly no one cares when bad things happen to poor people, or people who are considered on the margins of society. Why is that? Simply put because in this world they have no voice. So when bad things come to the doorsteps of the privileged, or those with power, then you see change. This is of course a monster of our own making. We built this society, and to re-engineer it would/will require social change that does demand more of all of its’ people, individually and as a whole.

  4. Natasha

    regarding the consumer aspect of the post.. I don’t know if it’s as big of an uphill battle as you make it seem. I get your point though, there are A LOT of things that we all do/buy everyday, and we know that they’re not the most ethical or best decision. or we may just not have the time to do the “research.” But, there are so many “votes” that we cast everyday. Every time I go to the grocery store and choose local or organic over conventional, it’s a vote. and it’s not just one vote. every product you buy is a vote. walmart started carrying organic items… i don’t think anyone believes that it’s because they care, but it’s what their customers “voted” for and wanted. i think another angle you can look at this from is educating people about the power of a single dollar. every dollar they spend is a vote, and every dollar matters. for some reason, that idea really resonates with me. people do do things a certain way until it becomes inconvenient, but people are also easily swayed by advertising and think they’ll feel a certain way after buying certain things. empowerment (or voting) could just be another thing to market(?). give people the feeling that their single dollar does make a difference! i don’t know…. the point is, we don’t have to have “self-control” to make the right decision, you CAN get instant gratification (the feeling that you made a difference? that you’re important? :) ) in purchasing the slightly more expensive apples. just make it look sexy!

    1. futuretalk

      I agree that consumption politics is something that is important for people to consider IF they are in a position to do so. However, consumption politics are a luxury of the privileged, and therefore are not a vehicle for bigtime change.

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