Feeling Good about Doing Bad Radical Bleeding Heart image

The Love of Doing Bad

But there are real values involved as well. They have to do with competitiveness and selfishness. Do-Gooders usually value cooperation; Do-Badders love conflict. Do-Gooders tend to altruism while Do-Badders lean to selfishness. Still, values are not decisive here: there are those in the liberal camp who are intensely competitive and others who are shamelessly selfish. The essential distinction is about world view. We behave differently more because we live in different worlds than because we have different values.

Conflict and Cooperation; Selfishness and Altruism

Conflict. You and I may have the same values, but if we want the same thing, and there is only one of it, we are in conflict. When our circumstances are different, what is good for one may not be good for another, regardless of our values. But direct, head-on conflicts like that tend to be destructive. They lead, not to a zero-sum game, but a less-then-zero-sum game. There may be winners and losers, but even the winners may end up with less than they would through cooperation.

Yet sometimes it is possible to avoid such conflict and still satisfy the potential adversaries. Negotiators do this by attempting to find out what people really desire. It is often the case that a dispute is resolved by finding new ways to satisfy those desires. But that requires someone capable of seeing the dispute in new ways. It means an open mind, and anger tends to close minds. And why should we do that? Merely because that way everyone comes out ahead.

Yet it is not possible to say that competition is always bad. When society is so arranged that firms compete to produce better products and services more efficiently and cheaply, the result is a net gain. That does not mean that competition itself is a good thing, simply because it is usually easier to throw a monkey wrench into your competitor's machinery than it is to build a better machine yourself. As a general rule, it is easier to destroy than to build. So you need rules to discourage or prevent destruction and encourage construction. That is the main reason that laissez-faire does not work.

Selfishness. If we cannot avoid conflict, can we unequivocally condemn selfishness? We are all selfish to a degree, but we are not as selfish as the Social Darwinists (including most economists) imagine us to be. It depends on how inclusive our sense of “we” is. People who are totally selfish, who care about absolutely no one but themselves, are rare. Some extend “we” just to family and a few friends. Others expand their circle of community more widely, to nation, or race, or tribe, with some seeing all the human race as family. Some even go beyond the human and recognize kinship with the animals and all living things. World-views again.

But when liberals talk about cooperation and altruism, the Do-badders sneer that we are trying to change human nature, and that we are trying to prevent people from bettering themselves. This is nonsense. What we must insist on is that when people compete, they do so in constructive, not destructive ways, and when they try to better themselves, they do not do so at the expense of others. That way what is good for one is good for all. Nothing could be simpler or more sensible.

Not all conservatives actually love to hurt people. Most do not. But because conservativism tends to demonize the other, it is a perfect haven for those whose souls are steeped in hatred and cruelty. It provides them with a perfect cover: that of moralist. They can satisfy their lust for doing evil with the sword of a crusader against Satan.

[Back to Uniters and Dividers.]