Category Archives: Commentary

Complications with Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism cares only about the consequences of institutions, not the intentions of their designers and participants. If a law intended to help the poor actually harms them, utilitarianism would oppose it. On the other hand, if self-interested activity serves the public interest via the invisible hand of the market, utilitarianism would support it.

— Chris Freiman, “Bleeding Heart Utilitarian Libertarianism

On the surface this seems sound, but even if utility were countable (and it’s not), who would be doing the counting? And while the counting is taking place, should people’s intentions presumed to be correct? Someone might say that a certain policy like immigration controls (perhaps because relevant circumstances have changed) will yield the greatest utility over the span of the next decade, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to in principle oppose it in the interim.

Making Good Friends, Not Antagonizing Enemies

I like George Donnelly’s post “Screw Activism. Build Community,” but I drew a slightly different lesson. I believe he’s saying that, rather than enroll in fleeting responses to injustices, more satisfying time would be spent building community ties — where people can have a more intimate engagement in bettering the world by helping themselves and others.

It’s a refreshing message and a good starting point, but it leaves me thinking that’s not the divide (activism versus community) that should be drawn. I would frame it in different terms. The lesson I drew is that building a better world takes spending time making good friends, not antagonizing enemies — and not making friends with just anyone, like oppressors. It’s not just any type of community that fosters human progress. Only one that respects the moral autonomy of people can hope to make the most of our energies, meaning building more vibrant communities is a roundabout form of activism.

Working with and getting to know the struggles of other oppressed and marginalized communities and setting examples for how I think people should act are just a part of that. Another part is promoting reason as one’s means of knowledge and championing the idea that each person’s life is their own to make of it what they will. In finding friends, I want to build our standing to exercise independence to what extent we have it, whether that be means of jury nullification pamphleting or filming police. They can reciprocally support one another. It depends on the motivation of the activism — love or hate. I think that’s the divide, just framed a bit differently.