Wisconsin and Goodness

What the GOP just did in Wisconsin is a travesty, and it’s frightening. I suspect that Wisconsin’s Republican governor and legislative leaders think of themselves as being good. I’ve covered legislatures, and I doubt that few lawmakers would take such an unpopular stand with protesters at their doors without thinking they were doing the right thing. For the sake the argument, let’s also say that the Wisconsin GOP hasn’t been purchased by a few rich corporations that want to smash unions — a “fact” that may or may not be real. If they’re not playing politics, if they haven’t been bought off, then this is a case where two completely opposed views of goodness are clashing. And that leaves me with the question of how to view these events through the lens of morality.

As I started the first version of this meandering post on Facebook, I had no answers. I still feel largely speechless. Even more complicating is the fact that the latest psychological studies show that humans often decide via their gut on “what’s right” and then find justifications for that non-rational decision. I have no problem believing that the Republicans are engaging in this kind of delusional rationalization. Are those of us, me included, who support collective bargaining also delusional? And yet, from the strict sense of solving a state’s budget problems, one side is going to be right, and the other is going to be wrong.

All of this leaves me wondering if Wisconsin is a case where concepts of morality/goodness are useless, or is goodness to be found not in judging one legislative position as good and right and another as evil. Perhaps the goodness in this situation is in how we approach the situation?

To confront this struggle with goodness in mind, I suspect that I have to acknowledge the humanity of my political opposition. I have to listen to their arguments, and I have to respond in a civil manner. I still get to march. (I think everyone should be on the streets today.) I still get to debate. I still get to employ parliamentary maneuvers to pass legislation, but I have to stop thinking that I’m the only person who has a lock on morality. This is true for both sides.

To me, the events in Wisconsin feel like a turning point of some sort, a going too far that threatens to break civil society apart. I don’t know what happens next, but I suspect it will be explosive in Wisconsin and elsewhere. May we all keep our heads. May we all be able to see the humanity in each other.

Be safe everyone.

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12 Responses to Wisconsin and Goodness

  1. I’m sure a few of the legislators actually believe unions are evil and that they are doing the right thing by trying to break them. But I think you’re being too generous, on the whole, by assuming that Walker and most of the others are acting out of principle. This is partly a political fight — unions support Democratic candidates for the most part — and partly an effort to further weaken unions so that all workers will be dealing alone with their employers, instead of banding together. For the average teacher or janitor or reporter or librarian, negotiating individually with a big corporation or local government puts them at a significant disadvantage. Only superstars and people in major positions — school superintendents, for example — can negotiate a good contract on their own. The only way average people can counteract the power of large corporations and big money is by banding together. That’s what unions are for.
    Given that the particular unions in this case have been willing to give in on benefits and so forth — that is, to do their part to address the Wisconsin budget issues — tells me that the purpose of this effort is to get rid of workers banding together to protect their rights. The reasons for this effort are not those being given by Walker, and that, to me, makes it clear that he is not acting out any goodness whatsoever.
    I know unions are far from perfect, but the principle of employees working together to protect their interests is worth fighting for. We need new unions, with new and creative approaches, as work and the workforce change.
    And, just for the record: I am a member of the Newspaper Guild. I work in private industry. And I am glad to have a defined benefit pension and good health insurance and a decent wage. We bargained for those things, and I know I couldn’t have gotten them on my own.
    And even if I didn’t have a good job with good benefits, I wouldn’t believe that taking away collective bargaining rights from others that have them was going to do me any good.

    • dianesilver says:

      You make valid points, Nancy, especially about the underlying motive of the attack on unions. But here’s where things get confusing when you’re looking at these events from the lens of morality. Recent studies show that we flawed humans often (always?) make moral judgments first based on non-logical factors (i.e. unions bad ’cause they make me angry) and then come up with a logical justification for those judgments later. Walker and friends may feel that they are slathered in righteousness and morality, and that even the fact that they’re trying to undermine Democrats is the Right. Thing.To. Do. Because, after all, those damn Dems are evil.

      Do I think Walker and friends are right? No. Are they moral? No. Are they deluding themselves possibly? Could I be deluding myself? Now, that’s where the real fear comes in, ya’ know?

  2. Barry says:

    I too suspect it will be explosive, and as long at that explosion is a non-violent one, it is long overdue. Yesterday alone, the Wisconsin Senate assaulted collective bargaining, the state of Michigan created a mechanism for a governor to remove an elected city council or school board and turn over control to a non-elected corporation, and the Florida cabinet made it virtually impossible for convicted felons to get their voting rights. This, following the attacks on Planned Parenthood and NPR, foreclosures forcing millions from their homes, tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy, and the huge Wall Street bailouts. If one can ascribe good motivations to the perpetrators of these evils, or that these evils are really good, it is still impossible to justify the means by which these things have been accomplished. In the case of Florida and Wisconsin, there was little notice, no text available in advance for people to review, and no opportunity for meaningful debate. A truly good idea should be able to withstand scrutiny and due process. It may be time for people to express themselves in the streets.

    • dianesilver says:

      Good point! Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, do the means ever justify the ends? I really don’t think so. I think that the idea that one has to do terrible things to get right results is the quickest path to evil ever devised. It’s one of the ways we delude ourselves.

  3. Linda Herzberg says:

    First of all, I am a social worker and therefore usually more democratic leaning, but I am also an independent voter, because I don’t think either party has the Truth with a capital T. I think both sides have some truth and neither side really listens to what the other side is saying. I think you are right to question whether goodness is in one side or the other, or if goodness is in the approach. I do not think it is in one side or the other, and I will probably have a lot of people yelling, “What?”. I think goodness is in the approach. I think that most people have honest differences of opinions. One of my sayings in most arguements is this is his story, her story and the truth is somewhere in the middle. For better or worse, we have agreed to a majority rules system and sometimes it just plain sucks! The people of Wisconsin voted these representatives in and now they get what they voted for. It is the same here in Kansas. We voted and our governor ran on changing the public school funding and eliminating funding for “extras”. He did not say how it would be changed and what would be eliminated. Now people are finding out what . Wisconsin, Kansas and many other places will be hurting for the next 4 years, but that is what we (our fellow voters) asked for.

    Maybe the questions should be where is the goodness in our questions we ask or the demands we make of candidates before voting? Where is the goodness in asking for less taxes without thinking through what the consequences are? What would we do if we were elected? Why aren’t we running so we can make a difference?

  4. Rob Ramcharan says:

    I remember someone saying “Elections have consequences.” But of course, that applies only when the election produces the consequences supported by people with whom one agrees.

    • Linda Herzberg says:

      I do not support the governor in Wisconsin or the republicans. I don’t believe in union busting and have worked for the state of Missouri in the past for over 14 years. The union in Missouri was very weak and you could see it in the caseloads we carried, the lack of supplies and the overtime we had to work without getting paid.

      I do believe that many people vote for someone without really knowing what that person is advocating, much less what they really want to do once elected. How many of us understand what the politician is saying when they only use sound bites? How many people take the time to actually study who is running and what their history of voting has been? I say not enough.

    • dianesilver says:

      Rob, love you, man! But really, you write as if I am claiming that the GOP officials don’t have the right to do what they’ve done. I have never argued that. They were elected, so yes, elections do have consequences. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t oppose what they’re doing as they’re doing it, and even more importantly, what an official does once he or she is in office has consequences — huge consequences for the state, the nation, and ultimately, for the official. I hope the recalls in Wisconsin are successful and start a trend.

      • I suspect the Republicans elected in Wisconsin misinterpreted why they got elected. People were mad about the economy and the Tea Party rhetoric apparently resonated, but it looks like the people of Wisconsin were not actually voting for Walker’s agenda.

      • Rob Ramcharan says:

        I love you, too, Diane. Big hug!

  5. Pingback: Catch Up With The Conversation | In Search of Goodness

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