I warn you this could be my most rambling post yet. This blog is “practical tips for living a more ethical life” but today I am asking for your advice. Following the results of this week’s UK general election what, if anything, would be the most ethical thing to do about the result?
39 hours awake
On Thursday 7th May I stayed up all night watching the UK General Election results with my friends. I spent the few hours before out canvassing in the constituency neighbouring mine for Caroline Lucas to try and keep a Green MP and a different voice in parliament. The mood in Brighton was optimistic. Many people, on seeing my Green rosette, wished me well and there were rosettes and posters everywhere. We were excited.
My friends round and we watched the Charlie Brooker election wipe. We laughed and joked and excitedly but nervously awaiting the results to start rolling in.
I imagine many of us remember the moment the exit polls came out at 10:00pm.
Silence. Just stunned silence for a minute and then; No way! That must be wrong. The earlier polls called it as much more close. Ten seats for the Liberal Democrats? Come on, it’s not going to be that bad!
As the night unfolded I wish the exit poll had been right.
At least then the Liberal Democrats would have had two more seats. Maybe we wouldn’t have lost such decent politicians as Simon Hughes, Vince Cable or Norman Baker in one horrifying sweep. At least then the Greens would have gained another seat perhaps in Norwich South or Bristol West.
The result resembled the Game of Thrones Red Wedding and from what seemed like a positive position somehow the Lannisters suddenly emerged on top.
My living room and my Facebook feed were awash with dismay. How did this happen? Who are these people who can, in good conscience, vote for something they dare not admit out loud even in an anonymous poll?
That may be what galls me the most. If you believe the Conservatives will do the best job for the country and you can tell me why then I may disagree but I won’t hold that against you. I don’t have the monopoly on truth. I know I could be wrong. But how can you vote for something your conscience makes you ashamed to admit to?
So Friday I, and many of my friends, spent wallowing in self pity. I mourned the loss of Nick Clegg who, I personally believe, put country before party by tempering a Conservative government for five years. I shared all the bitter posts others put online and I bemoaned the state of the country to my colleagues.
I also wrote this on Friday:
“Dear friends. Please allow me to be angry, worried and distraught today. Tomorrow is then a lovely wedding
celebration, after that constructive campaigning.” [edited to remove friends’ names]
Today is Sunday. I spent all night Thursday and all day Friday awake and moaning until eventually I just couldn’t bear to see anything else politics related and went to bed at 9pm. Yesterday I had a beautiful day with my friends full of hope and joy for the future. So now it must be time for constructive campaigning.
The problem I have been grappling with however is what to do about it? What would constructive campaigning look like?
The more I read the more I feel sick with worry for the fate of my country over the next five years. An in/out referendum on the EU, getting rid of the human rights act, £12 billion of welfare cuts and a reviving of the snooper’s charter.
Now some of the shock and horror has started to wear off my news feed and inbox has begun to fill instead with calls to action. We must do something. Is that right? Should we? Intuitively a hundred, thousand times yes but rationally?
How can we do the most good?
Unfortunately until someone finally answers my prayers and gives me Bernard’s watch I only have a limited amount of time and, for that matter, money.
Is it really the most effective use of my time to campaign against increased surveillance powers for the Government or to protect the human rights of the already comparatively well looked after? Even setting aside whether or not these issues are more important can I personally have as much impact in these areas as I can fundraising for SCI for example where I’ve already raised over £750 this year treating over 1400 people against debilitating and life threatening worms?
Might I be better off asking people to donate a bit more money to more effective charities than going against the will of the 36.9% of the British public that voted Conservative?
I have on a few occasions debated with co-writer ElSkief that however passionate we are about certain issues if we’re not focusing on the most effective solutions we’re devaluing the lives of those far away that we could be saving. If work I do here in the UK saves one life here when I could be saving 100 people in Madagascar for example then I am stating through my actions that the life of a person in Britain is 100 times more valuable than the life of a person in Madagascar.
Yet now it is an issue close to my heart, British politics, I am finding myself a hypocrite because I feel such a strong need to act to change politics here.
How do I square this circle?
I’ve no idea.
I’ve been sitting here writing various arguments for about four hours now and I’ve no idea.
It isn’t as simple as one or the other.
I do not think that the dichotomy I have presented above is a true one. It is not as simple as one or the other. Minutes spent on one are not necessarily directly taken from minutes spent on the other. I can keep donating to effective charities and fundraising whilst also attending marches and sharing political posts.
What impact might this government or the next have on wider issues like foreign aid, immigration policy or animal rights?
What influence might building on the momentum of this election have on engaging a generation in political and moral issues make in the wider world?
I have so many more questions than answers. Where the best balance lies though I do not know.
What I do know is we need more compassion
A friend shared this post and it really resonated with me. Clearly I am undecided as to what extent I should spend the next five years tirelessly fighting cuts but I do not doubt that the last point in this post is true and should be way of life in any circumstances not a proportion of my time only in bad times.
"Finally, through all of this - be kind. Be so, so kind. Be kind to your comrades, who'll get as tired and as angry as you. If you can, be kind to those you argue with, because compassion changes more minds than anger, even though it's harder to muster. Be kind to the poor. The disabled. To immigrants. To workers. To anyone who's a bit different. The government won't be you see." -- Rebecca Winson
Over to you – answers on a postcard please!
Rather than spend more time on it now I throw this open to you dear readers. Please help me through this issue and provide your thoughts.
How should we balance rationality and passion?
How should we interact in areas where there might be high effectiveness, such as political advocacy, that cannot be measured?
What percentage of our time and energy should we give to Effective Altruism?
What is the best way to live a practically ethical life?
Answers on a postcard, Facebook post or WordPress comment please.