What or How?

Is what we do more important than how we do it?

I was just listening to a program on NPR this morning that talked about a retired hedge fund manager who is making contributions to candidates for office, and his agenda in making those contributions is to reduce carbon emissions and so (hopefully) reduce the rate of climate change.

The interviewer raised a perceptive question–what, he asked, makes you different from the Koch brothers?

The former manager replied that the goals of his organization, the ideas that he wanted to get across, were fundamentally different from those of the Kochs.  And that’s certainly true.  But is difference as to content enough?

Enough for what, you ask?  Good question.  Hopefully that will become clear in a moment.

It’s certainly (from my perspective) a Good Thing to stand against climate change, as the manager is doing.  It’s certainly (from my perspective) a Bad Thing to stand against legislation that reduces the regulation of climate change (as the Koch brothers are doing).

But that’s all strictly from the perspective of content (aka “what”).  What about the perspective of form (aka “how”).

I have concerns with people like the Koch brothers on content–I think they’re wrong.  But I have a greater objection to their use of enormous economic leverage even than I do to their ideas.  I’m currently reading an academic paper on coercion, and perhaps this has focused my concern, but it seems to me that regardless of the goals in the interest of which economic power is deployed, that economic power has, in itself, a deleterious impact on the polity.

Remember the old saw, “you can’t fight city hall”?  Well, replace that with “you can’t fight George Soros” or “you can’t fight the Koch brothers” and is the result any different?  I think it is.  City hall is a venue, and one subject to turnover through political means.  If you don’t like the current administration, you can, in theory, “trow de bums out.”  But if you feel like your voice is suppressed, or rather, simply cannot rise above the noise of billions of dollars talking (Dylan had it right –“money doesn’t talk, it swears”) what do you do?  I suspect you withdraw.  Because there is no political solution (at least at the moment, at least in light of Citizens United) to the problem of people with vast amounts of money influencing candidates.

But perhaps the how is unimportant; perhaps procedure doesn’t really matter as long as we reach the right outcome.

What do you think?


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3 Responses to What or How?

  1. R Vogel says:

    I heard the same piece and pondered much the same thing. It is quite the dilemma. In a system such as ours how can you effectively resist without employing their tactics since it seems pretty established that money does influence politics. But why is that? Is this a fatal flaw in democracy? If the voice of the people is so easily swayed by political commercials and the like, is this effective government? Do we need laws to protect people from the own gullibility and ignorance? These are question I wrestle with and have yet to come up with a solution.

  2. xulonjam says:

    Greetings. I got here from a link at slacktivist.
    I don’t think the question “What makes you different from the Kochs” is an honest one. We live in a Citizens United world. A man playing by the rules should not be grilled as if playing by the Koch-bought rules on a side different from the Kochs is somehow cheating or being a hypocrite. These are the rules. The message remains important (Both Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren won with openly progressive views against tens of millions of dollars in outside money flooding their states) but ethical use of the law should not be subject to suspicions because your position opposes the people who wrote the laws and only want the law to benefit their side.

    • First off, welcome!

      I think it was a throw-away question. I’m an attorney, and I understand the argument about rules–but I don’t think that’s what concerns me. And honestly, I don’t think that was what concerned the interviewer, either. My thinking has more to do with what I’ve seen happening to American politics over the 45 or so years I’ve been conscious of the world outside my family.

      I’ve wondered the same thing with regard to charity, and while the answer is clearer there (to me, at any rate, alleviation of suffering matters more than the moral lessons we learn from raising money via bake sales)it’s not 100% clear. Doing things in certain ways changes the way people think.

      What I want to suggest is that there’s something important about being “boots on the ground,” something we don’t learn from the manipulation of money alone.

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