Choose the Greatest Good

Michael Barbaro: You used the word “prudential.” And that caught me a little bit. Because you’re not using a word that conveys morality or faith. You’re saying “prudent,” if I’m hearing that word correctly.

Marjorie Dannenfelser: Yeah. I think actually religious people use that term quite a lot. Because it acknowledges a hierarchy of goods and evils involved in any decision. That decisions of great consequence often involved a blend of goods and bads.

And your job is to figure out where the highest good is found. Which choice leads to the highest good. And that’s the choice we had to make in that moment.


I had never heard of Marjorie Dannenfelser before this interview and though, obviously, her views are as opposed to mine as possible, I am very interested in her views and strategies in politics.

Democrats, Liberals, and Leftist have been at each other’s throats on social media these past months, or, really, these past years and elections cycles, over what is the best way forward to both keep our principles intact and win.

I’ve found myself torn between the warring factions of supporting perfect candidates only or choosing the lesser of two evils. I do not think either strategy is morally wrong per se, but I can see the possible harm both paths can lead to.

If you support less than perfect candidates and ideas progress move more slowly and you are complacent in the harms that candidate and their ideas inflict as well as the norms you reinforce by sending the signal that those harms are okay.

On the other hand, if you only support perfect candidates and ideas then change may never happen and, worse still, the other side wins again and again and greater harms can be inflicted in the short term on a greater swath of the population. Just look at how many have suffered and how much we have lost in just the last 4 years because the left could not unite behind Hillary Clinton.

The upside is that you can (in theory) claim immunity against those harms and, when the change does come there is a higher chance it will come faster, be of greater benefit, and benefit a greater swath of the population than you would get through any other imperfect candidate.

In listening to the above interview with Marjorie Dannenfelser I am struck by how simple, how easy, the choice is for her. She looks at the choices she has in front of her of her, not the choices she wishes she had, or the choices she may have four years, eight years, or a generation from now, the choices she has right now, and chooses what, in her mind, will lead to the greatest good.

I think this is the most realistic and the most effective way not just to vote, but to engage in politics on all levels.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, I’m sure, does not like Trump personally. I’m sure his actions disgust and outrage her, just like the rest of us. I’m sure she had to hold her nose when she cast her vote for him, but she is seeing her vision realized through this choice because she knows what she stands for and she saw how to get there. She is willing to make a hard choice for those she believes are vulnerable and need protecting.

Shouldn’t we be doing the same?

And what are we doing on this side of the political spectrum? We are floundering. We are in a constant state of reactionary politics and reshuffling our focus and principles. We blame each other. We ask too much of each other. We do the enemy’s work for them, and all this outrage, worrying, preaching and putting one another down for not engaging the way we want in politics as we wish it was played is not leading to the greatest good. It just feels good.

It’s also a privilege. To have the luxury step out of the ring and refuse to play or support anything that doesn’t perfectly align with your views means you know that in doing so your life will hardly change at all. There are a lot of people for whom the last four years have not been all that different from the four years before that, and for them the next four won’t be all that different either.

The Supreme Court granted me the right to marry. The Obama Administration gave me health care, a diagnosis, and affordable treatment for a condition I might have otherwise died from. My life is vastly different than I ever thought it would be because people voted and my life could vastly change again if people don’t.

I know Biden isn’t perfect and increasingly I doubt any politician ever will be. The thing we have to keep in mind is the wide-ranging changes to all levels of government, everyday life, and the country’s consciousness simply by him being elected, and that is the greatest good I have to focus on right now because who knows what turns the future will take and what we’ll be facing or what choices we’ll have in another four years.

This is what we can control.

This is what we can choose.

Choose.

265 // The Practice is Important

The new week has finally begun and though I woke in a bad mood, wanting to stay home and forget all responsibilities and obligations, I’m doing a remarkable job of faking it until I, hopefully, make it. Being part of a team and knowing there are people who are counting on me to show up and produce good work means leaving my problems and poor attitude at the door.

And you know what, taking the time and making the effort to change my perspective really turned the whole day around. It wasn’t easy though, and I realize now why the practice of mediation and mindfulness is so important. I’ve been out of practice for weeks now and I am noticing that stepping outside of myself, grounding myself, or using my rational mind is getting harder and harder to do.

The good news is that even though this week’s schedule is full, there are plenty of people on my team to share the load this time. I have more downtime than I anticipated and on top of that I’d long decided to take a couple of days off at the end of the week. It won’t be near as hard as it looks on paper and knowing that alone makes the day all the brighter.


There are just 100 days left in the year. Of course, I know that nothing, not politically or personally, will get better when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021, but the elections will be over, we’ll have settled so much further into this new normal, we’ll be halfway through winter, and so many of the big decisions I have to yet to make will be behind me.

It’s not the new year that matters. That isn’t really the end I’m waiting for. I’m just looking forward to solutions and outcomes to the problems we face and a chance to overcome fresh problems altogether.

264 // What a Weekend

What a weekend it has been! Friday night was the start of a great many birthday celebrations. Three of my siblings happen to have been born within the same 48 hour time frame, though many, many years apart. In addition, we have my father-in-law, and, a new addition to our family, my beautiful newborn baby niece.

Her father is one of the siblings celebrating his birthday this weekend too and I’m so happy that his greatest birthday wish finally came true—him and his daughter will share their special day for their whole lives.

Beyond the festivities and the bundle of joy joining our family, there has been heartbreak too. I was shocked, and then devastated, and then terrified by the news of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. The world has been uncertain for a long time now and grows more uncertain as the days pass and our heroes pass away. I feel certain there is so much worse to come for us all on the horizon and hopeless, powerless, to stop any of it.

So, for now, I’m focusing on what I can control. I’m focusing on what I can wrap my head around—today and the week ahead—and even that mush feels enough to push me over the edge.

The Dissenter’s Hope

Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.”

— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dead at 87 (via Nitch)

Refining the Truths

An honorable human relationship—that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

It isn’t that to have an honorable relationship with you, I have to understand everything, or tell you everything at once, or that I can know, beforehand, everything I need to tell you.

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us.

The possibility of life between us.”

— Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying

Nothing is Steady

Ask yourself honestly: are you looking for a steady, predictable life? Is this what you want? If so, you must realize that the world cannot offer you this. Everything in the world is in the process of change. Nothing is steady. Nothing is predictable. Nothing will give you anything other than temporary security. Thoughts come and go. Relationships begin and end. Bodies are born and pass away. This is all the world can offer you: impermanence, growth, change.”

— Paul Ferrini (via swissmiss)

258 // Carry this Pain With Me

Health-wise, today was an awful day. For one, I felt a lot worse. My pain and other symptoms were heightened and quite distressing. I’m so tired and run down I had to leave work early so I could to come home and simply sleep the afternoon away. After two additional hours rest, I still woke up with darkened eye circles and weakness in my muscles.

On top of that, I met with my doctor and though we still have no solutions; we are not quite out of options. I have a plan, but it’s a little terrifying. On one hand I have to come wean off one of my medications and see if I get better or worse. On the flip side, we are increasing another medication with the hope that it will work better. So a lot of hoping with very few certainties and a lot of real possibilities for things to go from bad to worse.

I feel close to giving up, or at least wanting to. I don’t know that giving up is even a choice or what that would like as an option going forward. I guess I can’t really give up, but I’m dangerously close to giving in—to grief, to anger, to loneliness and hopelessness.

I’m just tired of fighting. Talking myself up or back is a daily battle. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, going about my day, and doing my best to work, listen, connect, laugh, love, and be present is exhausting beyond words. How can I keep up this pace? How do I go on living, really living, not just being alive, while my body is falling and failing me every minute of every day?

I guess the only way is to see that, for one, my body is me, and two, I am not failing or falling at all. I am perhaps doing, giving, and expecting more than I should, but I am strong and I am getting through it the best anyone could if they were in my position.

It’s been helpful to remind myself that that none of this is my fault and more than that I don’t owe anyone anything because of it, let alone an apology. I’ve been feeling so sorry for every part of this, but what exactly am I sorry for? For impacting others? For asking “Will you help me?” For the proximity I place them to suffering and fragility by simply existing and being perceived?

Yes, I’m sorry for it all, but what is the point of friendship, of community, of caring, connection, and love if not to both experience and welcome such impact? I’ve got to stop feeling bad for living a real life that includes sad things, bad news, and hard choices. I have to not just welcome but expect that the people in my life will put up with me, will help me, will carry this pain with me willingly and enthusiastically.

257 // A Wholly Different Day

I’m feeling good today, which is utterly unexpected considering I had one of the worst nights in a long time. On top of my usual problems and pains, I woke early with a migraine that even total darkness and silence plus a combination of both Aleve and Tylenol would not touch.

I found myself staring at the ceiling before the sun was fully above the horizon and contemplating giving up, rising, and beginning whatever kind of day I was fated to have after a night like that.

Somewhere in her sleep my wife must have felt my frustration, pain, and plans. She rolled over and laid her head on my shoulder and draped her arms over me so I couldn’t leave. I told her I meant to get up, but she only moaned her disapproval and refused to budge. So, I gave in and gave up, and the next thing I knew I was drifting off again.

Two hours later I was a brand new me and I’m convinced today is a wholly different day, all because of her and those two hours of deep and restorative sleep I got. The migraine is now gone and I’ve had enough energy to mark an item or two off my to-do list and spend a little time at my desk.

I’ve missed this space lately. It’s a mess, but I decided not to use up all my time and focus on cleaning and simply sit down and try to create. I made a new blackout poem and I’ve published and scheduled a few posts here.

There was more I could have done, sure, there always is and will be, but it felt good to do a little more than drag this bag of meat and bone from work to bed and back as I have been now for weeks.