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Objecting to Situations

September 11th, 2012
giving  [html]

In several conversations recently I've been frustrated by people trying to convince me that some situation is bad: global warming is out of control, housing is too expensive, single parenting is harmful to children. The problem is that situations are really only good or bad in comparison to alternatives. What does it mean that housing should be cheaper? There isn't a world we can get to with some simple change that is just like ours but with cheaper housing. Instead we'd need some legal or social changes, such as removing zoning restrictions, instituting rent control, or expanding housing vouchers. Any of these would have positive and negative effects, with their overall value depending on much more than simply whether cheaper housing is good.

You can take this too far: "Why are we debating housing policies when we aren't in a position to implement them? Why don't we only discuss options available to us, like donating to PACs, writing our representatives, or canvassing in person?" You do still need to figure out whether some alternate world would be worth working for, which is one component in what actions you should take yourself. But its not enough to convince me that global warming is an extremely serious threat to humanity without making the companion arguments for what the world should be doing to stop it and what I should be doing to make that happen.

(Because social programs tend not to work, the main hurdle isn't establishing that a program's goal is worthy but instead that it's moving us toward its goal.)

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