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An alleged antidote to this feeling of repulsion (and attempt to lull Bernie supporters into forgetting the reasons why they despised Hillary’s tactics in the primary contest) was the endorsement of Hillary by her previously Sanders-esque critic Senator Elizabeth Warren (see the Bill Moyers and Elizabeth Warren interview below). Senator Warren’s endorsement of Hillary despite leaks showing that Hillary had stolen the democratic primary (together with Warren’s failure to endorse Bernie during the primaries) shows that even she is as much of a consequentialist as the vast majority of her colleagues serving as senators in Washington.

What is consequentialism?

Although most are familiar with the concept of having to choose between the lesser of two evils, those who are unfamiliar with undergraduate moral philosophy will not appreciate that the aforementioned media narrative is an implicitly utilitarian one (a sub-species of consequentialism, which states that the only morally relevant aspect of an action, policy etc. is its consequences). Utilitarianism has been demonstrated to be problematic, as evidenced by the influential critique provided by philosopher Bernard Williams (see ‘Utilitarianism For and Against’ 1973). In effect, the view of the corporate media which at the time was mirrored by Senator Warren is that if one cannot increase utility (for Bernie supporters that meant him continuing to fight for the Democratic Party’s nomination, or perhaps running as an independent) one’s moral obligation is to minimize disutility (e.g. support Hillary in the attempt to prevent a Trump Presidency).

So, what is the problem with saying that there is a moral requirement to choose the lesser of two evils? To begin to explain, Bernard Williams gives two examples (thought-experiments) of cases in which if someone does not do something (like Bernie supporters post-California not supporting Hillary in a general election), bad consequences will follow, because of the actions of someone else (or transposing from Williams’ examples to the 2016 election and the actions of Trump voters, given that Trump would have been worse than Hillary). One such example that Williams provides concerns the case of the botanist Jim, who stumbles upon a scene in which a militia captain (Pedro - perhaps in Honduras?) is about to kill twenty protestors against the government, as a reminder (1973, p. 98) for “other possible protestors of the advantages of not protesting”. Pedro offers Jim a choice: if Jim kills one protestor, the other nineteen will be allowed to live. If he refuses to kill one, Pedro will go ahead and kill all twenty. So on the ‘lesser of two evils’ approach, if Jim decides not to kill one person to save the lives of nineteen others, then he is negatively responsible for the state of affairs in which those people die, according to the consequentialist (utilitarian), since he could have prevented it.

Relatedly, (p.97-98):

“George, who has just taken his Ph.D. in chemistry, finds it extremely difficult to get a job. He is not very robust in health, which cuts down the number of jobs he might be able to do satisfactorily. His wife has to go out to work to keep them, which itself causes a great deal of strain, since they have small children and there are severe problems about looking after them. The results of all this, especially on the children, are damaging. An older chemist, who knows about this situation, says that he can get George a decently paid job in a certain laboratory, which pursues research into chemical and biological warfare. George says that he cannot accept this, since he is opposed to chemical and biological warfare. The older man replies that he is not too keen on it himself, come to that, but after all Georges’s refusal is not going to make the job or the laboratory go away; what is more, he happens to know that if George refuses the job, it will certainly go to a contemporary of George’s who is not inhibited by any such scruples and is likely if appointed to push along the research with greater zeal than George would.”

Williams also distinguishes two main concepts: ‘projects’ and ‘commitments’. We all have projects in the sense that we pursue all sorts of goals/interests for ourselves, family, others. Amongst these general projects are ones with a special character – commitments – which may involve intellectual/cultural/creative activities, or a moral or political cause. Importantly, commitments in Williams’ sense may involve a devotion to a more general moral perspective; e.g. hatred of injustice, or cruelty, or killing, etc. Commitments are distinctive in that they are the sorts of projects around which people may build their entire lives (or parts thereof); they involve values (not exclusively moral values) that matter deeply to the individual, and which guide one’s actions. They are not easily abandoned.

The following points can be distilled from Williams’ discussion:

1) The only status that utilitarianism can give to commitments is that they are possible sources of happiness or unhappiness. Acting in accordance with one’s own commitments, which may involve deeply held moral convictions, will be a source of happiness, whereas acting at variance with one’s commitments will be a source of unhappiness. The utilitarian, in her insistence that one’s own happiness is no more important than anyone else’s, will claim that one should be impartial and forgo one’s own commitments (e.g. the sort that Bernie has campaigned for) for the sake of the principle of utility, when the need arises.

2) However, if we did not have any personal projects, then the higher-level project of utilitarianism would be meaningless. If the only project people had was the entirely impersonal project of maximizing the amount of happiness in the world, no one could succeed in achieving that goal. One has to be involved in, or at least content with, some personal project or commitment (i.e. something independent of the abstract idea of happiness, that matters to you such as fighting for economic justice, environmental justice etc.) in order for there to be anywhere that happiness can come from.

3) Point 2) implies that utilitarianism cannot satisfactorily explain why the general project of promotion of the greatest happiness should matter to Jim, or moral agents (e.g. Bernie supporters) in general. The general project of utilitarianism is a purely impersonal project, and it is not clear how this impersonal project of promoting happiness/minimzing unhappiness could count as something that could matter to an individual. Accordingly, it has not been explained why anyone should be automatically required to sacrifice their most deeply held (Bernie-type) commitments for the sake of an impersonal principle, whenever the two conflict.

4) What if the utilitarian nonetheless insists – whenever the principle of utility and one’s commitments (e.g. hatred of killing, economic inequality, interventionist regime-change wars etc.) conflict, one must abandon one’s commitments? Williams replies that if this were true, then it would imply that e.g. Jim/(Bernie, Bernie supporters) would have to regard a project around which he/(they) have built their entire lives as one (dispensable) satisfaction amongst others, just because someone else’s (Pedro’s/Hillary’s) projects have manipulated the situation so that that is how the utilitarian calculation turns out. The problem is that this would rob us of any moral integrity, i.e. sever the connection between our deepest values and our actions. We act morally because of our moral values, yet if we (as utilitarians) are prepared to abandon these values automatically, as if they were not important to us (e.g. to prevent a potential Trump Presidency), we could not really be moral agents.

The MSM bombarded us during the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election with the notion that we ought to vote like utilitarians i.e. vote for Hillary, the lesser of the two relevant evils. Anyone who disagreed (e.g. Jill Stein, Susan Sarandon, Jimmy Dore etc.) was disparaged either by the MSM or online, yet Williams’ criticism of utilitarianism (well-known to many undergraduate philosophy students) was never once even mentioned on televised MSM discussions. Even if one has doubts about Williams’ criticism of utilitarianism, the fact that they never once mentioned Williams’ argument(s) suggests that the MSM knowingly advocated the distinct possibility that people temporarily give up their moral agency when voting. On a conception of moral agency (and happiness) according to which values (projects/commitments) are essential, the corporate-owned MSM propaganda machine are at the very least negligent in their journalistic duty. Perhaps less naively and more accurately, they deceitfully conned most voters in the 2016 Presidential election into abandoning their own values and unwittingly rejecting their own morality in pushing them to vote for Hillary. They now are attempting to do the same thing regarding the 2020 election, pushing the public in the direction of corporate puppet Joe Biden - Hillary 2.0