• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

CounterPunch needs you. piggybank-icon You need us. The cost of keeping the site alive and running is growing fast, as more and more readers visit. We want you to stick around, but it eats up bandwidth and costs us a bundle. Help us reach our modest goal (we are half way there!) so we can keep CounterPunch going. Donate today!

Sorry Hillary, Voting for the Lesser of Two Evils is Textbook Blame-Shifting


Of all the redundant and generally loathesome reasons for continuing to support the two-party duopoly that constitutes the electoral oligarchy upon which the global corporate empire we know and love maintains the most threadbare pretenses of democratic legitimacy, surely none are relied on more heavily than the old lesser-of-two-evils argument: which is to say, we must support the candidate we find the least hateful to reason and basic decency. As it happens, this is not only a repulsive line of thinking, it is also textbook blame shifting.

Referring to the textbook, we find that blame shifting typically involve psychological strategies like playing the victim, victim blaming, demonizing our enemies, refusing to admit responsibility for wrongdoing, and articulating self-defenses in absolute terms, typically by refusing to acknowledge any difference between criticism of our behavior or policies and attacks on our person and rights. The latter most commonly manifests as the ‘with us or against us’ fallacy, which despite commonly being associated with former President George ‘Dubya’ Bush, is surprisingly common, as its repeated appearance in the Bible (eg. Matthew 12:30, Luke 9:50, Mark 9:40) seems to suggest.

Social psychology classes this particular group of behaviors as ‘moral disengagement,’ or the subjective mechanisms we use to neutralize our conscience and reconstruct actions as just and morally legitimate that might be interpreted as unethical, immoral, harmful, dangerous, irresponsible or even criminal. This approach recognizes that we rarely reject the idea of morality out of hand, merely apply it selectively. Through selective application of principle on the basis of moral disengagement we retain the idea of ourselves as moral actors while finding various pretexts upon which to make exceptions to our principles for the sake of momentary expediency.

One of the many forms that moral disengagement takes is what is known as ‘advantageous comparison.’ As Albert Bandura points out,

Advantageous comparison is another way of making harmful conduct look good. How behavior is viewed is colored by what it is compared against. By exploiting the contrast principle, reprehensible acts can be made righteous. Terrorists see their behavior as acts of selfless martyrdom by comparing them with widespread cruelties inflicted on the people with whom they identify. The more flagrant the contrasting inhumanities, the more likely it is that one’s own destructive conduct will appear benevolent.

As one example, Bandura cites ‘the massive destruction in Vietnam,’ which he notes ‘was minimized by portraying the American military intervention as saving the populous from Communist enslavement.’ What we are doing might be far from ideal, but what the Communists would do would be much, much worse; if we swap between Word documents and take a snippet from the PhD thesis, we can even find an good example from history, being that of Truman’s 1950 speech to Congress in laying down his doctrine of Containment. The advantageous comparison in this instance derived from his claim that ‘The very existence of the Greek state is today threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by Communists, who defy the government’s authority at a number of points, particularly along the northern boundaries.’

If Greece should fall under the control of an armed minority, the effect upon its neighbor, Turkey, would be immediate and serious. Confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the entire Middle East . . . Should we fail to aid Greece and Turkey in this fateful hour, the effect will be far reaching to the West as well as to the East . . . We must take immediate and resolute action.

Therefore we must intervene in the affairs of other countries and organize their governments to protect the freedom of the world, the interests of privileged elites of the imperial home country and the freedom of the world being more or less the same thing. As Bandura notes further, expedient historical comparisons such as those made in support of Truman’s logic in retrospect also serve the purposes of self-exoneration insofar as, ‘for example, apologists for the lawlessness of political figures they support cite transgressions by past rival administrations as vindications.’ I oppose Truman’s lawlessness, therefore you should vote for me so I can carry out uniquely reckless violations of international law all of my own.

As the textbook also points out, since advantageous comparison is both the language of state terrorism and electioneering, it ‘relies heavily on moral justification by utilitarian standards’ which are necessarily subjective, although this fact also means that the ‘utilitarian cost-benefit calculus, however, can be quite slippery in specific applications.’

Thus we find the National Post arguing for one that ‘the appeal of a potential woman president is strong, with an unstated “even if it has to be Hillary” tagging along invisibly.’ And further: ‘She complained memorably of being the target of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” and from the vantage point of 2016 I do not see how it can be denied . . . What is equally obvious in 2016 is that Barack Obama was opposed by the same sort of forces, all equally thirsty for his blood, and he handed them a lot less ammunition . . . She has, of course, had a long career since.’ This is textbook moral disengagement in the form of advantageous comparison insofar as;

The task of making violence morally acceptable from a utilitarian perspective is facilitated by two sets of judgments. First, nonviolent options are judged to be ineffective to achieve desired changes, thus removing them from consideration. Second, utilitarian analyses using advantageous comparisons with actual or anticipated threats by one’s adversaries affirm that one’ injurious actions will prevent more human suffering than they cause.

Specifically applied to the presidential candidacy on behalf of the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton, the utilitarian cost-benefit calculus in this instance is particularly slippery. Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining why, despite explicitly insisting that he was not characterizing her that way, Bernie Sanders was reported by at least one news outlet as claiming that voters see Clinton as ‘the lesser of two evils.’ Given what Counterpunch amongst others has reported in recent days about leaked emails confirming that the DNC conspired against Bernie Sanders in an attempt to ensure the nomination for Hillary Clinton, this is perhaps not surprising.

They know as well as he does that behind the thin veneer of the ‘lesser of two evils logic’ and the slippery logic of advantageous comparison with its utilitarian cost-benefit calculus are the numerous strongly supported arguments pointing out the numerous reasons why Clinton is anything but lesser. In addition to these we now have another — that not only are she and the tangerine blowhard equal evils in terms of their general odiousness, malevolence and dangerousness to world peace, but that the ‘lesser evil’ logic she uses to try to get an edge on her opponent is part of the same group of traits that make her as detestable as he is. Anyone still not convinced at this point would do well to remember that the tangerine blowhard uses the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument in reverse against her as well.

cf. Douglas Adams:

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”

“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”

“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”

More articles by:

Ben Debney is a writer and lecturer in International Studies in Melbourne, Australia. web: bendebney.info.  


Weekend Edition
May 24, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire
Melvin Goodman
The Dangerous Demise of Disarmament
Jeffrey St. Clair
“The Army Ain’t No Place for a Black Man:” How the Wolf Got Caged
Richard Moser
War is War on Mother Earth
Andrew Levine
The (Small-d) Democrat’s Dilemma
Russell Mokhiber
The Boeing Way: Blaming Dead Pilots
Rev. William Alberts
Gaslighters of God
Phyllis Bennis
The Amputation Crisis in Gaza: a US-Funded Atrocity
David Rosen
21st Century Conglomerate Trusts 
Jonathan Latham
As a GMO Stunt, Professor Tasted a Pesticide and Gave It to Students
Binoy Kampmark
The Espionage Act and Julian Assange
Kathy Deacon
Liberals Fall Into Line: a Recurring Phenomenon
Jill Richardson
The Disparity Behind Anti-Abortion Laws
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Chelsea Manning is Showing Us What Real Resistance Looks Like
Zhivko Illeieff
Russiagate and the Dry Rot in American Journalism
Norman Solomon
Will Biden’s Dog Whistles for Racism Catch Up with Him?
Yanis Varoufakis
The Left Refuses to Get Its Act Together in the Face of Neofascism
Lawrence Davidson
Senator Schumer’s Divine Mission
Thomas Knapp
War Crimes Pardons: A Terrible Memorial Day Idea
Renee Parsons
Dump Bolton before He Starts the Next War
Yves Engler
Canada’s Meddling in Venezuela
Katie Singer
Controlling 5G: A Course in Obstacles
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Beauty of Trees
Jesse Jackson
Extremist Laws, Like Alabama’s, Will Hit Poor Women the Hardest
Andrew Bacevich
The “Forever Wars” Enshrined
Ron Jacobs
Another One Moves On: Roz Payne, Presente!
Christopher Brauchli
The Offal Office
Daniel Falcone
Where the ‘Democratic Left’ Goes to Die: Staten Island NYC and the Forgotten Primaries   
Julia Paley
Life After Deportation
Sarah Anderson
America Needs a Long-Term Care Program for Seniors
Seiji Yamada – John Witeck
Stop U.S. Funding for Human Rights Abuses in the Philippines
Shane Doyle, A.J. Not Afraid and Adrian Bird, Jr.
The Crazy Mountains Deserve Preservation
Charlie Nash
Will Generation Z Introduce a Wizard Renaissance?
Ron Ridenour
Denmark Peace-Justice Conference Based on Activism in Many Countries
Douglas Bevington
Why California’s Costly (and Destructive) Logging Plan for Wildfires Will Fail
Gary Leupp
“Escalating Tensions” with Iran
Jonathan Power
Making the World More Equal
Cesar Chelala
The Social Burden of Depression in Japan
Stephen Cooper
Imbibe Culture and Consciousness with Cocoa Tea (The Interview)
Stacy Bannerman
End This Hidden Threat to Military Families
Kevin Basl
Time to Rethink That POW/MIA Flag
Nicky Reid
Pledging Allegiance to the Divided States of America
Louis Proyect
A Second Look at Neflix
Martin Billheimer
Closed Shave: T. O. Bobe, the Girl and Curl
May 23, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Belligerence of Empire