Defending the Indefensible: Against the lesser evil

“Defending the indefensible” is a series of posts where I write arguments for viewpoints that normally make me angry. Instead of “devil’s advocacy” style arguments, I wanted to give the most honest argument I could for the other side. Partly because I want to do my part to have some viewpoint tolerance and maybe encourage you to do so, too. Partly because I accidentally found that trying to write these actually makes me less angry towards these viewpoints, and I enjoy being less angry.

Previous post in the series: against development, against government action on climate change, for campus censorship, everything is bad and getting worse

Anyway, here’s the best case against supporting the “lesser evil” that I can write:

I used to have a lot of trouble understanding this viewpoint. After all, if you have several choices, and you think one of them leads to a better outcome than the others, what reason other than pique is there not to make the choice you think is better?

The recent political turmoil in Venezuela (and to a lesser extent, Brazil) and the North American reactions I’ve read to the turmoil have made me reconsider. Both Brazil and Venezuela have a hopelessly corrupt and unpopular government taking steps to reduce its own democratic accountability. The situation in Venezuela especially seems very dire. So who should we support in the conflict? Here is an interpretation that I’ve read, aimed at a communist audience.

But leftists need to understand that we don’t pick sides based on good guys and bad guys […] but based on the class character of the actors involved. That, and that alone, is the basis of solidarity. The “opposition” is first and foremost a euphemism and a misnomer because it includes a number of elements from social democrats to the most extreme elements of the far right, but its hodgepodge of demands includes austerity, increased privatization, etc. […] Solidarity is not about good feelings and liking who we work with and so on, but about defense against right wing antisocialist and anti proletarian policy, and advancement of the goals of socialism.

I disagree with this person’s assessment of the situation in Venezuela. I’m sure this is in part because I’m not a Communist (I think for good reason) and even have trouble imagining being a Communist, given the evil history of Communism. So the calculations I’d make if I were choosing who to support would be different. But the logic of “you don’t pick good guys and bad guys, you go with whatever you think is the lesser evil” is very much a realist viewpoint that makes sense to me. Except very viscerally, I feel that showing that “this is not OK” in the situation is more important and more valuable than the difference that one can make in the outcome. And this doesn’t mean the difference between the choices has to be small. The difference between Maduro’s government and what Ledezma’s government would look like is gigantic. If you find both visions unacceptable in different ways, it doesn’t mean that there’s not a real difference between them. And yet you can absolutely believe that the difference you can make in choosing between two very different visions is less important than the difference you can make by stating that neither vision is acceptable. Otherwise, you get into a world where every choice is “you’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.”

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