Perfection and purity politics: a thought experiment

CONTENT WARNING: um, don’t go any further if you’re eating or if you’re easily grossed out.

Please take a moment to calm your senses and to clear your mind.

Now take yourself to your favorite place to enjoy a meal. You are not restricted by time or space, so this can be a place you currently frequent or a place that no longer exists for you. It can be your favorite Mongolian grill; maybe it’s that little cafe on the gift shop deck of the Eiffel Tower; or maybe you’re returning to that little two-seat coffee table by the window in your Nana’s kitchen, the one that looks out over her meticulously maintained English-style garden.

Now imagine that in this ethereal place, you’ve just been promised your favorite meal. It can be a single dish, or perhaps a combination of things. I won’t spoil your experience by telling you mine or by suggesting examples. Just let the colors, aromas, flavors, and textures of your favorite soul food come to life before you.

With a warm, loving smile the person serving you sets the plate down before you, and then they produce a little plastic squeeze bottle full of what appears to be a sickly, brownish paste.

“This is tepid, malarial diarrhea,” they say with a wink before topping your food with a pestilent curlicue that immediately forces a nauseating invisible cloud up into your nostrils.

Now, what do you do? Do you immediately and vehemently reject this aesthetic and medical excrescence? Or do you rationalize that you shouldn’t let a little blemish ruin a wonderful meal served in an ideal setting? Bon appetit?

In every USA election cycle, it seems, ostensibly decent and progressive-minded citizens are asked to choose between a lesser of several (in the primaries) or two (in the general elections) evils. Most of us accept without much reservation that our choice is binary, that we must take the Democrat because the Republican is unfailingly so much worse. The recent presidential election, which eventually boiled down to Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump in all fifty states, was the latest iteration of this phenomenon.

At the presidential level, at least, there were other options available to most voters. Dr. Jill Stein was on the ballot in 45 states, and eligible as a write-in in an additional 3 states. This represented 97% of the available electoral votes, or just under 90% if subtracting the write-in states. Stein’s platform included policies that would seem to be what progressive-minded liberals clamor for. So why did Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka barely exceed 1% of the popular vote without coming anywhere near earning an electoral vote?

The 2016 presidential election cycle is just one example of ostensibly progressive US voters clinging doggedly and fruitlessly to lesser-evilism, in spite of an available not-evil alternative. What interests me in this case, though, is not this dynamic on its own, but on the propensity of those same Democratic faithful (especially those with broad public platforms) to castigate leftist voters who work to create and then vote for better alternatives.

We are frequently accused of indulging in ‘purity’ politics, squandering our precious votes on fringe candidates who have no chance to win, thereby making it easier for right-wing popinjays to win office and pad their state and federal legislative majorities. We are accused of measuring Democratic candidates against unreasonable and unrealistic criteria that ignore the prevailing pressures of their respective offices.

I prefer to invert these accusations. What action or policy promoted and executed by your ‘lesser evil’ would be your personal Rubicon? In other words, what could they do to lose your support? Would targeted assassinations that exterminate innocent children do the trick? How about support for foreign reactionaries who– once installed in power or otherwise enabled– invariably resort to a laundry list of atrocities that will usually include mass murder? Could your candidate’s vocal and consistent support for Wall Street miscreants push you past the breaking point?

If you characterize such catastrophically atrocious policy behavior as mere political blemishes that must be accepted in service to some as-yet unrealized greater good, then your moral judgment is suspect. Further, it is difficult to deny that such moral capitulation often yields tangible, harmful results (e.g. the installation of open fascists to our nation’s highest offices) in the near term.

So the next time you get the urge to chide a Green or a socialist for their support for a ‘fringe’ candidate, consider your reaction to this alteration of a commonly wielded liberal electoral bromide:

Don’t let the dietarily fastidious be the enemy of the runny malarial shit.

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