Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Bloomberg Precedent

I eagerly supported Bloomberg's mayoralty. I didn't agree with everything, but he was a mensch who did what was right rather than what was politically expedient. Service for the greater good rather than individual glory. In the annals of NYC politics, it was a golden age.

When Bloomberg hacked norms and regulations to eke out a third term - the city was in fiscal crisis and he truly was the best man to put it right - I was uneasy but accepted.

Consider the three dangerous problems in that sentence:

1. Crisis makes it ok to overturn laws and norms.
2. He's the one who can save us.
3. I ignored my reservations for what seemed like a special case.

This is how very bad things happen. Yes, he truly was a superior figure to fix the problem, the crisis was truly serious, and this truly was a special case. Positive motives all around! But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Even ants can learn if you provide enough negative feedback. But this is humanity's blindspot. We just keep forgetting:

Don't augment executive power because you think your guy's especially good. Don't arm militias or warlords to the teeth because you agree with their current credos. Don't torture people when you're extra scared. Don't assassinate bad actors or persecute idiots. Not because it's important to be "nice", but because the chickens always return to roost. Don't create radically new precedents to suit your momentary fears or dreams, because demons will surely arrive to avail themselves of every precedent you set (or allow to be set).

I'm not saying Trump will be able to do this (though he'll certainly try). But if he does, the menschiest of mensches, doing the right thing for the right reasons, will have played a role in enabling the unthinkable. And, via my acceptance, me, too.

Let's not panic, or even worry prematurely. Instead, what if this time we learned from the example? Next time you find yourself hooked on some exceptional individual or cause, feeling unblinking confidence in your assessment, that's the time to tap the brakes, pull back the camera, and remember that different people feel the same unblinking confidence in individuals and causes you'd find repugnant. So maybe blink, just a little, and don't do anything you wouldn't want to see them do.

And never forget that a mob is a place where people go to get away from their conscience.

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