Social Question

Mariah's avatar

What would you do if your opinion on what is right conflicted with what benefits you?

Asked by Mariah (25876points) July 2nd, 2012

I think most of us will claim to vote for candidates based on whose views we think are morally right or will benefit society at large, rather than voting for the person whose policies will most directly benefit us personally. Do you think you do this?

Do you think you really would do so if what you believe is right directly conflicted with what will benefit you?

As an example, consider health care reform. Not necessarily the ACA, because this is not intended to be a debate about the specifics of that bill.

In one hypothetical, let’s say you’re a healthy person, but you believe people deserve universal healthcare. A new bill will implement universal healthcare, but you have to pay into the system even though you’re not using it. You’re already struggling to make ends meet, and this bill might make your life much more difficult. Do you vote for it anyway because you believe it is the right thing to do?

Another scenario, maybe you disagree with the healthcare reform because you think it will have an overall negative economic effect on the country, but you a chronically ill person and the bill would greatly benefit you personally. Do you still vote against it?

I know it’s hard to guess what we would do in these hypothetical situations. Have you ever actually been in a situation like this? What did you do?

If you haven’t been in a situation like this, why do you think that is? Is it because your views on what’s right and wrong are shaped by your experiences? Could it be because you rationalize voting for policies that benefit you by convincing yourself that they are morally correct?

This is just something I’m curious about.

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17 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I have frequently failed to take advantage of various government handouts, such as student aid, for one, for which I (or my child) may qualify. I paid the full tuition for my daughter to attend the university from which she matriculated, and I was happy to do that. Taking direct student aid to my mind takes money from others – regardless of their “ability to pay” – and is not right.

I doubt if I’ll be able to apply the same stance to Social Security benefits when they are “offered” to me, but I expect that before too much longer those are going to be means-tested anyway, and probably not offered to me.

thorninmud's avatar

I wouldn’t be one of those who would likely benefit much from having a decent universal healthcare program. So far, my health has been pretty darned good, I have decent insurance through my work, etc. It isn’t because I’m hoping that this will swing things in my favor that I fight to get universal healthcare to stick.

It’s just seems so very clear to me that this is in the best interests of any advanced society. I want all of us to have decent lives. I’ve lived in a country where people don’t have to worry about access to healthcare at all. Once you’ve actually seen how that works then you understand how ridiculous our system is, and all of the hand-wringing about governmental overreach etc. just sounds pathetically myopic.

marinelife's avatar

I always vote for education taxes even though I do not have children. I do a lot of things that will not directly benefit me.

tom_g's avatar

I’m a socialist, so I suspect you can guess how I vote. I have come across people who do vote with a short-sighted “how does this benefit me” mentality….

The previous town I lived in was a town that was having difficulty funding the schools. Time after time a tax override came up for a vote that would have saved schools from being closed, class size increases, teacher reductions, etc. And every single time, the overrides failed. Why? People would say, “My kids are all grown. Why should I have to pay for other people’s kids to go to school?”

The unfortunate thing about that – other than the fact that they were pronouncing their moral deficiencies – was that they were voting against their own best interest. I’m not even talking about improving the lives of everyone around you so you are able to live in a better society. I’m talking about property values. The result of their unwillingness to drop an extra $112/yr to fix the schools has resulted in property values that are significantly lower than their neighbors. So, they save $112/yr to lose $75k – $100k in property value.

I’m not advocating that this should be all that drives people to fund education. But if people are so void of ethics and concern for other human beings that they can only consider their own self-interests, they should at least take a basic math class. $75,000 is always > $112.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I don’t see the conflict—not because I believe that what benefits me is right, but because I believe that what is right benefits me. When we do the right thing, we make a better world; I am benefitted by living in a better world than I might otherwise have lived in; therefore, doing the right thing benefits me. Moreover, virtuous human beings are at least sometimes motivated by sympathy for others. The suffering of others harms all decent people, and so relieving the suffering of others benefits all decent people.

I also agree with @tom_g, however, that people are very short-sighted about what benefits them in the more mundane sense. Having a healthy and educated populace that feels like it has a stake in society and a secure future helps maintain economic stability and reduces conflict between social groups. Doing for others is often doing for oneself, even if some people cannot get over the fact that it costs money to maintain a society in which money has any meaning in the first place.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Is this not the basis of most moral dilemmas? Too many people take the short-sighted view and choose what they think is in their immediate self-interest. Not only do they fail to anticipate future changes in their own circumstances but they tend to act to deny others what they currently believe they won’t need in the mistaken belief that short-term savings with result in long-term gains. This is as selfish as it is short-sighted. It is ultimately a self-defeating strategy.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t see the conflict. I think universal health care is a good thing and though I may not need it just now I may need it someday and so I would vote for it. I also have family and relatives and friends who might need it now or in the future.

How could you even pass a stranger in the street who is unwell and suffering, perhaps dying because you didn’t want universal health care?

nikipedia's avatar

I think it depends on the size of the rightness and the size of the benefit.

For an extreme example, if I could kill someone and (somehow) be positive I’d get away with it, there is no benefit large enough to justify that. But if it was a matter of inconveniencing someone slightly, and benefitting myself significantly…well, it would still have to be a pretty big benefit to outweigh the guilt.

Health care, though…that’s a no-brainer, and I say that as a healthy person without much income.

janbb's avatar

Most of the time I am voting against my own “best” interests in favor of what I believe is the general good, because I believe that being part of society is helping those whose need is greatest.

josie's avatar

If I needed charity, I would hope like hell somebody would choose to be charitable. When I give to charity, I feel good about myself.
Forcing me or someone else to be charitable is not charity at all.

Blondesjon's avatar


My opinion of what is right is based on what benefits me.

before the soapboxes get dusted off and drug out, please, take a moment to reflect on just how much this describes how you folks judge what is ‘right’

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@Blondesjon This is known as primitive, egocentric moral reasoning. It is at best Stage 2 Moral Reason of Kohlberg’s (1958) six stages. It is typical of individuals who have not yet realized that they are part of society.

See for a good brief summary of this subject.

While I admire your honesty, I am surprised to know you think this way. I had formed a different impression of you.

I know some people never achieve much higher levels of moral reasoning. This is far too true among many politicians and corporate executives. This is not a reason to emulate such “leaders.” They do serve as excellent negative examples.

Blondesjon's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence . . . Perhaps you aren’t aware of what I consider beneficial to me?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@Blondesjon Obviously, I do not know what you value or consider beneficial. I know it must be very different from what I value and consider beneficial to me and how that relates to what I consider to benefit the common good.

We all have the right to determine these things for ourselves.

Paradox25's avatar

The problem is that what is considered ‘right’ is very subjective as well, and I do have a problem with those who attempt to legislate morality at the loss of my own personal freedoms. I have little problem paying taxes when they help others though, and I’ve been desperate myself so I can relate to those who are struggling. I think that many people in our society have the false notion that if something good or bad happens to someone that it must be through some fault of their own, and that is false. I’m not a socialist, but I do support a social market economy, and I support Obama’s healthcare legislation even if it costs me a little more. I have my own insurance.

Jaxk's avatar

I think we have vastly different ideas on what is important to us and society in general. Every time you get something from government, you also give up something. It may be something obvious like higher taxes but it is usually something less obvious, like some of our freedom. Just because you believe the freedom we give up is small or even insignificant, it may seem very significant to me. When I look at what I give up in the way of freedom, it is in some degree for myself but I also believe it is for my kids, grand kids and the rest of our society. We have fought hard to save this fairly obscure notion of freedom. The revolutionary war was not about those taxes on tea, it was about control. Whether we would have the freedom to choose or whether we would be subject to the whims of the Crown. The civil war was a bloody conflict not about the treatment of slaves or their health care, it was about thier freedom. Quite frankly the freed slaves were quite often worse off, subjected to abject poverty, but they gained thier freedom. I don’t want to be a bird in a gilded cage. Nor do I want my heirs to be. If I vote for or against any legislation, it is with that thought in mind. And when I vote it is both for myself and the rest of society. And for the long term.

I’m too old to get any major benefit from major legislation but I’m not too old to see our freedoms being eroded.

augustlan's avatar

I’m with @SavoirFaire. What benefits the greater good benefits me, whether directly or indirectly.

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