Polling for Evil
Polls aren’t always very informative, even after the final results are in. Uninformative polls usually lack a clear purpose and are flawed in their design. Extracting useful information often requires further analyses, if not a total do over. That’s why a careful approach to design is so important for successful and efficient polling. Recently, I came across a poll on social media that got me thinking about what even a flawed poll can achieve, at least on face value.
Now, I’m not sure what the poller’s exact intentions were. Perhaps, with a somewhat clickbaity design, her intentions were sensationalist in order to generate greater visibility. Anyhow, I want to go over its glaring flaws before suggesting where I think it succeeded.
The poll asked us to choose between truth, beauty, and goodness—one has to go! So, which one can you do without? That’s a deceptively simple question, huh!?
There’s just one problem: truth cannot go! It seems quite impossible for there to be no such thing as truth. So, what I think the poller actually meant by truth is knowledge (less sensationalist, I know). A world in which knowledge isn’t possible seems more plausible than a world in which there is no truth. After all, skeptics have long argued, in one way or another, just that. According to some skeptics, sure, we can have true beliefs but knowledge is something that we never have.
Alright, now, assuming that the poll is really just a choice between letting go of knowledge, beauty, and goodness, it seems like we’re still left swimming in a sea of confusion. After all, aren’t knowledge, beauty, and goodness related in some important way, such that one might entail another?
To avoid this problem, let’s just further assume that the poller meant that if you decide to keep knowledge, that it isn’t a kind of knowledge which might itself be beautiful like, say, some elegant mathematical proofs. Okay, but what about knowledge that can help save lives like, say, knowledge to treat some agonizing disease or solve problems like war, poverty or climate change? Wouldn’t that knowledge, if acted on, entail goodness? No, no, no; says our poller! Alright, so, let’s just assume that if we decide to keep knowledge, that it’s mutually exclusive from beauty and goodness.
Even if that’s the case, I still think we cannot let go of knowledge, at least not completely so as to be in a state of total ignorance, as the poll suggests. We need to know certain things about the world in order just to live. So, that brings us to a choice between either beauty or goodness. Now, the poll seems rather straightforward.
If one chose to let go of goodness for beauty, what do we get? Seems like a beautiful hell. No! I don’t think that that is acceptable. So, it seems like the only sensible choice is to let go of beauty for goodness. And we are left with knowledge of existing in an ugly heaven.
Anyway, whether the poll was intended to be individually or collectively consequential, it’s interesting that, however flawed, it nonetheless succeeded to poll for evil, because the decision to keep beauty over goodness seems like an evil choice, by definition. It’s also a dealbreaker for me; and I’m not even a good person.
Fortunately, we don’t have to choose, since we are blessed to exist in a world with all three; and thank goodness for that!
I’ll sign off by sharing a cover song that was playing on repeat whilst I was writing this blogpost: Evil by Interpol (Covered by Vitamin String Quartet)
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