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On lesser evils, ethical hymens, and true morality

Saul Alinsky

In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky said during a bitter all-or-nothing strike, that he turned down using photos showing the CEO of the company they were striking against was gay (this in an era when that could kill a career) because he didn’t need to use them. But if he had to, he would have, because way too much was at stake, ethical hymen and purity of principles be damned.

In the real world, sometimes choices are blurry, less than optimal. However, doing nothing in the face of genuine threats because your precious little morals might get ruffled is the real immorality.

Quoting from Rules for Radicals:

“So far, so noble; but, if I had been convinced that the only way we could win was to use it, then without any reservations I would have used it.

What was my alternative? To draw myself up into righteous “moral” indignation saying, “I would rather lose than corrupt my principles,” and then go home with my ethical hymen intact? The fact that 40,000 poor would lose their war against hopelessness and despair was just too tragic. That their condition would even be worsened by the vindictiveness of the corporation was also terrible and unfortunate, but that’s life. After all, one has to remember means and ends. It’s true that I might have trouble getting to sleep because it takes time to tuck those big, angelic, moral wings under the covers.

To me that would be utter immorality.”

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