The Imp in history

I’ve written about The Imp of the Perverse, an image to describe the impulse in human nature to choose things that we know are bad for us, but choose them anyway. It has important implications for how we understand the implementation of social programs, particularly their uptake (or lack thereof). An unusually thoughtful and well-written piece in the Washington Post makes the point that the Imp operates in history as well:

[T]he Civil War legitimized something essential, and dark, that remains with us. Ultimately, the South was fighting for the right to be wrong, for the right to retain (and expand) something ugly and indefensible. It lost the war, and slavery was abolished. But the right to be wrong, the right to resist the progress of freedom, the right to say “no, thank you” to modernity, to leave the fences in disrepair and retreat into a world of private conviction, remains as much a part of the American character as the blood spilled to preserve the Union. Nothing great has been accomplished in America since the Civil War — not footsteps on the moon, or women’s suffrage, or the right (if not the reality) of equal, unsegregated education — without people also passionately fighting for that dark right, too.

“That dark right” – a chilling phrase. We would do well in philanthropy and the nonprofit sector to remember that in trying to encourage social change, “that dark right” will always be a feature of the landscape.

As a side note, to commemorate the sesquicentennial (love that I got to use that word in a sentence) of the Civil War, the New York Times has a blog, Disunion, that “reports” on events in the war on the day they happened 150 years later. (The economist Brad DeLong has been doing something similar for World War II seventy years later.)

Lighter posting schedule this week and next: Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. Happy Holidays!


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