When you sign a contract and accept employment, do you owe your employee a duty to act within the ideal role for that position or should you continue to act as yourself and trust that they can choose someone else if you fail to meet their requirements?

Consider choosing who to vote into office. The ideal politician has several skills that are unsavory. They may be called on to lie and bluff convincingly, to be flexible with promises, to betray prior loyalties, and to make choices that cut against the immediate desires of their constituents. They may be required to make choices against their own interests. We can consider three candidates. One has all of these qualities as a matter of character and indeed acts as our ideal politician out of unconscious habit. One is personally more admirable but is flexible enough in character to perform the role of the politician in all official contexts. A third is personally more admirable but inflexible. They may not make a superb politician by the standards above but they have complete personal integrity and are likely to do at least a mediocre job in office. It’s not clear who is strictly superior.

If you value most the job getting done then one or two would be best. One will be more practiced at the desired traits so will be the more desirable. If you are interested in your leader being a good person (having certain limits) then two or three is best. If you split between these two paths then you’ll end up with a contest between two and a one pretending to be a two. If the one is any good, it will be impossible to distinguish in this case. If you value authenticity above all else, the choice is between one and three and you’ll need to use different criteria (possibly the above) to break the tie.

That’s assuming it is even possible for us to truly inhabit a role. Here’s an article in the New York Times about a tattoo and the belief in human universals. There’s a leap that’s not obvious from some person did feel X to all people could feel X. It’s a leap I used to be comfortable taking but not any more. I think humanity is more complicated than that and you might need to change J, K, and L before you’re capable of X.

There’s another point specific to the politician example. How the leader acts will cause the team to follow. If you make it about the work, it will be about the work to the exclusion of the personal. If you make it about loyalty, it will be about loyalty to the leader even when the leader is blatantly and obviously wrong. If you make it about ambition, everyone will be aiming for a promotion. That’s the only way to get one but running that race you’re constrained to be a piece of the current system (and probabilistically won’t get what you want). I don’t know if revolution can occur within entirely within a system but a priori this seems like a contradiction.

Let me leave you with a song about a narrow gate from The Wire, a show the utterly lives up to expectations.


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