That phrase popped into my head just now to describe an argument that’s popular with religious fundamentalists, misogynists, and other assorted trolls.
One example that’s been in my blogosphere is Amanda Todd, and how a guy calling himself The Amazing Atheist demonstrates that you don’t have to be religious to be an asshole. Amanda was driven to suicide by an online stalker, but apparently we shouldn’t feel sorrow because she had it better than women in radical Islamic countries.
A similar attitude from the opposite direction is an argument from Gary Bauer that feminists should pipe down because they’re better off than Malala, who was shot by the Taliban for advocating women’s education. In another example, a number of bloggers were criticizing an unconstitutional heavily Christian school district, and a troll came in to ask if we’d prefer the school to be heavily Islamic, as if there were only two choices.
That’s where “Settling for Second Worst” comes in. It’s an attitude of moral laxity. It’s the idea that we shouldn’t strive to be better people or improve our society because the satisfaction that we’re better than the worst example should be all we need. I don’t think we’re one literally one step away from being the worst, but the attitude sounds like an effective way for a second worst to salve his conscience without actually doing anything or making any progress. It’s an argument for maintaining the status quo.
Yes, women in first world nations are generally better off than those in radical theocracies, but they’re still being wronged in various inexcusable ways. Why should I accept that? Why shouldn’t we try to expose and correct those wrongs? Why should these injustices be allowed to continue?
Thinking a bit more, I wonder how the Heaven/Hell model of the afterlife influences it. Given such extremes and the human capacity for half-assing, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of fundies are trying to be just good enough to get into eternal bliss while still indulging in slightly less selfish behavior than they think they can get away with. Kind of ironic that such black-and-white cosmology likely encourages ambiguous gray as the ideal moral position.