Whether or not the end justifies the means has always been a topic of debate. Sophocles, generally considered one of the brighter and more enlightened minds of his time (c 409 BCE), wrote that “‘The end excuses any evil”. The basic philosophy being that if the end result is important enough, it really doesn’t matter how you get there. Or as Bishop Babington wrote in 1583, “The ende good, doeth not by and by make the meanes good.” It reminds me of the political ideology that the electorate will come to realise that the policies are good even if they don’t know it now, so we won’t tell them.
It’s an idea that informs much of the world around us today. Israel is right to defend itself and can do anything in pursuit of that goal. The Palestinians are right to feel abused and are justified in doing anything to end that abuse. The NSA is right to be worried about terrorists and can forgo everything to prevent attacks. Businesses are right to pursue profits, and whatever it takes to maximise them. Political ideologies do have secret agendas that they all believe the people really want, if only they knew it. And it’s basically all bullshit.
The only hope we have of justifying our actions is if they do not follow the actions of those we deem our enemies. The only way we can call ourselves the Good Guys is if we don’t do the things that the Bad Guys do. The things that make them Bad Guys. If you are willing to kill my child to kill me, and I am willing to kill your child to kill you – then what is the difference between us? If a business found someone willing to pay $5 per baby, it would not make the widespread kidnapping of babies in pursuit of profits ok. These things seem pretty self evident if we use babies or kittens, but in this case if it’s true for babies and kittens then it’s true for teenagers and adults as well.
So next time you’re trying to decide how far to go, or if someone else has gone too far – don’t ask if their goal justifies their methods, ask if they’re still Good Guys.