On Ends and Means

On Ends and Means

Over the weekend a friend had mentioned, regarding the tactics being employed to undermine the president (the general path taken eminently predictable given the accusations made beforehand); namely, that even if they did “win”, the tactics they used de-facto set the rules of politics going forward. To anyone who’s given it a moment’s thought, related to game theory, this is a duh. But, there’s a deeper aspect here beyond simply the dynamics of how people respond tit for tat, and what behavior they declare acceptable through their actions.

There’s a common expression: the ends justify the means. This is usually spoken to justify misery, slaughter, and oppression. Thus also the expression that no, it doesn’t. And I get it. As a general concept, you can’t screw your way to virginity, though killing for peace is far less of an oxymoron than those mocking the phrase would have you believe.

The thing is, the ends do not so much justify, the means as flow directly from them.

Here’s the issue.

Effectively, nothing is a static system. Everything is interrelated. Not only does any living thing with a semblance of choice or instinct react to the choices of others and changes in the environment, but even mere physical systems almost universally respond to changes. Take thermodynamics, which encompasses almost every bit of matter in the universe.

So, the means always affects the end. If you are working with people, what you are doing, and to a degree as well, their perception of what you are doing (see Scott Adams on his ‘two movies” metaphor for Trump in his recent Dave Rubin interview) whether their perception of your motives lines up with your own, affects their willingness to work with you, to accept the results of your choices or resist, and how they accept or resist, which of course has it’s own reactions.

And that leaves out second and third order consequences outside of mere perception.

Additionally, some means and ends are fundamentally incompatible. Putting a bullet in someone’s head is incompatible with the ends of them working for you the next day, unless you’ve got a necromancer handy. Threatening to put a bullet in their head may get them to cooperate, for now, but with a very different set of results and opportunity costs to watch over them, and different results if they ever gain power over you.

Finally, some ends are simply impossible. Take utopia. Or even universal positive “rights”. Or a socialism that functions in the long term (scope and people issues) for humans.

The monsters you have to watch out for are the sociopaths and those to whom the “ends” are ideologies and not people. Especially because ideologies tend toward that third category of “not possible” – with a leavening of utopia or ultimate good, on a pragmatic level, justifying a lot of broken eggs to get that omelet.

The former will gladly cut you up if they find it interesting, and think they can get away with it. If they wish for you to suffer they will of course make choices, take any means available, to make you do so.

The latter though are trickier. They often claim to be for people – yet it’s been noted that if you take the net results and misery generated by communism and the entire spectrum of progressive-socialist death cults, maybe the people involved don’t care about helping other people so much as they care about tearing down those they are envious of with a fig leaf of virtue to justify their actions. Certainly a borderline or narcissist will often go where they can appear to be virtuous and find plenty of people with problems to be “helped” – teaching, nursing, psychology (it’s been noted that psychologists disproportionately are people who need their own services). There, they may help, and leaven their help with “help” – petty torments and joy in having power over others.

Others may mean well, but are duped or ignorant, and may not wish to accept responsibility when the folly becomes plain.

In the end, the means we choose are an expression of our values and priorities. The actions we take a truer expression than the words we mouth. The greater the disparity between the two, the more difficult our lives are. When we say that the ends do not justify the means, what we are actually saying is that those stated ends do not justify, and cannot be reached by those means, if at all, and the means themselves are morally fraught at best.

We may value life overall, but may take the means to kill a man who is threatening us, our friends, or our families with death, because we value them more than life in general. The ends – protecting the lives of those we love – justifies the means, killing a man who is on the cusp of murdering them. And even if fully justified, taking on the violation of another ends, valuing life in general, takes a toll.

Conversely, the means – putting millions of workers, farmers, and others through the gulag – are not only *not *justified by the dream of a workers paradise, but render those stated ends impossible even if they were otherwise achievable.

About Last Redoubt

Ex nuke mechanic, jack of all trades.