|by Flemming Funch|
It is often used as a way of condemning terrorists or other people who do bad things to try to achieve their aims. They're usually presented as having the misguided idea that destructive actions can get a constructive result. Idealists who think they'll arrive at a utopia by killing off whatever is in their way. And of course there are some problems with that kind of thinking. But it has somehow become accepted in the public mind that of course the ends never ever justify the means. Which is an equally silly logical trap.
Of course the ends justify the means, if the ends really are desirable and beneficial for everybody concerned.
If you engage in something, any kind of activity or project or process, that has multiple steps to it, and the final result after the dust settles, is something good and positive and enlightening for most everybody who were and are involved, then you probably did a good thing. Even if some of the steps were painful. If the result is not painful, then maybe the pain was worth it.
The sloppiness enters when defining what a positive outcome is. If you have 2 million people, and you're willing to kill 1 million of them so that the other million can live in peace and harmony afterwards, then you obviously have a problem calculating positive outcomes. It wouldn't look very positive for the million that you had to exterminate. A positive outcome is a positive outcome for the whole, for everybody and everything involved. And if you had followed that plan there, you'd of course discover that the remaining people wouldn't feel very harmonious if you had killed half of the people they knew.
But if you actually had a positive outcome? If your revolution really resulted in general peace, harmony and enlightenment for everybody concerned, then whatever steps you took to get there would be perfectly justified. The ends justify the means. But only the real ends, the actual result, not just the ends you hallucinate you'll get when you start off on some kind of destructive path.
"You can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs", as one says. Although that's usually used as a justification for being mean to somebody, or firing half of your employees or something. But, yes, sometimes a bit of pain is necessary as part of a process that will have a positive outcome.
The means that are applied to arrive at a certain result are an integral part of the process. They're not different things. Things go a little insane when one tries to break life down into things that are always right to do or always wrong to do. Most governments and religions go overboard with that, and pretend to know exactly what's right to do, or rather what's always wrong to do, even though they don't know you, and they don't know your circumstances, and they really don't know the outcome of your actions. Is it really always wrong to run a red light? No, it depends on the result you'll get by doing it versus not doing it. If you saved somebody's life, it was the right thing to do. Running that red light was not a destructive erosion of public order, if you did it to get somebody to the hospital in time. Or even to accomplish something less, but nevertheless good and necessary.
A slap in the face might be an enlightening wakeup call, if delivered at the right time. Or it might simply be one person being mean to another. It depends.
Everything depends on what process it is part of, and what its outcome is. Not just its imagined outcome, but its actual outcome. The whole thing is much more important than the pieces seen in isolation.
But a positive outcome is more likely to be achieved if each step of the way is carried out with a consciousness of the whole. It is sort of a fractal thing. Each step of a process will carry with it the seed or the pattern of where this is going. And if the steps don't harmonize with the result, you might not really be doing what you think you're doing.
You don't spread happiness by being mean to people. If that's really what you're doing. But sometimes you might do something that appears mean at a superficial glance, but which accomplishes a greater good.
Blowing up other people's houses at random would not be very nice. But you might have to blow up one house to build a better one, which its owners would be more happy with. The destruction might look the same, but it depends on what process and what outcome it is connected with.
Breaking people's lives into little pieces, and making laws about how they're not supposed to do each of them - that's of course an attempt to control them. And that means you. It is somebody's misguided idea about how to create a stable society. Limit everybody a little bit, make lots of lines they aren't supposed to cross, put the people who cross them in jail, or at least hurt them a bit, and the rest of us will have a harmonious society. Of course that's one of the anti-examples of the ends justifying the means idea. You don't create a society of productive, creative, free people by taking away a great deal of their creativity and freedom. If that's the aim, then different means are needed.
It is a well known principle that in a project, you can't keep quality, time and cost/resources fixed and constant the same time. You can maybe pick two of them, with some luck. If you want high quality and you want it quickly, it will probably be expensive. If you want it good, but cheap, it might take some time to find, etc. You can't say you want it perfect and for 50 dollars and you want it tomorrow morning. You have to leave something variable.
The same way, you can't keep both the steps to take and the outcome fixed. At least not if you're doing anything just slightly new, that involves uncertainty. In principle, you can either say "Follow these exact steps, and wherever you end up is fine", or you can say "This is what we want, do whatever it takes to get there". Or, of course, some kind of combination. But you will only see successful actions if the people who do them have some freedom to choose how to go about getting them. If they don't, you've have to settle for 'whatever' as the outcome.
If you succeed in doing something that is all-around desirable, positive and useful, with no dead bodies swept under the carpet, your means were obviously well chosen and justified. If you end up making a crappy mess, your means will not be justified.