Beware the "Greater Good"
Neither You Nor Anyone Else is a Means to an End. Every Person is an End unto Themselves.
This week’s XL is in honor of my wife for the strength and love she invested in carrying and delivering into the world a whole new person whom the Creator has so lovingly sent into our lives.
A bit more than a week ago, we waded into the paradox of ideological movements, which grandly purport to champion the collective “national good” or the “good of all of humanity” (while they’re at it), but almost by design, trample individual humans or certain groups of humans that don’t fit into their grand vision along the way.
My first exposure to this notion was in high school when we read 1984 and Animal Farm by George Orwell. 1984 paints the picture of a dystopian future (read: present) in which governments control what individuals can say and even think in the name of the “greater good.” Similar but different, Animal Farm tells the parable of a revolt by farm animals led by a pig, against their abusive alcoholic farmer, and how quickly the oppressive farmer is replaced with an equally oppressive pig. They were both written by Orwell as poignant critiques of Stalinist Russia, but are really portraits of so many movements in the past, and without a doubt, many movements in our present.
Modern history is sadly full of examples of supposedly liberal movements that were just as fascist as the right wing regimes they sought to replace, and as fascist as the right wing regimes that so often replaced them. But as we saw last week, this isn’t a modern phenomenon. Millenia ago, during the construction of the Tower of Babel, no tears were shed in the loss of individual lives, only in the slowing down of their grand project.
With the brutal image of the construction of the Tower of Babel in the background, we can better appreciate the leadership and activism of Abraham and Sarah who although affected tens of thousands of people in their generation, were renowned for treating every person they interacted with as if the world was created for them. This was the hallmark of their unique work in the ancient world.
A movement whose values are truly eternal can only be one whose first focus is the individual person who is an end unto him- or herself. Any movement that sees the individual as a means to a “greater good” will without a doubt end up ironically violating its own definition of “good” when it comes to individuals along the way to the “greater good.”
The key to preventing “irresistible ideas” from snowballing into ideologies is staying on alert that ideas are not to be worshipped. We must keep our focus on what we are here to do. We are here to do good, and the good we do must arrive first and foremost to each and every individual we are privileged to come into contact with. The true “Greater Good” can only be one that allows us to do more good to more individuals without ever trampling on any individual along the way.
Stay tuned for more on how Abraham and Sarah actually did this and how we can do the same in our lives in the next edition of XL…
If you like the ideas in XL, but want a longer treatment of them with excerpts from primary sources, check out our new book Nurture their Nature, now available on Amazon with Prime delivery.
Most recently, I was struck while watching a documentary about the “rise and fall” of WeWork, which observes the company’s darkly ironic abuses of more than a few individuals under the flag of the collective “We.”