"For the Good of…"

I was recently reminded of a pattern I’ve observed over the years in academia, when professors sneak to a chair or a dean complaining about the acts or behavior of a colleague, citing their interest “for the good of the students.” In no cases have such individuals actually talked to their colleague, even when the complainers are fully tenured and risk nothing, and in the majority of the cases, they don’t even know the facts surrounding their complaint. Their sole interest is not in the “good of the students” or solving the problem, but in creating trouble for a colleague.

The problem with this kind of behavior is that, unfortunately, it’s not confined to academia. Remember, there was a fellow named Hitler who engaged in genocide and created something called the Holocaust “for the good of” the Reich, the Fatherland, and the purity of the Aryan race. And there were some folks in the United States who seceded from the Union, for “the good of states’ rights,” otherwise known as the freedom to enslave others. We’ve recently had “ethnic cleansing” in what was once Yugoslavia and Rwanda, for the “good” of this or that group or culture. More than a few centuries before that, the Spanish inquisition and other functionaries of the Catholic Church tortured people to death in order to “save their souls,” all for their victims’ own good, of course.

In the United States, as a result of a single terrorist attack, we’ve endured all sorts of restrictions and infringements of civil liberties for our own “good” and security, even when subsequent acts by airline passengers, for example, have suggested strongly that repetition of the 9/11 methodology is highly unlikely to be successful a second time around.

Most recently, we’ve had the leadership of the Church of the Latter Day Saints pouring millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers into the effort to support Proposition 8 in California, in order to prohibit same-sex marriages, all supposedly for the good of the “traditional” family, which, for all the rhetoric, really makes no sense. If you’re concerned about family stability, shouldn’t you be for anything that strengthens families, even non-traditional ones? Besides, it’s not as though many same-sex couples are interested in undermining Mormon marriages, unlike the Mormon Church, which seems clearly interested in undermining same-sex marriages.

In all these cases, and doubtless hundreds, if not thousands of others, those who have professed to be “for the good” of something really weren’t. They were using the argument of “good” to oppose, if not to kill or destroy, that which they opposed, and most of those using the “for the good of” argument have in mind restrictions and punishments of others, and not solutions to problems.

I object strongly to this tactic. It’s hypocritical, devious, misleading, and unethical. If you believe something to be wrong, say so, and be prepared to explain exactly why it’s wrong, and why you need to destroy, restrict, or otherwise infringe on the liberties of others, and why there is no other better solution. There times when that may in fact be necessary, but I’d wager that those cases are very few indeed, especially compared to the number of times when “good” is trotted out to harm others.