2012-09-23

Doing the Wrong thing for the Right reason


You know those scenes where someone has an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other? It must help if you can see the red skin, horns and barbed tail of the devil. Don't listen to that guy, huh?

It's interesting that we depict the devil in such an obvious way. In Abrahamic (Judaic, Christian, Muslim) mythology, Lucifer, Son of the Morning was the most powerful angel, and so beautiful that any human who saw him would weep for joy. Did he get the spiky suit because he rebelled against God? Or can the devil still look like a force for good?

And why am I asking these questions?

I was thinking about leaders, what they say and what they expect us to do. They tell us that sacrifices (inevitably of people not-them) are necessary. They divide us against each other. They find ways to normalize things (murder, torture, egregious invasion of privacy) which previously they have promised not to do in our name. These are the good guys.

After all, wouldn't it be easier for the devil if he could look appealing and impressive, if he could tell you you're doing the right thing, while directing you ineluctably towards self-destruction?

My gut feeling on this is: if someone in authority asks you to harm another human being, that's wrong. I don't care what suit they're wearing, or what arguments they use. Harming people is wrong.

Most of us probably won't be asked to torture a prisoner. But we are asked to approve it, by voting for people who do it. We don't get out there and club peaceful protestors, but we vote for administrations which do.

Worse still, our leaders tell us that we are doing the right thing, that these "difficult steps" are necessary to defend our freedom and have a peaceful place to live.

In Australia, they tell us we're putting refugees in concentration camps to prevent them from drowning, and taking away the choices of Indigenous people in order to build them Stronger Futures.

We're starving the unemployed in order to encourage them to get jobs, which either don't exist or for which they don't have the training.

We're paying huge amounts of taxpayers' money every year to subsidize the production and use of fossil fuels, the emissions from which are changing our climate and threatening the survival of our own people.

But hey, our leaders make it sound like we're doing the right thing. We can trust them!

Sometimes, those we trust and admire can make wrong things sound right. A long time ago, there was a guy called Agamemnon, whose sister-in-law went off with another man. So he decided to invade and loot that man's city and enslave everyone in it. His army loaded up the sailing ships, but he needed a good wind to push them to Troy (the other city).

His god told him he would get a good wind if he killed his daughter in front of everyone. So Agamemnon murdered his daughter in front of cheering crowds, got the good sailing wind and was universally praised by his people.

Because it was the right thing to do.

Her name was Iphigenia, by the way. Next time you turn on the news or walk down the street, you could be looking right at her.


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