Tuesday, 1 April 2014
The Road to Hell
However, there's been an unfortunate side-effect of this blog which I never intended. This has become quite a project. Because I have to write quite frequently and I like to write about interesting things, I've found that it's difficult to come up with stuff to say every day.
I have a backlog, but that doesn't always help because often those Words of the Day don't seem relevant enough. They're too far left field, and I want this blog to remain relevant. As a result, sometimes I miss my posting date.
I do apologize, but all I want is to make this blog the best it can be, even if that means missing a posting date. It was never my intention to ignore my posting schedule. But, that is what happened. Sometimes, good intentions can lead to poor outcomes.
With all of that in mind, I remember something from my youth. In Philosophy class, we had a few lessons about Ethics. And I remember having a friendly debate with a classmate about one form of morality (I believe it was called Kantian Ethics, but don't quote me on that) which held the belief that true morality was based on good intentions.
Boiled down to layman's terms, the idea was - you can cut off someone's arm, that would be cruel and evil if that person was healthy and innocent. However, if they've got a gangrenous, necrotic infection on their elbow, then cutting off their arm would be the right thing. To explain these contradictory notions, they explained morality by claiming it was their intentions that made them moral, not their actions.
We were both talking about this ethical system, but I was arguing the negative - I believe this form of morality does not hold up to scrutiny, because, all in all, intentions are pretty ineffectual. So, today, I'm going to talk about that. The Word of the Day is: 'INTENTION'
Intention /in'tenshən/ n. 1. The act of deciding upon some action or result; a purpose or design. 2. The end or object intended. 3. (pl.) Colloquial Purposes with respect to marriage. 4. Logic The mental act of firstly directing attention to something. 5. Meaning.
In that discussion - so many years ago - my argument was simple. I don't believe that intention matters, because we can't see intention. This is one of the basic principles of my whole "Everyone is Selfish" philosophy; you can't read anyone's mind and so you'll never know someone's intention. You can only ever perceive intention through action.
And since, everyone is the protagonist of their own life-story and everyone does what they believe is the right thing (the majority of the time), then everything that everyone does is always done with good intentions. The Mayans believed that killing people allowed the sun to rise; Evangelical Christians believed that burning women would stop evil and Hitler truly believed that his war would bring him closer to godhood and make Germany a greater place.
There's a famous saying that comes to mind, and it's much too apt to ignore:
"The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions"
I've heard too many stories of people that do cruel things in the name of "good". Be it for imagined gods; personal morals or so-called 'tough love', I can't turn a blind eye to cruelty just because it was done for 'the greater good'.
And on the lighter side, good deeds, even when done with poor intentions, are still good. That was kind of the entire point of my post about Global Warming.
At least, that's what I tend to think. But lately, I've found myself with some conflicting opinions, which don't suit this mindset. It's a paradox which needed unravelling, which lead to a new understanding of the merit of intention.
See, all of the examples I've given of intention's uselessness were actions. I am judging the worth of the actions themselves, and those actions are unaffected by the intention. However, there's more to life than "actions", what about words, feelings & ideas? When we judge the morality of a person's words, their intention becomes more important. Because the meaning of words are dependent on context, including the intent of the speaker. In fact, sometimes, a person's words are immaterial, when compared with what they intend their words for.
For instance, off the top of my head, preachers. A lot of televangelists say really nice things, about togetherness, fairness and unity; but I hate them to my core, because their intent is not to bring people together, but rather to bring "their" people together (others that share their faith) and exclude all others. But it doesn't have to be religious preachers, politicians are often nothing more than political preachers, who tell mouthfuls of lies and mistruths for the purposes of talking themselves up and discrediting all that oppose them.
On the lighter side . . . there's my girlfriend. I often say silly, wrong things around her, because I get flustered around beautiful women, and I find it hard to continue to present myself as the loquacious, erudite gentleman tht I consider myself to be. So I say things wrong, usually just little things, like ambiguous compliments; untempered opinions and off-colour jokes. But she never gets mad, annoyed or upset, because she knows the kind of person I am - she knows my intention - and despite the fact that I always apologize, she tells me I needn't, because my intentions were pure.
Or in the instance of Jimmy Carr (one of my favourite comedians), he tells sexist, racist, disablist, rapist, immoral, offensive and disgusting jokes. But he is still one of my favourite comedians, because despite his jokes, he's actually a nice gentleman that just happens to have a very dark sense of humour. I think this is best portrayed when he does apologize when people don't find his joke funny, like in this clip with a heckler, to whom he apologizes when she feels insulted.
Part of this, I believe, is because of that final definition for intent: Meaning. When we talk, we are trying to communicate our ideas, and we do so through words. Occasionally, we get lost along the way and we don't effectively portray that, but if others can interpret the true meaning - the true intention - of our words, then they can judge us by what we meant, rather than what we said or wrote. In short:
"We judge actions by their consequences and we judge people by their intentions."
Of course, we also judge people by their actions, so this all starts to become a bit of a logically-recurring nightmare. But in conclusion, our intentions are not as worthless as I once considered them to be, and in writing fiction, understanding intention, and the discrepancies between a character's motivations, intentions, actions & consequences can make compelling character drama, and fascinating villains.
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd. And until next time, I intend to work on writing more fiction for this blog, I just hope I find the time.