We all want one, right? I know I’m an idealist, determined to have the world be just a little bit better than it was when I leave it. I hold very strong moral convictions and I think that the world would be a better place to live in if more people held themselves to that same moral standard. And I’d be very surprised if anyone were to tell me, “I want the world as a whole to be worse off than it is now.” Well, anyone I’m on speaking terms with, since I can’t really speak for modern-day bandits or pirates, I guess.
But how do we get there? How can we create a better world? I’m not sure that anyone has the answer to that question. The only partial answer I can offer is that we can do a part of what needs to be done. My brother, in training at the United States Naval Academy, is going to defend the lives and freedom of the people of that nation, and both he and I believe that that will help to improve the world. I plan on going into law, on being a judge. I guess, then, that I’ll be helping to ensure that our legal system does its job, and I believe that I can leave the world a little bit better off through that path.
Unfortunately, the problem is that sometimes people focus far too much on trying to make the world better than it is. The problem comes when people start doing anything necessary to improve the world, to the extreme of committing what can charitably be called atrocities in the name of making a better world. The question then becomes: how, if at all, can one justify doing something that could be called evil in the name of making a better world?
The first and by far the most common justification is that sometimes, it has to be done. One excellent example can be found in the movie Serenity, a movie in which the primary antagonist openly stated, “What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.” This after killing an entire settlement’s worth of civilians down to the last child, simply to deny the protagonists a place to rest and recover.
Similar examples are often suggested and debated on forums for role-playing games like the GiantITP forums, and can also be raised by TV shows like 24. Often, the questions raised in these circumstances have to do with committing evil for the greater good. Is it morally right to kill a person that will be used as a sacrifice to summon an evil demon that could destroy the world? Is it acceptable to torture someone to protect people?
In all of these situations, the justification is that although these acts are all evil, they have to be done. No one can allow the demon to be summoned; no one can stop the terrorist plot without torturing some of those responsible, and the operative of the government in Serenity has to keep his superiors’ secrets from the rest of the world, at any cost. All in the name of creating a better world for the people that they protect.
But what makes a better world? What exactly is it that these people are defending when they commit such acts? Because here’s what I see: I see a so-called defender of justice killing someone who’s all but an innocent bystander, simply because that person was the one captured by the evil cultists. I see a police officer violating all of our standards of human rights. I see a brutal murderer keeping an important piece of information from society. I can only speak for myself, but I think that a better world is a world held to a higher moral standard than that!
Committing such atrocities as torture and murder gives up on the idea of a better world, regardless of the intention behind them. Carrying out such actions is tantamount to saying, “We can’t create a better world without doing such things.” And is a world where such atrocities are accepted as necessary really a better world than the one we have now? Do you want to live in a world where torture is a necessary tool? Or summary execution, without trial? Because that is the world that is created by such actions.
To avoid creating such a world, those who want to create one have to strive for perfection. Even if it’s impossible to be perfect, it is in trying that we come as close to that goal as we possibly can. As I’ve already said, I want the world to be better; I want to try to improve the world. And the best, indeed the only, way I know how to do that is to stand by what I believe is right, and never stop trying to act on those beliefs.