What is the higher purpose clause?

Well, is an argument used by many religions, governments, and even individuals to justify doing something that is clearly wrong, on the grounds that it is for the greater good.

The Higher Porpoise Clause

Not to be confused with the Higher Porpoise Clause

“We’re going to build a new dam and flood your village to make a reservoir so the people in the next town have clean water.”

Well, shucks. It sucks to live in that village.

In many cases that’s as far as it goes, some authority or other balancing the needs of different groups and deciding to screw one in favor of the many. I guess that’s just progress.

However, the real danger of the Higher Purpose Clause is that it can easily be used to justify almost anything.

Let’s start with a trivial example

Imagine that there is a person with a bomb and they are about to kill ten people. The only way you can stop this person is to shoot them before they set off the bomb. You know that if you shoot, you will kill the aggressor. Chain of argument goes: this person is a murderer; I can save ten innocent lives; the only person who comes to harm is a killer; so I’ll shoot.

(I know, there’ll always be those who wouldn’t shoot – those who’d let the killer blow up the innocent people, but we’ll assume for now that you’re not one of those – we’ll see what happens to those people later)

Fine and dandy. You’d save the innocent many by killing the killer.

So let’s take the same scenario up a notch, shall we?

Let’s say that rather than one person set to kill ten people, you have a group of ten people about to kill one hundred people. You can save all one hundred people by blowing up the ten killers with a handy bomb.

Handy Bomb

Oooh, handy!

The moral argument is still the same, you save ten times as many people as you kill and every person that you kill is in fact a killer being prevented from acting out the murderous plan. Only there’s a catch. If you agree that you should blow up the ten, I’ll shoot you.

What?

You have just become the aggressor in the first example.  Therefore, while you feel morally ok about blowing up ten people, I feel morally ok shooting you to prevent it.

The problem here is a lack of information. If you knew the whole picture and you could see everyone’s intent, then a clear course of action for the greater good could be made. Even in this trivial example, it’s easy to get caught out. So what happens in the real world where things are so incredibly complex? Well… soldiers blow the shit out of hospitals and schools; they kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in a vague hunt for a handful of people they probably won’t even recognise if they found. Then politicians put a snappy strap line on it and sell it as Righteous and Good. The higher purpose clause at work – don’t worry about those foreign civilians, it’s for the greater good of the free world.

Hey, it's just like the real thing....

Bombing the hospital looses you 1000 points, but that's ok because you can get those back by boming the school...

So what’s the alternative?

Quite simply: Do no wrong.

Each act should be good in its own right, without further justification. It’s wrong to kill, so if the bomber is about to kill ten people, you let that happen. The bomber may do wrong, but that’s no reason to also do wrong.

The trouble with this philosophy is that if you follow it, you get fucked.

You can probably get away with it in a large city if you’re careful and lucky and hide in obscurity, because you’ll never need to do wrong. You can probably get away with it if you live on a mountain where nobody will trouble you.

However, we still live in a world where some people exist in poverty and others live like Emperors. If you’re reading this then on a global scale, you’re probably an Emperor (or at least, a well off noble of some kind). Without the will to defend yourself and your country, you will be dragged down into the darkness. So you must fight, or at least condone others to fight on your behalf.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

So what’s the answer?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to say that you should do something, but do no wrong. In practice that’s not how I behave at all.

If I’m walking down a dark alleyway in the night and I’m confronted by a man with a knife I have the same options. If I do nothing – I get fucked –  evil wins. If take care to do no wrong, I put myself at risk and I probably get fucked – evil wins. So what do I do? I fucking kill him. I don’t feel bad about that. If I were to invoke the higher purpose clause I could say that I am protecting innocent women; that if just made my escape and let him go then next time he might attack a girl that couldn’t defend herself. But that’s not it. That’s not why I’d do it. I’d do it because I would be fighting to win. I would be defending myself with no holds barred. If I let him go he might follow me. My intent would be to end any threat to myself. Because of this, if I knocked him down and he wasn’t getting up again, the situation would be altered and I could walk away.

The higher purpose clause would murder him while he was down. That’s why I don’t trust it.

The difference is – if he runs away – I won’t follow him.

So what’s the answer?

I guess you pay your money, take your choice, hope things all work out in the end…

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