common good: wealth by and for the commoners

When Emergency Preparedness and History Knowledge Collide


How is the greater good served by sacrificing individuals?

In my 13 years of working in the public service of Canada, I became something of an expert on the job competions, and preparing resumes, writing the 2 types of exams and naturally, the interview process.

Over the years, I helped many people participate in competitions and even attain promotional advances.

I have been asked by a lot of people to create a workshop to teach what I have learned to help people get jobs in the Federal Government of Canada.

But I find that a year of being in recovery following a diagnosis of PTSD, a pyschotic break with reality, social and general anxiety disorder, panic attack disorder, agoraphobia and more types of depression than I can remember being told that I had…..

that there is no way that I could ever, in good consciousness ever help anyone to seek employment within the public service of Canada. I just can’t be responsible to impact the quality of someone’s life as negatively as that.

The public service used to be a calling – and in Canada, up until the 1970s, being a federal service employee meant you couldn’t vote in federal elections.

but now getting a government job is deemed a coup – and you know what, when an industry gets a reputation for a certain kind of employee – guess who are the people who most apply?

Most public service employees are regular people. they go to work and do their job with not enough resources, usually too many approval layers because everyone is to afraid to be responsible for decisions and too many people who do not understand what the purpose of policy and procedures really are or just how interconnected they are.


True Fallacy

In debates on any subject where the behavior of individuals stands in for the behavior of the groups – the person arguing for the goodness of the group, will generally resort to the “No True Scotsman” fallacy when faced with behaviours that they do not wish to be associated or representative of the group.

So, no true Christian would shoot an abortion doctor, for example – even though, true Christians could see where such an act might be viewed as having some positive outcomes – at the very least, that doctor won’t be performing abortions.

In this way, Christians try to have it both ways – denying that the shooter is part of their group, while providing a sheen of goodness, respectability, understanding even of the shooter and their actions with the desired outcome of reducing the number of abortion doctors and intimidating those who continue to provide services in the fact of such “deplorable”, well, at least unfortunate, violence.

I have always understood this fallacy from the point of view of the person it’s presented to as an arguement – and it’s easy to strike it down.

There’s over 35,000 sects of Christianity, and it’s long past the time to pretend that they are uniform – they are unique, distinct and all Christian. It’s truer to say that Christianity includes a wide range of people, beliefs and behavioral norms – and that allows for a wide range of behaviours to operate under cover of the diversity of the larger Christian community.

I never appreciated that fallacy from the other side – that is, to feel associated with a group and one member undertakes a horrific and largely incomprehensible action.

In 1989. I turned on the radio and learned of a shooting at a university – a man had killed 14 women who were engineering students. I remember thinking “where in the US did that happen” and when the story repeated and it was in Montreal, Canada – I had to pull my car over and stop driving. I was in total shock that this type of event could happen in Canada.

Then Columbine happened and it seemed that workplace and school shootings were some kind of fashionable event – and not limited to North America.

But, the recent shootings in Norway, continue to hold my attention. That a Scandinavian person could have so betrayed the trust as to dress like a police officer and target children and teens….

I find myself – half Icelandic – groping for comprehension.

If I could only eat what I procured, I’d be a vegetarian overnight – so this premeditated, cold blooded, intellectual exercise of murder, killing, children for ideas – is just so beyond my comprehension that I cannot beleive that a Scandinavian person would do such a thing.

As much as a policy wonk as I am, policy and ideas, do not come before people’s lives. The greater good is not ever served with the blood of innocents.

I do not want to admit that Scandinavians, bastions of socialist and not particularly religious societies, could still bring forth individuals who would seek to impose their particular worldview upon the world through violence – rather than through example and influence – such as creative arts, non-fiction writing, being part of the political system…

But then, perhaps violence is the last means available to people who’s worldview simply has no merit, nothing to recommend it for consideration.

Which, xenophobic isolationism, really has no place in a global world, where no one group is any better or different than any other.

Perhaps that’s the realization that the “no true scotsman” fallacy should trigger – the moment we intellectually reach for it, we need to see if for the shallow self-indulgence that it is – that any group is better or different than any other is false on the face of it.

Common Good vs Greater Good

The common good is that idea that whatever serves the most number of members in a community is deemed good. The common good is generally whatever rules or actions are needed to minimize the disharmony within the community.

The greater good is the idea that there’s a standard that we should collectively strive for to maximize the harmony within the community.

Depending on the demographics and characteristics of the community, whether either kind of  “good” is actually good, is more a function of who’s left standing at the end.

Greater and common goods are about the collective needs of the individuals rather than individual individuals, where the community as a whole or as balancing interests of groups within the whole community – and not considering the interests of any individuals – but the decisions/actions of individuals contribute to either the common or greater good.

The common good, being about peaceful co-existence, is generally good under any system of objective or subjective measure. Paying taxes in exchange for services, following laws and social norms so as to as to not infringe on other people’s enjoyment or ability to live their lives as they see fit within the same rules. Your right to swing your arm ends before my nose begins type of rules and norms.

As long as the common good is mostly good, people are contented and engaged in society and committed to leave the status quo as it is.

The greater good is the higher order of good and it can be used for good purposes to address areas where the common good is not inclusive of groups of people – an example would be civil rights and social progress, where groups that were discriminated against, ie not included in the common good, have these historic wrongs righted or it can be used for bad purposes, which is to redefine what the common good is in terms of a narrower set of groups within the community – for example, the standby Nazi Germany redefining what a true German was and passing laws putting limitations on the rights of Jewish people, as if there was a limited amount of rights and freedoms or, in  modern America, the issue of gays being denied marriage, as if allowing gays to marry diminished the marriages of straight people – anything that is to serve a deity or purist purpose is often deemed by those who benefit to be the greater good – and it comes down to great for them and sucky or worse for everyone else.

Individually, we contribute on a daily basis to the common good – when we take turns, when we don’t take more than we need and leave some for others, when we work cooperatively on common or group goals, when we treat others as we treat ourselves. We do not contribute to the common good when we put ourselves or put others above or ahead of the group, so it’s a fine balancing act of not shorting someone else or shorting ourselves.

Individually, we can also contribute to a greater good than living our normal lives allow – often these feel like calls to service or destiny. We are drawn to a greater good when we undertake an action that provides an example for others to follow because of the obvious benefits or improvement for the common good. This is as opposed to having others emulate the behaviours or actions by coercion, trickery or bribery to follow the set example, as exemplified by the behaviour or actions reduces the common good by eliminating or discriminating against segments of the community, with individuals of non-targeted groups joining in to avoid becoming outcast or because they benefit from casting people out.

Serving the common and greater goods, requires individuals to think beyond themselves; serving the common good is to think of other individual people as well as yourself and the greater good to think of other groups of people to whom the individual is not a member as well as your own group(s) – and creating a balance, a harmony, between and within.

To not serve either the common or greater good, is to serve your own or your groups’ narrow interest, usually at the expense of other people and groups. This is where the greatest dangers and threats to the whole of society lie, me at the expense of you.

To serve oneself alone, is to provide service to no one.

For the Greater Good…

The concept “The Greater Good” is used to  justify oppression, violence and even genocide – which cannot truly be in the interest of “good”,  greater or otherwise.

People who promote religions and political systems often believe they are acting for the greater good. They always have the courage of their convictions, too, which makes them attractive to follow as leaders.

There seems to be an inverse relationship though, between the level of courage and the caliber of the conviction. Especially when the conviction is “for me and mine”, instead of for everyone.

The idea was expressed perhaps less elegantly, but more clearly in Star Trek :

The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few or the one.

In the Star Trek universe, this is a Vulcan saying and Vulcans are all about logic and that at all about emotion. While the Many and The Greater Good have numbers on their side, these ideas leave a lot of room to for very bad and even evil actions.

Neither concept defines what good or the need is.

And both fly in the face of civil rights, equality under the law and even fairness.

Under these principles, it’s easy to deny a portion of the population the ability to vote, have safe working conditions, or even be considered citizens deserving of equal treatment.

These two concepts are really just two fancy or high-minded seeming ways to say rule by the mob.

Who decides what is actually good?

If the largest part of the population’s framework for determining what “good” means is a faulty framework, then can it produce a direction towards actually good results?

We cannot say that simple majorities can determine good, because that means that any genocide of a minority population is good. But of course, it’s really not.

Clue: The reason we have put protection of minority rights into law, is because the majority cannot be trusted to be fair.

Religious groups frame good in the context of their religion – but, all religions have the same amount of evidence and logic behind them – which is to say none at all. So we really can’t use religion as a framework to determine good or bad.

Especially when all religions come down to anyone in the group is good and everyone outside the group has to be converted or killed.

Very few religions are content to leave non-members to their own devices.

The basic premise is that since you are not a member, you must be “saved” for your own good – and wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were all one big happy family believing in the same god and worshiping it in the same way.

I was asked by a religious person “What evidence do you need to belive in god.” I’m not entirely sure which god, but it was one of the christian flavours.

I responded that it would be the same evidence that he would require in order to convert to worshiping  Odin and the other Norse gods.

Anyone who trots out the Greater Good justification is saying that they know better for everyone, than everyone else knows for themselves.

The world is too complicated a place for any one person or think tank to really know what’s best. Especially when that “what’s best” always seems to be for everyone to act, think, dress and behave like the person or group pushing for their solutions.

That other people do not act or believe like them is incomprehensible. The only way people who believe in a particular way can make sense that others do not share their convictions or beliefs is to categorize us as perpetually rebelling teenagers, ignorant, willfully evil or angry at their god.

It never occurs to the extreme believers (right or left makes no difference)  that what they believe to be self-evident really isn’t. It’s just what they accepted for whatever reason – it was taught to them as children, they are comfortable in the black and white framework, they confuse what they wish to be true as being true.

And for the Believer views and beliefs to be true, they must be true for everyone – and Believers do not deal well with other people being happy, successful or even existing without sharing the beliefs being pushed.

And that’s where the greater good comes into play.  A person or group has decided for everyone what’s true and good.

That this good excludes some people, forces others to change, well, it’s really in their best interest, after all, we don’t really want people to go to a bad afterlife, we don’t want people to act immorally or amorally in this life.  Basically, you only have free will if you follow the rules.

Which is when the irony meter exploded for everyone else.

I do not accept that the greater good is served when it is at the expense of a minority. I don’t even know how people can even enjoy a good outcome for themselves when they know that the opportunity for the outcome is specifically denied to others.

It comes down to entitlement – I don’t know how any man could go to vote in an election, knowing that his wife, sister, mother and especially daughters would not be permitted to cast a ballot as well.

I don’t know how any white landowner felt entitled to own other people as indentured servants or slaves to work the land.

I understand why people want to get married and I don’t expect heterosexuals to not be married until gays and lesbians can also marry – but, how do some people think that they are entitled to the over 1000 rights that come with marriage and gays/lesbians are not.

The basic premise of all religions is that the people who believe in the true one, are members of an exclusive club who are in the on truth and have a pass to the VIP afterlife – and for them to enjoy it, others must not only be denied it, but also be punished.

Aside: How can we get rid of bullying in school when adult society is all about pecking order and entitlement over others.

The basic premise of all bigotry is that the group the bigot is in, is better than all other groups. The inferior groups generally being women, other ethnicities, other religions, other mental/physical abilities, other body shapes, other sexualities, and just other other.

Which is why religion is often the validation, justification and motivation of/for bigotry.

I do not accept that the needs of the many outweigh the few or the one in all or even most cases.

I don’t accept this especially The One gets the short end of the stick, because it depends on who that “one” is.

Anyone who has a body guard is saying that their life is more important than the life of the person guarding them.

People in political and religious leadership roles are deemed more important than the rank and file.

Anyone who pushes for a certain public morality that they themselves fall short of is saying that they are more important than everyone else who should follow their rules. Putting yourself above “the rules” and especially your own version of “the rules” is saying you’re more important.

Going back to gay marriage….

The majority in most countries did not feel gay marriage was in society’s interests (read greater good).

Not having access to marriage is defiantly a disadvantage to gays and lesbians (the few).

But, the majority’s discomfort and opposition isn’t a justification to not allow gays and lesbians to marry. Especially when the minority interest really has no negative or really any impact on the majority.

You just have to share. Include people. Play nicely and treat others how you want to be treated.

Isn’t that what we’re trying to teach the children?

And aren’t they learning that words mean nothing and action is everything. That the adult words are in opposition to adult actions?

If human rights are to mean anything, they have to apply to everyone the same.

The path to that starts with seeing everyone as humans. With different views, beliefs and values. What’s true and self-evident to one is not likely so to another who grew up in a different environment.

Understanding those different views, where they come from and balancing them with our own is the first step to seeing each other as humans deserving of rights.