A Greater Bad Should Not Make a Lesser One More Acceptable and Making an Effort Towards Some Good Is Better Than None

Person A sees undue violence against a pet and starts revolting against it. He gets all agitated and starts voicing his concerns loudly. Person B looks at him and says, “Why are you getting all worked up about this? There are human beings who are dying every day and you are getting all angry about some mistreated animals.”

Person A passes a stand of catastrophe relief for the victims of a natural disaster in a remote island; she decides to contribute a bit of money for these victims. Person B looks at her and says, “Why are you spending your money on some people in some remote location whom you do not know when people here in your own country also need help?”

Person A does not like that his country practices unrestrained torture against some incarcerated individuals, regardless of what they have done or were intending to do. Person B is shocked and shouts, “Are you a fool? Do you even know what these guys would do to you if you were on the other end? Are you aware of how much evil and suffering they were intending to bring? Do not talk to me about any rights; they would not give you any if you were their prisoner.”

I guess the bigger irony is that, in most such cases, Person B’s indignation has more to do with him/her almost never standing for anything of worth and feeling guilty about it at some level. And by belittling the good efforts of Person A, he/she hopes to feel less bad about his/her state of inaction. By shaming Person A, Person B avoids shaming him/herself.

Person B throws out the rest of an apple from his car’s side window. Person A looks at him wondering. Person B retorts, “Oh please, this is nothing. Besides we have greater problems in this country. Look at how corrupt our politicians are!”

Person A sees an empty bottle left on the side of the street. Without thinking much, she picks it up and throws it in the public garbage bin nearby. Person B says, “Forget about it. Do you know how many kids throw bottles and cans on the sides of the streets around here every day?”

Person A does not like to have power running at home when it is not really needed. Person B mocks her by remarking, “You eat meat; do you know how much pollution that creates? And you are worried about few lamps running unnecessarily when you are not at home?”

With the wide availability of information, it is easier to rationalise not doing a certain good and to portray the good action of others as ineffective.

Person B, who is not in the habit of eating foie gras, finds it urgent to put in place a law that forbids the selling of foie gras in the name of animal rights; but, as he eats pork, he objects to laws that forbid some of the most inhumane ways of farming pigs (pigs are one of the most sentient mammals with capacity for self-awareness and emotional awareness) because this might impact the selling price of the meat he most likes.

It is easier for us to claim to be doing good when it is something that does not require much effort and action. As a good friend of mine once remarked, “This is how it is with human nature. They often choose an easy cause in order not to think about other more difficult ones.”

We all exhibit some of such behaviour and judgement in one way or another, and that includes me.

But a great amount of evil does not justify not paying attention to or dismissing as inconsequential other lesser evil somewhere else. And it is not because one cares about addressing some particular injustice that he/she is oblivious to other injustices. We all live a limited amount of time and have each his/her own character and individuality – each chooses his/her moral battles. The more important is to have some of such ethical sensibility that goes beyond the mere minimum of just avoiding trouble with the law. And what is also important is to encourage others to have some of such sensibility, as only collectively we can reach a better tomorrow, and none of us is capable of remedying all ills out there by him/herself.

As we are on the verge of a new year, please pick a good cause, no matter if it seems inconsequential to others, and make a genuine effort for it. And hope that your neighbour will similarly choose another good cause and strive for it. I will.

Happy holidays,