In a world that where the lines seem to be getting more and more blurry, I hear this question being asked more and more often: Can the ends justify the means? Can preventing terrorist attacks justify torture and the targeting of civilians? Can the danger of obesity justify prohibiting the sale of large sodas? Can the need for office small talk justify keeping up with the Kardashians?
The question—of necessity—requires an analysis based on morality and ethics. This is a fascinating, informative, and valuable exercise, but it is highly subjective.
Allow me to propose an additional, alternative framework for evaluating the question: How certain are we about the ends?
We are famously bad at predicting the future, so how can we expect to know something is going to end? (And really, do things ever really end, or do they just lead to other things?) If the end is uncertain (and it is always uncertain to us mere mortals), how can it justify anything? Yes, there are actuarial tables, and chaos theory, and lots of complex modeling that is highly accurate…until it isn’t.
It’s probably best just to know what you are and are not comfortable with and to stick to that.
h/t Dan Carlin – episode 303