Means & Ends

Means & Ends

We often ask “Where and How?” – not, perhaps, as bluntly as that, but the essence of what we want to know is ‘Where are we going and How are we going to get there?’ Of course, there are many occasions, like planning a holiday, when the journey is part of the occasion and you don’t really mind whether you fly Emirates or Singapore Airlines. Then the impact of the Means – for example, what it costs – on the End is valid. For big decisions like a career, a business startup, the plans for a company’s future, the key to finding the answer is to deal with the End (objective) first and the Means (how we achieve it) second.

The political mess the democratic world now finds itself in is substantially due to a confusion of the two questions. That is because in educating voters we have failed to teach them that what we must decide first is where we are going, what is the End. When the world was more religious, and religion was more about decent behaviour than profits and prejudices, the various faiths provided the Ends. Modern religion seems to do this rather less. There is therefore a void about how we should behave and this has led to poor neighbourly practices. We already lack the strong guides to personal standards that we used to have, assuming that laws and guidelines somehow deal with the issue satisfactorily. They don’t, and never will.

On listing the problems the world now has it seems that there are some eighteen or so major issues. However, most of them are not the key questions of where we should be heading. The three questions that matter most are (1) How much of the planet can we now save by attending quickly to the climate problem? (2) Can we save the majority of the human race by effectively preventing nuclear and biological warfare? (3) Will we be able to cope with the next pandemic? These are directional questions. The answers to them determine which way we must head. It is possible to aim for all three at the same time but in doing so we will find that the means at our disposal force us to put one above the other at some stage. Availability of Means always impacts End objectives.

Having agreed our End priorities, we then have to address the best Means to achieve them. There will be clashes here because people’s interests differ. But the Ends must guide which Means we are to use. The answer to the first question already appears to be ‘not all’. No doubt the mass of the earth will continue for a long time yet but increasingly there will be uninhabitable parts of it and these are already growing in number and area.

Look at the political management of most countries. The timescale on which decisions are based is so short – the time between elections – that they cannot deal efficiently with the Ends. Politics therefore becomes about the Means. The Ends get postponed. The advantage that autocratic governmental systems have over democratic systems is the continuity towards the pursuit of the Ends that they provide. However, their disadvantages seemingly outweigh the benefits of the people’s voice, which accounts for the widespread use of democratic systems.

The governance of the world now requires a system (a) that makes working towards the Ends more sustainable while allowing personal expression to decide who shall govern (b) that prioritises cooperation over competition between nations. Education is the easy answer to this specification but it takes at least four generations (100 years) of education to significantly change a culture – sometimes much longer. We don’t have that time available. Meanwhile, the international institutions are struggling with the problems, in the short and medium terms on the basis of totally inadequate funds.

A new order of world governance is not going to appear overnight but the three Ends suggested at the start of this Daily Paradox cannot wait for the political re-education of the world.

It seems that our title for these brief essays is, for once, frighteningly true.

What do you suggest we should do to solve the Paradox?

Good morning
John Bittleston

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15 November 2022