Good Intentions

The old adage states that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. More recently, Michael Crichton has taught us that consensus is the first refuge of the scientist who’s really doing politics. Now, I would like to add that good intentions are the sole refuge of the moron who just hurt somebody. This fool may be incompetent or misguided; either shortcoming will suffice.

I’m reminded of the verbal explosion by Ned Flanders after the town ineptly rebuilt his hurricane-smashed home only for it to collapse once more under the sheer weight of the townsfolk’s laziness and boobery. What’s Marge’s first and only line of defense for the neighborhood of ninnies? Everyone meant well and tried their best.

Yeah, well, my family and I can’t live in good intentions, Marge!

To be sure, good intentions are very important in that they lead to good works, and I suspect that good works can’t truly be as good as they can be without good intentions dwelling behind them. (Of course, that leads me to pose a question running the other direction: Can our naked good intentions really be that good without being clothed in good works?) But nobody praises a person’s good intentions after a job well done; we praise the person’s good works. Good intentions are the consolation prize we get for enduring deeds that were a well-meant disaster.

I think there’s something to the expressivist cult of sincerity and authenticity that we modern Westerners live in that dupes us all into believing that good intentions in the aftermath of bad actions are more of a meaningful consolation and comfort than they really are. They’re actually of no comfort to us as the ill-effected party; they’re only an assurance that the wrong-doer isn’t a misanthropic monster at heart. Yeah, well, I still don’t want him out there wreaking havoc with the best of intentions.

T.S. Eliot (apparently) claimed, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” And it’s not without good cause that we have the tried and true aphorism “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Or “hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works.” I prefer it as it comes from Dr. Alan Grant in his confrontation with a grad student Billy Brennan in Jurassic Park III.

Billy: But you’ve gotta believe me. I did it with the best intentions.

Alan: The best intentions. Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.

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