They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I am not sure who “they” are but they make an excellent point.
Acting on one’s good intentions, such as giving advice in the form of proverbs, can have unintended negative consequences.
President George W. Bush wanted to improve America’s public schools. As a well-heeled, conservative businessman, he believed that if students could just move to Connecticut and go to expensive prep schools, we’d get a double benefit: better education and deeper bench strength for the U.S. yachting team.
After being informed of the logistical impossibility of his idea, he changed his tack. He introduced business principles like, “what gets measured gets improved,” and competition for tax dollars.
Fast forward a few years, and any teacher will set down their Big Gulp of Franzia and tell you the outcome was its own form of Hell.
Schools were incentivized to shift focus away from their lowest performing students, believing that individualized instruction was wasted on kids who would likely fail anyway. Dishonest, unqualified people bid for chances to open charter schools, most without the actual ability (and sometimes desire) to improve outcomes. Ever been to Dallas/Fort Worth? Just like “churches” pop up and people declare themselves “bishops” throughout the Metroplex, “educators” popped up everywhere and opened “charter schools.” Often, they had the exact same incentives (and integrity) of self-declared bishops.
“Teaching to the test” became the default expectation on our public school educators. If test scores determine funding, a school literally cannot afford to waste precious minutes on ephemeral, personalized, and comprehensive education, also sometimes collectively referred to as “education.” Teaching kids to think became instantly, markedly less important than teaching kids the “correct” answer. Years of educational research and science went down the drain.
In the 5-10 years it took to flesh out those realities, countless students missed their opportunity for real education in their prime learning years. Teachers left the profession, disillusioned at the shift from pedagogy to unabashed, quantitative competition. The box wine industry flourished, however.
I disagreed with most of what President Bush did during his years in office, but I doubt his aim was to create a worse education system for our nation’s youth. I am certain his intentions were (relatively) good, and that simply didn’t matter. The destination of that well-paved road was still hellish. The unforeseen consequences of his policies will be felt for generations to come.
If you drove around the District of Columbia for an evening, I doubt you’d be able to fill a police van with criminals who specifically committed crimes for the sheer malice of committing them. Sure, maybe you could nab a vandal or two, but even then, you’d probably get to some logic and a good intention or two if you talked to them long enough.
If you ask a convict, they’ll tell you they committed their crime for a reason that made sense to them at the time. Hell, it may even make sense to them now.
She robbed people to fuel an addiction, to get things she needed but couldn’t afford, or to live a life more comfortable than her past. He killed for honor, for loyalty, for revenge, and for lack of a better option. She embezzled from her company to live up to the material expectations of her family, and to get back at her boss for past grievances.
But almost no one will tell you they robbed, murdered, or embezzled just for the hell of it. Their intentions may not have been good by your standards, but they were “good” relative to the decision itself to act.
Likewise, it’s doubtful you’d find even a handful of people who work for Donald Trump with the express, honest purpose of destroying the nation and all of its inhabitants. People’s incentives are generally more self-serving than that. “Good intentions” sometimes mean “getting a White House job on my resume,” or “landing a job at Fox News after the dust settles.”
Some of them are just in it to boost their own portfolios and egos. It’s hard to see any other reason for Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross, or Rex Tillerson to take jobs in any administration, let alone one where the CEO refuses to listen to anyone other than Fox & Friends.
Sometimes intentions are quasi-noble, like “maybe I can thwart nuclear Armageddon,” or “perhaps I can provide a voice of reason in an otherwise intellectual and ethical vacuum.” I think of H.R. Puffinstuff McMaster and Jim Mattis in this category: men whose careers and reputations indicate ethics, thoroughness, calm in the storm, and an ability to avoid getting shot by coworkers and/or enemies.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter why a person helps a would-be tyrant in his path to tyranny. If you are present, and you don’t stop him, you are complicit in his crimes against all of us. “I was just following orders,” won’t be audible over the panoply of voices screaming “TREASON!”
History won’t be kind to those who defended, supported, and profited from the criminal enterprise at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Because history will be written by the alumni of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School you ignored and dismissed.
The chronicles of this era will be recited by the leaders of Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March you mocked and demonized.
The documentaries will be directed by the Dreamers you marginalized.
And the Hell you’re each creating won’t be tempered one bit by your “reasons” for creating it.
You like? Subscribe here to my email list so you’ll know each time I write something new!