Reconsidering pairs.

About twenty five years ago, when I started writing about cost/benefit, the analysis of which was a favorite in the late eighties to promote enterprise that turned out not too well, there was little awareness that the problem with this pairing was that it involved a sort of non-sequitur. That is, the supposed relationship between cost and benefit is not valid because the costs are borne and the benefits flow to different entities. Since then, “socializing the cost” and “privatizing the benefits” has come to be a standard explanation for why many well-intentioned proposals have not, in fact, increased the well being of the people supposedly being served. Rather, it has resulted in a society where a few are extraordinarily wealthy and the vast majority are increasingly deprived of even the necessities of life. Having a good explanation obviously doesn’t correct a problem.

More recently, I’ve been considering another pairing that may shed a light on where the fault lies. In this case, rather than cost and benefit not being related as we expect — i.e. that those who bear the cost also reap the (supposedly greater) benefit — it is the presumed sequential relationship between intent and act that doesn’t necessarily exist. People may mean well, but if their good intentions aren’t followed up with appropriate acts, there are no results. Of course, that’s also true of bad intentions. Which is why “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” We don’t mind if a person’s bad intentions aren’t carried out. Indeed, we might want to reconsider the designation of bad intentions as a crime and, for that matter, whether the absence of intent should excuse a bad act.

Intent, it seems, is a problem, whether it is good or bad, followed by action or not. Not because it exists, but because of how we have come to rely on it as a substitute for action. And it’s not just because, by focusing solely on intent, we ignore whether it is followed by acts, but we fail to even consider whether acts, regardless of intent, are inherently good or bad. As a result, well-meaning people end up doing really bad things without any significant social response.

The “accidental” bombing of wedding parties comes to mind. Because people who organize to terrorize others need to be restrained, attacking them in their hideouts in unfamiliar terrain is considered good. That dropping bombs on people is bad doesn’t get considered, even when the “wrong” people get killed. That’s just an “unfortunate accident,” one of the costs of war that actually provide no benefit to anyone. So, in a sense, intent is being used as a substitute for even considering costs and benefits. An example of an immaterial idea conquering reality?

Or is it something else entirely? What if our habit of categorizing our perceptions in pairs is basically wrong? What if the triangle or trinity are more illustrative? Certainly, triangulation is central to our habit of responsibility avoidance. Inserting third parties to take blame and carry out actions is a proven distraction from who’s actually doing what to whom. What if the Holy Ghost is modeled on the idea or intent? Or is it the other way around?

The Trinity, like transubstantiation, has never struck me as much of a mystery. Perhaps triangular relationships are only incomprehensible to binary thinkers, people who don’t get the links between entities because they can’t be seen. What they miss is that function is real. Calling it “change” is probably misleading. The Holy Ghost or Spirit animates, representing action, but because only the agent and result (cause and effect) are evident, function is missed by those who rely on superficial optics as their sole source of information.

On the other hand, if intent is all that counts, then there’s no point even thinking about what might have been overlooked or left out. Is that what is meant by a “one track mind”?