Whenever I hear or read the phrase “for the greater good” it always makes me feel really uneasy. I feel like something about its connotations and many possible meanings just leaves the definition too open for interpretation. Who gets to decide what the greater good is? Who really is it for? Anyone can claim they’re doing something for the greater good, all they’re really saying is that the ends will justify the means.
In our world we mostly hear this phrase come from the voices of our politicians. I found a Jill Stein add where in the video Dr. Stein is insinuating that both the President, at the time a candidate, and his opponent Secretary Clinton were both evils could not be allowed to win. This video is like every other campaign video out there, she tries to assure us that only she can lead us to a better future. What really makes this add uncomfortable for me is the fact that her slogan at the end is “fight for the greater good,” the video is also called “Vote for the greater good.” It’s not made very clear whether she is the greater good, or that only she can achieve the greater good.
I wanted to see if I was the only one who felt this way. I found an interesting article by Sheldon Richman called “The Myth of the Greater Good” discussing the topic. In it he makes an example of “If you want at an item on a supermarket shelf and someone is standing in the way, few of us would think it right to shove that person aside.” He argues how fighting for the greater good ultimately helps nobody.
“We abstain from that “efficient” means to an unobjectionable and perhaps worthy end because we have a sense that it would be an injustice and that injustice is to be avoided. We don’t calculate that committing the injustice would in this case be contrary to our own self-interest (what would you think of someone who actually did that?), nor do we even determine that shoving the person aside would ill-serve that person’s interests. Rather, we know that the act would be wrong because it is wrong to use another person as a mere means to our ends.”
In the end if you fight for the greater good you’re not really fighting for anyone you’re only fighting for yourself.
In The Fifth Season, when Syen and Alabaster visit the Node maintainer, Alabaster says, talking about the dead tortured orogene, “Even the least of us must serve the greater good” (Jemisin, The Fifth Season, 139). I ask again, who’s greater good? Definitely not the orogenes, sure the Node maintainers potentially save lives but it is awful how it is at the expense of others. When a government exploits a group of people to protect themselves there is no greater good.