It’s What You Do

May 7th, 2010

By Brianna Aubin

We all remember what Batman’s girlfriend said to Bruce Wayne when she thought he was being a stupid playboy.  “It’s not who you are, it’s what you do that defines you.”  At first, this idea surprised me, since the default assumption for many in our society is that it’s “who you truly are” that really matters.  But then I thought about it for a while, and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was really both, since who you were and what you did were really one and the same.  Good people might have lapses, but by and large their actions would reflect their fundamental goodness.  And while it’s a common saying that “even Hitler loved his dog,” it’s generally accepted that occasional acts of civility aside, if you do evil things, you’re probably an evil person.

Unfortunately, the standards we tend to hold so stringently for individuals when it comes to judging their actions and not their words tends to get relaxed when it comes to politics.  For example, a liberal friend of mine once said that while she thought conservative and liberal politicians both stank, her opinion of liberal politicians was marginally higher because while they didn’t follow their ideals much better, “more of their ideals [were] at least in the right place.”

Granted, most of us consider choosing between politicians to be akin to choosing between different modes of dying.  But even taking that into consideration, there has long been a disturbing trend in America for people to fail to consider the consequences of enacted ideals when deciding on their ideals.  A few for-instances:  Affirmative action, adopted in the name of racial equality, has ended up promoting racial injustice, but anyone who points this out is considered racist.  Gun bans, enacted in the name of peace, ended up causing increased violence, but anyone who pointed this out was in favor of violence.  After the Great Society enacted by LBJ, poverty increased, but anyone who pointed this out hated the poor.*  And those few examples are just the beginning.

I say that in this age where our debt is spiraling out of control due to well-intentioned government programs which inevitably do more harm than good; we can no longer afford to judge these things by their intentions.  We cannot afford to regard the ideals which give birth to these programs as clean and pure, unsullied by the ignoble facts of reality.  It is time to judge the ideals of our society not by how pretty they sound when shouted as political slogans, but on what they actually do when put into practice in the world.  Because just as human beings are what they do, the consequences of an idea are what should define that idea.  Or in other words: it’s not what an idea sounds like, but its consequences that define it.

*Losing Ground, by Charles Murray; The Vision of the Anointed, by Thomas Sowell.

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2 Responses to “It’s What You Do”

  1. larry |

    Very well put.
    As you so aptly have pointed out;
    “it’s not what an idea sounds like, but its consequences that define it”

  2. Tom |

    I agree with your main point, although I disagree in the details of some of your examples. It’s true, unfortunately, that we’ve gotten to the point where intentions are as important as results, opportunities and outcomes are often considered to be the same thing, and motives are judged on the basis of whether people agree or disagree with the person being judged.

    “Politics is the art of the possible,” as Bismarck is said to have said. People lose sight of that fact (or just don’t know it) when they expound philosophies and concepts that are at base simply not possible to realize in political reality. The error is further compounded when deviations from impractical and unrealistic ideas are judged to be somehow evil.

    As Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Hamlet, I.v.)

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