The old saw was that “the ends don’t justify the means.”

In answer to which, some might say that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” But even as recently as my youth, politicians tended to be embarrassed by any suggestion that they were harming their constituents to achieve certain ends.

Not today.

Today politicians show no mercy to the folks, and not just the political base of their opponents, but their own base. We’re just pawns to them and if they have to place burdens on us to aggrandize themselves, well that’s just too darn bad for us, I guess.

Grandstanding by protecting potential fire victims with only a remote risk of harm with mandatory sprinkler retrofits and exporting the costs of your virtue signaling onto condo unit owners is a one example. Overspending on a rail system with an admittedly valid purpose by hundreds of millions of dollars and failing to even deliver that rail system in working order is another example.

Al Pacino in “The Godfather: Part II.” Like mafia leaders, politicians like to believe they’re doing good, but many are in serious need of a reality check.

Flickr: Cal Almonds

Building a Department of Education with so many people in the administrative layer that it can’t possibly be “all about the kids” is another example. Borrowing money at the local, state and federal level against tax revenues that would be collected from our grandchildren is another example.

An Affordable Care Act that just keeps getting uglier and seems utterly beyond repair is another example. And yes, imposing a government shutdown on a relatively small subset of federal workers is another example.

It’s Freudian

I go back mostly to Sigmund Freud, who believed that we have unconscious reasons for doing things that have very little to do with the rationalizations that we articulate to others or ourselves. But I also go back to some Hollywood films, because in a few instances, they called it, they were spot on:

“The American President” — Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepard: “I was so busy trying to keep my job, that I forgot to do my job.”

“The Godfather: Part II” — Al Pacino as Michael Corleone (speaking of his father, and himself): “He was being strong — strong for his family. But by being strong for his family — could he — lose it?”

Politicians may want to believe that they are doing good, but the main thing they like is the sensation of power and the aura of money and status. Many people are like that, but I wish the politicos could spare us their sanctimonious babble about how they are doing it “for the people.”

“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail,” Simon and Garfunkel sang in “El Condor Pasa,” and they were sure right about that. It is all too easy to put the hurt on people who you don’t know, don’t have to face, and aren’t you. And it isn’t just that the centralization of power at the federal level or in some big corporation or law firm at a distance from Hawaii can put local folks at such a disadvantage.

What’s the solution? Stop lying about why you do things.

It is that rule by lawyers and IT geeks that results in complexity that you need an expensive education to cope with. That’s why you’re running on the treadmill. That’s why small business is constantly losing ground to big business.

Which takes me back to another movie, “Sophie’s Choice,” where the camera follows the concentration camp victim played by Meryl Streep when she goes through the door in the wall separating the dismal conditions of the camp into the beautiful gardens of the camp commandant where his children are playing. It’s a stark reminder of the ease with which suffering can be out of sight, out of mind.

The old proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” has hardened into a concrete reality, an immutable truth.

What’s the solution? Stop lying about why you do things. If you’re hurting people and you’re not getting hurt, then “res ipsa loquitur,” the thing speaks for itself, you’re a dirtbag and that’s all.

We’ve got to get back to seeing our fellow citizens as our neighbors, not some distant faction to be bombed out of existence. Even if we don’t live in small town America anymore, we’ve got to pretend like we do.

Because the kind of ruthlessness that we see in our society today is a clear sign of its disintegration. We are turning into “The Mountain People” that anthropologist Colin Turnbull wrote about in 1972. They were an African tribe whose society began to disintegrate after changes in their environment resulted in bad economic results for them. The behavior described in that book is now us.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author