Discerning Institutional Good from Evil
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from All-Creatures.org


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Essay: Discerning Institutional Good from Evil

In my last essay, I raised the question: How can we discern whether institutions are doing good or harm, since institutional representatives always claim that they are doing good and people with long-time allegiance to certain institutions want to believe that they are doing good? I offer a few guidelines, and I welcome comments and suggestions from others.
A first, and obvious criterion is whether individuals are helped or hurt by institutional activities. To the degree that the latter is the case, we should be question the merits of the institution’s activities.
Then we should consider who benefits and who is harmed. If institutional authorities do not materially benefit, we gain confidence in their motivations. If institutional authorities are the beneficiaries, this should raise doubts. American slave owners, who clearly benefited from the institution of slavery, once made the preposterous claim that the institution was good for the slaves themselves.
This leads to a third criterion – are those who benefit lying? We should be very dubious when those who benefit from institutional activities make false claims about the intent or consequences of those activities.
A fourth consideration is that we should be skeptical when authorities appeal to ill-defined values to justify harming other individuals. For example, much victimization has been done in the name of “purity” “God’s justice,” or “the nation,” to name a few. We should be particularly skeptical of humans who claim to speak for God.
It is tempting, particularly in times of stress or crisis, to believe that one or a few individuals are responsible and then, collectively, scapegoat those individuals. Institutions often facilitate this process, because their voice often carries the legitimacy of years of service to the community. We must remember that institutions are fundamentally human creations, continually guided by human beings, who have strengths and limitations. We can’t immunize ourselves from being swept up by the passions of communal accusation that characterize the scapegoating process. But, if we recognize the elements as they develop we might avoid being parties to evil.
Next essay, I will begin to explore whether nonhumans are victims of the scapegoating process.

Go on to: Are Animals Victims of Scapegoating?
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