Wrong Things For the Right Reasons

So far Did Someone Say Totalitarianism is proving to be one of my favorite Zizek books. It doesn’t use as much pop culture examples (jokes, Hitchcock movies, Kafka, etc.), but focuses more on politics and philosophy and ethics. It’s been a long time since a book has caused me to think so much, and that’s definitely very cool.

I intend (and I know I say this all the time) to do a more in-depth review of the book and comment on some of my favorite/most inspiring passages, but something interesting struck me this morning.

Zizek was discussing how, when it comes to following the law, “doing the right thing [following the law] for the wrong reason [to fulfill pathological desires]” is about as “bad” as you can get. Generally people who do this (and right now I’m thinking large corporations and whatnot) view the law as malleable and something they can change if they exert enough pressure on lawmakers. What happens, then, is that the law is changed so that they can continue doing “wrong things” but still feel good about it.

On the other hand, doing the “wrong thing [breaking the law] for the right reason [to fulfill a higher ethical motive]” is the best thing to do. This would include things such as acts of civil disobedience, etc.

And then doing “the right thing for the right reason” is pretty uninteresting and doesn’t really touch upon any ethical dilemmas.

For whatever reason, this got me thinking about “killing in self defense.” Let’s say that someone was about to kill me and family/friends/etc. and in response to that I killed that person first, thus giving me an “out” with the law since I killed that person in self-defense. Nothing too extraordinary there. Let’s say, however, that the law explicitly allow killing in self-defense and the same situation occurred. I might have to go to jail, but my act would remain quite ethical since I did something (even the “wrong thing” [i.e. killing someone]) for the “right reason” (to defend myself and friends/family/etc.).

So basically, by allowing for these “ethical loopholes” in the law, we’re taking a larger ethical dimension out of acts that people do.

What does this mean in the end? Probably nothing. What does this contribute to the world of ethical philosophy? I don’t know. I’ve never delved into the subject before. I just thought it was interesting how we’ve created laws to remove certain ethical acts from our lives.

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