September 23, 2010

Do The Ends Justify The Means?

This was one of the most important questions in my Conceptual Foundations discussion group yesterday.

We were talking about Realism, and Liberalism, and all the other IR paradigms (don't worry, this isn't going to turn into a lecture about International Relations), and the question came up.

When, if ever, is doing something less than desirable now worth it because of the potential - although never guaranteed - outcome?

When is it OK to leverage the present against the future?

When you talk about it in terms of IR strategy and state relations, you're usually talking about very unpleasant means - such as war and conflict - for questionable ends - such as state security. Your first instinct is to doubt that the violence is worth it.

"Do the ends justify the means?" is a question that generally has a sort of negative connotation.

But if you really think about it, it doesn't.

Think about everything you do now for the future.

Do you party hard every night of the week? Spend all your money on clothes? Pay thousands of dollars in rent on a luxury apartment overlooking the park?

Or do you try to take care of your health, and try to save money, conceding yourself the occasional, reasonable treat? Are you paying a mortgage now so that one day you'll own the house and have security?

Although we have moments when we all want to party and shop and live in a downtown penthouse, we know we can't.

Why? Because of the future.

We're all already leveraging our present for our future.

We're all doing less desirable things now to work towards a potentially better (though never guaranteed) later.

And the fact that we do it even though the future isn't a promise is what's so amazing. Having that future security is so important that even if you don't make it as far ahead into your life as you intend to (knock on wood), it's worth it to spend your life trying.

Because if you didn't, and you did end up living to a ripe old age without having made provisions for yourself, you'd be totally screwed.

This rings particularly true to me now that I'm back in school, taking "the ends justify the means" to the most extreme level. I am literally leveraging my time, money, and energy against my future security and success. But I'm not just investing thousands of dollars into my education for the prospects of a better job in the future. I'm not just meeting people and networking to create connections that will help me when I try to find a job when I graduate. It's not just about the long-term future.

I'm sacrificing my time now - spending fourteen-hour days at school - in class, studying, reading, and learning, so that I can understand the lecture next week, let alone so I can do well on the exam next month, or write a good paper at the end of the semester.

Sometimes the ends you're justifying are not as far away as they seem.

And to be honest, the means aren't as undesirable as they seem either.

Yes, the studying is hard. Being in class at eight-thirty in the morning and staying on campus to study in the library until ten-thirty at night is hard. I was on campus studying from ten in the morning til eight in the evening on Sunday.

Wading through the legal jargon in International Human Rights Law is hard. Resuscitating the dormant IR part of my brain that's been sleeping since college is maybe even harder. And doing calculus - for the first time ever! - is agonizing.

But I'm actually having fun. I might even be doing this if it didn't ensure me a successful future.

Which means, I suppose, that at this point my means justify themselves.

Do yours?

{all photos via weheartit}


J. said...

This is something I struggle with on a regular basis. I once could say that my means justified themselves, and I wish that I were still living in that moment, in that manner... when I was happy with being broke and always busy because I was OUT there, spending endless hours doing something I enjoyed. Reading this made me realize that I'm the only one who can get me back to that place. You've got my brain going this morning, Julia! :)

Kristi said...

Hi, Julia! I am a new follower and this was the first post of yours that I've read. All I can say is - wow! As a recent college graduate, this is definitely something that I've thought about quite a bit recently, and reading your thoughts made it a little clearer and more positive for me. Thanks for sharing and best of luck with grad school! :)

Christina said...

Such a great post, Julia, thank you. Something I think a lot of people are thinking/wondering about. It's refreshing to have it reframed into a much more manageable, positive situation than how it often seems.

And good luck with this term!

Kelly L said...

This kind of made my brain hurt a little bit. I mean, in a good way, it made me think. I don't really have anything further to comment because I've kind of bookmarked this post to come back to and think about more (obviously, as I've had this browser window open since September, apparently)... hmm.