Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thought Question

Would you rather be governed by bad people with good ideas, or good people with bad ideas?

Don't jump for the easy answers about how it's never a pure situation, or bad people meaning "people that others disapprove of but I think are just fine," or good people meaning "well-behaved." The people that you think have some genuine badness about them, or genuine goodness; ideas that are genuinely superior, ideas that are plainly awful.

When I started making up examples in my head, I found I didn't have consistent answers, but did have a leaning.


jackscrow said...

Please give me some (3) examples of bad guys with good ideas.

Good guys: Depends on how amenable they are to suggestions.

If they are, then I'll take the good guy with bad ideas, because he'll come 'round, eventually.

Look at me. My sweetie does my thinking for me, and now
everything's ok.

Assistant Village Idiot said...


I think Jack Craig being in the news brought the idea to mind. Not a great example, either for bad guy or good ideas, but it's a starting place. Nicolae Ceausescu started out as a guy with good ideas for Romania - the US liked him at first. I'd rather other people come up with the examples, though, as I am likely to revolve in the same circles.

Erin said...

I can't think of any examples that I would want to choose, but I could see someone arguing that dictators have good ideas for bringing their countries to greater status and stability. Kim Jong-il, for example, wants to protect North Korea's reputation as it already has a history full of shameful takeovers and invasions. Therefore, he has the "good idea" of isolating the country and focusing on remaining independent of foreign aid or relationships. He wants to show that his country can stand strong alone. Of course I'm sure that this idea also fits nicely with many corrupt ideas and is a propagandized oversimplification of the situation, but it's the best example I could think of at the moment.

Anonymous said...

I will define a "good idea" as something along the lines of, say, American democracy or capitalism. Rather than, say, socialism, which seems like a good idea at he time, but...

So yeah...bad guy, good idea. How many people rail against Bush? Bad guy, but...his ideas? OK, I'm not on board with all of them; who is? But the big, sweeping ones--good ideas, I say, whether he (by current or historical standards) is painted as a bad guy.

Hey, by this standard, i'm pretty sure the Brits thought Washington sucked. The Confederates probably didn't care for Lincoln.

Ideas, like the guys that have them, are subjective, yeah. I would rather that the guy with the ideas I think are good be what I consider "good" but an idea will usually outlive the man. So give me the idea any day.

Which brings to mind--ever notice how a man may be idealized, but his ideas forgotten (ignored)? Che Gueverra anyone?

Woody said...

Easy for me, if those are the only two options.

I choose good people with bad ideas. Because their intentions are in the right place, they would listen to reason and make adjustments to bad ideas, so that you ended up with the best of both.

Bad people will end up ultimately putting their own interests first and screwing you.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

woody, I tend to agree, but I am mindful of the CSLewis cautions in the other direction, that good people can be more dangerous because they don't listen and are earnest enough to never sleep.

Which is why I think it's an interesting question, because every conclusion undermines itself.

Anonymous said...

Easy answer: bad people with good ideas are much preferable to good people with bad ideas.

In the long run, for the history of the society, it isn't the individual who really matters but the underlying ideas. Good ideas include variations of freedom (i.e. the bill of rights), education and meaningful productivity, art and the general civilizing of society. The individuals who govern may be amoral or immoral, but as long as personal idiosyncrasies aren’t reflected in public policy.

The problem is that evil people can’t really have moral ideas. Their internal moral compass points in a different direction. Selfishness in personal habits and appetites doesn’t translate over to altruism when elevated into leadership positions. The natural course for corrupted leadership is to seek after more personal power.

This is the empirical history of societies from ancient Babylon to the present. -cp

jackscrow said...

I can't help (really, I can't) but notice that there haven't been any examples of BAD people with GOOD ideas.

And though it's not my job to keep score, Woody gets no credit for repeating what I said.

bs king said...

My brain got stuck in an infinite loop when I tried to think about this....putting it in the context of my schooling with some well intentioned but obnoxious Christian teachers in high school and some overly PC admin people in college...taking it out of the political realm helped me think a bit deeper. Anyway, it all reminded me of an article I read about Supreme Court Justice Scalia, and how the Justice who he can tolerate most (enough to spend some holidays with) is Ginsberg. He hates her opinions, but respects how she got them.

Oh, and jackscrow, I'm sure this will fall apart depending on your political leaning, but a lot of the Dems would consider Bill Clinton a bad guy (personal life) with good ideas(political life). Not saying even I buy that, but it's an example I can think of that is somewhat widespread.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

jackscrow - well so far Erin and I have mentioned dictators that sort of fit that. Let's see if I can find a better example. There certainly have been some Republicans whose ideas I approve of, but have been ethically...inconsistent, with an arrogance thrown in. Tom Delay.

I see what you mean, though. Part of that may be that there are multiple types of badness. John McCain is apparently a miserable SOB at times, but does have some charm. He was part of the S&L scandal, but I don't think he is generally thought of as unethical. Corrupt people are often quite affable - Gerhard Schroeder, Kofi Annan - because that charm is necessary for making deals.

Bethany's example of Bill Clinton may hold up. A completely unscrupulous & amoral person, arrogant and vengeful. But I didn't dislike many of his ideas, when he had them. Jimmy Carter is now an evil person - evidence, perhaps, of how good people who rule usually go bad, with self-righteous condemnation.

Richard Nixon. I agree with Ann Coulter, but she's vicious.

Ben Wyman said...

Isn't the whole American system of government built on the idea that the individual governing doesn't matter, it's the system that works?

What's more, aren't all the good ideas that governments have based in some measure on character? Justice, peace, loyalty, freedom, etc?

That being said... I'd rather have a bad guy with good ideas. We're ruled more effectively by good government than by good people.

Foobarista said...

It depends on what you mean by "good people". If you mean competent, committed fanatics, you could argue that China during the early 1950s was "good people with bad ideas". I'll pass on that :)

Bad people, if by this you mean incompetent or corrupt people, with good ideas would probably be more like the US today. Much better.

One saying I heard in China while I was living there is that the only thing worse than a corrupt dictatorship is an incorrupt one. In this way, "bad people with bad ideas" may actually be better than "good people with bad ideas".