Both the group or the individual may have access to resources that help; they can buy influence or arms, resources can be offered as rewards or withheld as punishments. As soon as we start to think about using power we come up against one of the classic issues in philosophy – the relationship of ends and means.
Ethics and choices
There is a long-standing debate about whether ends justify the means. If a universally accepted good result is to be produced (e.g. health) then if the means to it involved making a number of people ill (e.g. to prove a vaccine) then a case can be made to justify it. This could include considerations of whether or not the subjects of the vaccine tests were volunteers. This article from Spiegel shows this is a real-life issue, it is about drug company Pfizer “When word got out about the study five years later, a controversy erupted over fundamental questions, for which the Nigerian lawyer and the US drug company have totally different answers: Is it permissible to test a drug during a deadly epidemic? Is it acceptable to test drugs in the developing world that will benefit the industrialized world, using people who will never be able to afford this treatment?” (Der Spiegel - Reporting on Pfizer)
In the testing of driverless cars there is a debate about the programming of the computer systems that will control them. If the vehicle as about to crash into a bus queue but could avoid it at the cost of the vehicle’s occupant researchers have found that most people would agree that the life of the occupant was worth sacrificing. This is a simple example of the lesser of two evils – if several people would die the loss of the life of one is the lesser of two evils.
Sometimes the ethical questions are just ignored; it may be wrong to kill but once the war is underway the debate about ends and means quickly becomes a minority issue. In WWI it was standard for the tribunals reviewing conscientious objectors to demand evidence that the they views expressed were long held, the presumption being that (without this) the individual was either a shirker or a coward. Being a shirker or a coward justified treating the objector with contempt and legitimised harsh treatment. The pressure on manpower was such that questions about who is fighting the war, and for what purposes were ignored: how could it be otherwise? Assuming you are on side with the war effort (the tribunals were local worthies) then your duty was to get as many men to the front as possible, the obvious approach therefore is to subject the conscientious objector to a short inquisition using questions that only a rare few would be able to evidence in any way, brand the hesitant as shirking, dismiss their appeal and move to the next case than it is to engage everyone with the political argument about the morality of the war.
The difference between the lesser of 2 evils and the end justifying the means is illustrated by an extreme (but real) example. If the ends are good then (it is argued) strong means are defendable. The better the eventual good the stronger the means that can be used. What better end can there be than stopping a war? What more extreme means can there be than using atomic bombs? When exercising power extreme situations don’t arise immediately usually there has been a long process of action and reaction. The USA had been imposing trade sanctions on Japan in the 1930’s, by 1945, in the light of Pearl Harbour and the ferocity of the Pacific campaign, the time for lesser measures had passed, both in the minds of the key decision makers and the public. Dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been justified by referring to the saving of allied soldiers’ lives that resulted because Japan surrendered, and a costly invasion was avoided. By this end stage of the war the qualms about civilian bombing had long been overcome; if 1 plane could deliver what it took 1000 to achieve over several days that was a gain in productivity, a very big one but not a new category of weapon or war making. It can be argued that Japan was probably on the verge of surrender and that the use of the bomb was a good way of deterring the Russians as the cold war was starting. It is easier to justify the lesser of two evils than it is to justify the killing of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as demonstration of power to deter the Russians
So, the point at issue here is that whatever the end is, we have a choice of means. What means can we choose for the exercise of power. In western democracies we have evolved piecemeal, painfully and over considerable time, to a form of parliamentary democracy where power can be transferred without violence. That is undoubtedly progress Part 2 Assess - Vision, if you advocate collaboration and cooperation but do not practice it you will be seen as a hypocrite. One of the reasons people are disengaged with politics is those who claim to want a better society act in competitive and destructive ways.. But that does not mean we cannot do better and specifically as described in