Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Glad You Asked That (I Think . . .)

Every once in a while we get a real interesting question.  Maybe a little offbeat, but interesting.  Sometimes it actually has something to do with the Just Third Way.  It might be a very little, but it’s still something.  This question actually relates (distantly) to the question as to whether the rich (or anybody else) are inherently evil, or whether all the hate that is spewed out against them is just envy.

Anyway, here’s the question:

This is going to sound like a bizarre question, but is littering actually evil? We got this comment on the page and I don’t even know where to begin answering it. We have had a few doozies lately. I am not sure if it is us causing the confusion or what?

The question whether littering is evil is not as bizarre as it might first appear.  It’s actually a somewhat higher level than debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

First, of course, you have the distinction between “objective evil” and “unintended evil.”  An objective evil is something that is inherently wrong, like murder or theft.  These are always wrong, although often legitimate discussions take place as to whether all killing is murder, or all involuntary conversion is theft.

An unintended evil is something that is not objectively evil, but can have unintended — or intended! — evil consequences.  Or it can be completely innocuous, depending on what happens because of what you did, or why you did it.  Littering falls into this category.

For example, if you threw your banana peel away without thinking and somebody slipped on it and broke a leg, you didn’t intend evil, but evil occurred because of what you did.  The law takes this into account.  You are “liable” for the damage you caused, but not “guilty” of a crime.  You are responsible for repairing the damage you did, but you would not be punished — unless 1) throwing banana peels away was illegal, or 2) you refused to repair the damage you did.

What if you threw the banana peel in the path of an enemy in order to cause your enemy to break a leg?  Now you’ve done something objectively evil, and littering takes on that aspect.

Suppose, however, that you are near a farmer’s field and he asks you to dispose of your banana peel there so it will fertilize the soil.  The same act now becomes virtuous.

The same could not be said if everybody and his brother tossed their garbage anywhere they wanted.  Places would quickly become uninhabitable.  Maybe nobody intends harm, and each individual act is immaterial, but the effect is such that littering must be prosecuted so that there won’t be a bad example and trash build up to an unbearable extent.  And stink.

Finally, suppose you toss away the banana peel and there is no harm intended or done.  The act is neither good nor evil.  It just is.

So this is where you get the lawyer’s response: “It depends. . . .”

And if you think this discussion is complicated, you ought to see the one on usury. . . .


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