Archive for June 6th, 2005

The Ends and the Means

June 6th, 2005

I was just reading Blake Ross’s comments about his discussions with various student newspapers and their participation in link farms. In a couple of places Blake makes the point that “the ends don’t justify the means.” I agree completely, but have long felt that this is an inadequate analysis. The means are important because the means become a part of the end result. They are not separable. There’s no magic line where suddenly the methods used fade away and the pure, untarnished goal spontaneously appears. The path one takes affects the location one reaches.

There may be cases where one needs to use unpleasant means to get a desired result. I don’t disagree — there are some cases where the methods we prefer will not get a necessary or critically needed result. But unpleasant means affect people, and that result doesn’t simply vanish one day and leave everyone with a pure, shiny and perfect thing. Violent methods will leave a mark on the result.

In the particular case Blake cites, maybe link farms are necessary to sustain student journalism. (I’m not agreeing with this statement, only noting the possibility that it is correct.) Blake notes the end doesn’t justify the means. I’d go further and say that the use of link farms, which aren’t about journalism, will affect the sort of journalism that they sustain.

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