Often, I contemplate the nature of doing good. Listening to a lot of Sam Harris and Peter Singer unavoidably makes these questions top-of-mind, I suppose. Devising a sensible metric isn’t as straightforward as it may first appear. For instance, one’s mind may gravitate to “obvious” answers such as Mother Theresa, Dr. King, or Gandhi. But a quick read-up on any of them quickly yields heaps of criticism. Mother Theresa, winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, believed that “the sick must suffer like Christ on the Cross.” Christopher Hitchens wrote especially scathing take-downs of the patron saint, “[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God.”
Meanwhile, there is the entire question of unintended consequences. Setting aside Dr. King’s affairs, there remains a larger unanswerable question whether his non-violent approach itself (a la Gandhi’s as well), was actually “the way to go?” Malcolm X advocated “black nationalism” and a more “any means necessary” philosophy. Is there an alternate version of history, a more violent timeline, that actually ends in more equality and ultimate peace?
Rather than grapple with complicated legacies and unanswerable questions, as I’ve grown older (and my mind less supple to entertain impossible conundrums) I’ve grown to take a different tact: I now firmly believe artists –ie. creative people who produce works that spread inspiration and joy– are probably as good as one’s going to get in this life we lead. Bill Gates is currently on a crusade to save Africa and the most impoverished from malaria. But is Gates just hastening human’s extinction with overpopulation and resource depletion? Similarly, Norman “Dwarf Wheat” Borlaug (winner of the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize)— hero or villain?
But with artists, eg. Tom Cruise, Taylor Swift, Tina Turner, George Lucas, J.K. Rowling– the work they put out into the world has touched the lives of hundreds of millions. Billions, in the long-run. Or I think of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Whether you are Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, black or white or Hispanic or Asian– it is likely you’ve at one point been touched by Journey or Van Halen— and your day brightened just a little by that interaction. Probably, maybe?
In closing, I feel Salvatore Sanfilippo, creator of Redis, said it best in his recent goodbye letter as he stepped down from the open-source project he helped found. Pretty much sums up my current sentiments exactly:
“I’d rather be remembered as a bad artist than as a good programmer.”Salvatore Sanfilippo – Creator of Redis