Motives Don’t Matter

One of the main criticisms of Gorbachev I’ve been hearing is that he didn’t really want to end the USSR. His original intention was to preserve it and he didn’t realize that the removal of censorship would immediately doom the USSR to a collapse.

I’m sure this is true. But I also don’t understand this fixation on motives and intentions. Nobody can know anybody’s real motives. People themselves are often unaware of what really moves them. We could psychoanalyze Gorbachev forever but who cares? What matters to me is the result. And the result of what Gorbachev did was amazing for me. I’m grateful for the result.

Here’s an example from my personal life to explain why motives mean nothing. Nine years ago today, I was in the concluding days of my first pregnancy. I was going to give birth and go on maternity leave. Two colleagues were going to take over my classes and finish out the semester. Tragically, my son didn’t survive. So I didn’t get a maternity leave. I had to resume teaching. The administration and the HR were very understanding and said, “hey, we are still paying the substitutes their full salary. They can keep teaching and you can do the grading or whatever else so you don’t have to be in the classroom.”

But guess what? The two colleagues – one the most liberal person we’ve ever had and the other the most conservative – adamantly refused to spare me even a day of being in the classroom. Both of them took the position that they should not do any work at all in these courses but continue to get paid. They sicced a union rep and a grievance officer at me, a grieving mother who had just lost her only child. I had no energy to fight them or even look at their stupid little faces. I went back to the classroom. It was very hard to be back with the students who had seen me only recently with a huge belly. The students are young, they don’t understand these things, so they weren’t hugely tactful. But I dealt with it and I found a sense of honor in not being beaten down by the tragedy.

I’m sure that these two colleagues weren’t trying to hurt me. I’m sure they didn’t have any conscious motive to be cruel. People can’t live with themselves knowing they are total pieces of shit, so they invent complicated stories to look good in their own eyes. “I didn’t mean to be naughty, Mommy” is an infantile excuse. Who cares what they meant? The result was still what it was.

And by the way, when I had an opportunity to tank their chances to get hired again – or at least not to fight for their jobs – I went to bat for these two individuals. I never told them about it because my judge is not in any place they can reach.

Motives, shmotives. The only thing that matters is whether you leave a bunch of wounded people in you wake as you move through life. If you did an enormous amount of good without planning for it, it is worth a lot more than wonderful intentions that bring suffering.


12 thoughts on “Motives Don’t Matter

    1. Outcomes maybe but be careful. The SJW say your intent doesn’t matter, if the person “feels harmed.” They apply this to so called micro aggressions.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s not an outcome, though. That’s the other person’s internal state. Just as intentions are an internal state. Yes, intentions matter, but at the same time… outcomes do, too. Which is why manslaughter and reckless endangerment charges exist.

        But at the same time… how can you tell someone is not lying about their intentions? Any sane person, after killing someone and making it look like an accident, is gonna claim they had no intention… so we judge by what? Well, generally prior actions. How has this person actually behaved previously? Are they generally responsible or generally reckless? Have they behaved with anger/resentment toward the deceased before this? Did they have something to gain by it?

        So intentions matter, for legal and other reasons, but part of how we gauge intent is by patterns of prior behavior. So… yes, but.


      2. This only gets to a bad place once we decide that it’s up to the person harmed to seek retribution for the harm. I was definitely hurt by these colleagues but it’s not up to me to exact vengeance. It’s only when people turn themselves into little gods that they start saying, “vengeance is mine, and I’ll repay.”


    2. Exactly. It changes nothing for me whether they did or didn’t “mean it.” I had a really bad time but I managed to find strength and a sense of accomplishment in it. I preserved my self-respect. That’s enough for me.


  1. Automattic (aka WordPress) is doing something badly with their servers and load balancers, or they are having technical issues with them, so your blog may or may not appear for some people.

    Sarah Hoyt’s blog is also affected as are others that have domain-level service.

    You can hit their .26 IPv4 address, but not the .25, and so connections fail.

    I eventually found a page proxifier that would let me access your blog.

    Ping Automattic to see WTH they are doing.


    1. Automattic put that host/load balancer back online, and so your blog is fully up again.

      I’m surprised you only get two IPv4 addresses to share with a huge number of other customers.

      “People can’t live with themselves knowing they are total pieces of shit, so they invent complicated stories to look good in their own eyes.”

      You haven’t met these kinds of people in part because you repel them.

      But they exist and they’re every bit of the movie bad guy character that you expect them to be.

      “I even pissed in the punch bowl!”

      Yeah, that kind of movie bad guy.

      There’s no way to defend that.


  2. Right, let’s test that theory then with an actual matter-of-fact case.

    Remember that bit about black market ways to shift payments out of Russia so you can donate what you can to Ukraine?

    The good news: Bitcoin would work in this regard.

    The bad news: I didn’t mention it at all because Russia is now shovelling huge amounts of energy into creating Bitcoins from crypto mining operations, along with other kinds of high-valued crypto coins (so Ethereum isn’t exempt, etc).

    This is so Russia can use the Bitcoins as a trading pivot as well as a source for foreign currency.

    But … you could get the people who hire you for translation to gift you crypto coins (NOT Bitcoins, read why below) which you would then transfer away.

    The worse news: Disclosure is a potential problem, and given a long enough period, every crypto coin transfer may be fully disclosed.

    There are serious weaknesses in key parts of the crypto coin algorithms that are not obvious to even the best of mathematicians, but that wouldn’t stop NSA from throwing 70k+ mathematicians at the problems.

    So imagine what certain other adversaries might choose to do in this regard.

    We’ll leave out the other risks you could face if you plan on handing off the crypto ASAP and choose not to hold any of it.

    But … your motives don’t matter?

    Then you should probably avoid dealing with Bitcoins (BTC) because the current market is beneficial to Russian energy companies and Russian banks.

    Bitcoin Cash (BCH) is less at risk for that because it’s not as profitable and attractive.

    Ask these people if they’ll do BCH instead of BTC, and ask yourself whether you’re OK with the reality of disclosure over a sufficiently long period of time.

    All of this gets down to the fundamental issue …

    “Motives don’t matter” doesn’t really fly when you see it as what the General Semantics people referred to as an “allness”, and that’s because despite looking like a universality, there’s always one way in which it fails.

    N can also probably describe bits of set theory and the ideas behind Cantor’s diagonalisation theorem at a high enough level that you can see why these constructions are doomed logically and mathematically.

    Constraints and pre-existing conditions always matter.


    1. It got a little confusing by the end, but do you think I should refuse? I just thought it would be a funny thing to do but if it’s not worth it, I’ll do something else.


      1. “… but do you think I should refuse?”

        [points to the Circle A flag, the yellow/black flag, and the grey/black flag that we fly here]

        I’m totally the wrong person to be telling you what to do, you know. 🙂

        But it is entirely possible that the crypto that you receive will be minted with Russian energy, especially if it’s BTC or ETH (which is Ethereum).

        That’s because the valuations are so high that it’s a profit centre for Gazprom and others to subsidise crypto minting.

        So it’s a question for you to decide whether that risk was always going to be there anyway and whether it’s still fun for you to do despite a few rubles equivalent finding their way to the Russian oligarchs.

        For me the long-term crypto blockchain disclosure risks are the bigger problem, which is why I don’t do crypto (anymore) and why I prefer black market forex instead.

        But you could conceivably gift BCH to the people you’re trying to help, and whether the gift is tax deductible or not doesn’t influence whether it’s a gift.

        Bartering also works, so you may want to ask whether the recipients of the bartered items would be happy with them coming from Russia.

        I remember a big stink about Russian milk and the Ukraininan chocolate oligarch head of government a few years ago, so maybe it’d be doubly hilarious for you to earn your translation fees in Russian milk that’s sent via an intermediary to Ukraine’s aid organisations.

        Keep in mind that my end of this in providing advice is that maybe surviving Russia’s bullies will eventually help the people of Ukraine survive their local ones, and that one day they’ll see that a great way forward despite the problems is to embrace the counter-economy in preparation for being able to stand up to them without needing a government.

        So I’m looking forward to when neither Kiev nor Moscow can tell the Ukrainian people what to do.

        Also I look forward to your telling me that my motives don’t matter. [huge laugh]

        BTW, you can make a joke out of anything if humour’s your bag. 🙂


      2. “It got a little confusing by the end …”

        Ah, about that: there are entire worlds of theory you’re not tuned into.

        Especially on the maths and philosophy side of things.

        Cantor’s diagonalisation theorem in a nutshell: closed sets that are infinite produce outliers that can’t be proven to exist within the original sets, without regard to their infinite nature.

        So as much as you try to state things with absolute certainty, the absolute certainty that exists according to the theorem’s application is that there is no absolute certainty.

        This is what Count Korzybski tuned into with his big treatise on General Semantics (where the idea of “allness” comes from), and it’s also what tuned Samuel Hayakawa into it as well.

        Now there are tricks you can do to try to force inclusion of the exceptional state, but that’s just it, they’re tricks.

        Roll this back to the humanities and you get some of the philosophy of Georgio Agamben and his states of exception that he’s written about with regard to the incremental creep of government power.

        In science fiction it came out as “Null-A” stories from AE van Vogt.

        I occasionally forget that most people who work in the humanities and philosophy are typically not also tuned into the world of maths.

        But in terms of the people, Korzybski may strike you as a madman, but you may also be interested in Hayakawa.

        Also, the future is here, it’s just not widely distributed yet. 🙂


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