Jeremy Bentham invented the phrase, “The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number.” If there is any purpose in life, and in what we do on the planet Earth, it should fit within that expression. Instead, we seem to have invented a society which tries to award the good to the smallest number so that that small number achieve a great good for themselves. We celebrate greed, finding that the greediest have achieved the most. At the same time, we celebrate private charity, but we do not allow the society as a whole to divide its goods so that those goods go out to the greatest number.
Trying to help the greatest number is a goal which the coronavirus and climate change has brought to the fore. The coronavirus teaches us that we must eradicate the disease for the benefit of all, because at the moment we have no real way to protect the few. Yes, if you are a billionaire and strap yourself into an airtight suit, you may be able to go out in the world free from the risk of the virus. But you won’t be able to escape the approaching horrors of climate change. The only way to beat both dangers is to salvage society, which by its collective wisdom just might defeat both scourges.
As I think of Bentham’s idea, and the sudden and coming disasters of coronavirus and climate change, I cannot help thinking of Bernie Sanders.
As I think of Bentham’s idea, and the sudden and coming disasters of coronavirus and climate change, I cannot help thinking of Bernie Sanders. Here is one of the few politicians in our country who has truly devoted himself to trying to improve the society so that the greatest number will enjoy the greatest good. He has been successful in large measure, but he has been robbed of the opportunity to be our President, and therefore our leader in the fight against a host of problems, and not just coronavirus and climate change. He wants to eradicate income inequality, racism, genderism, and all those other isms that cause individuals to lose their rights of equality in life. What he has learned in life is that if you keep trying, you can eventually succeed, which is why he has decided to keep up his campaign for President, even though Biden is very much ahead. Although I admire his spunk, and although I supported him in 2016 as well as this year, I think that his own experience stands in the way of the best solution for the Greatest Number.
I do believe that Biden is a selfish man – not as selfish as Trump, but he is focused on winning the election for his own gratification. So long as he becomes President, and so long as ideas he favors become the mantra of the society, he sees himself as a winner. I don’t think that Bernie is bent on winning for himself so much as he wants the Greatest Good.
So, if I could speak to them both at once, I would say this. “Mr. Biden, you need Bernie on your side. If his supporters become disgusted with you, Trump will win.” And then I would say, “Bernie, you might beat Biden, but it’s unlikely, and that means Trump will probably win. What you should be doing is reaching out to Biden, Warren, Gabbard, and others to formulate a program that you can all agree on. The platform needs to fight against coronavirus and climate change. And also against income inequality and the other evils of the day. Find the things that you can agree on with Biden, and I know that they are many. Medicare for all isn’t one of them, but there are ways to compromise which will nevertheless improve society and lead towards a greater good for the greatest number.”
Inevitably, trying to find the greater good for the greatest number means taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Mr. Bloomberg has $69 billion. Would he be less happy if he only had $30 billion? Or $20 billion? Can’t we think of ways that will make him happy without so much money? Why not take $49 billion from him and rename Brooklyn County, NY, something like Bloomberg County? Or why not celebrate his birthday with a parade down Fifth Avenue? Or why not give him the power to decide good uses for his $49 billion? Would that make you happy, Mr. Bloomberg?
At a certain point, money means nothing except power. So grant power and celebrity in exchange for the greater good for the greatest number. And when you find someone who is cheating in order to get more money or more power, make certain that someone is adequately punished, and that the society knows his fate. Teach the children that honesty, like the greater good for the greatest number, is what justifies our existence here on earth. And build a society that meets the criteria taught to the children.
Michael T. Hertz