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The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Updated on August 9, 2015

The truthfulness of this saying keeps surprising me. People with the best intentions terribly often end up going down the wrong path. A philosophical article regarding my thoughts on this strange and concerning phenomenon.

How is that possible?
I have wondered for a long time how it is possible that so many people who radiate nothing but goodness at first end up developing such dark personalities. In other words, how is it possible that so much evil can creep into the minds of such ‘good’ people? Somehow, in their pursuit to do good they end up on the wrong path.

We see that history underlines this observation. Think for instance of the former Roman Emperor Caligula, who, after a promising start of his rule, got to deal with some personal setbacks. Ever since, he started to pull the strings tighter and tighter, until he ended up ruling like a true tyrant. Apparently personal setbacks can lead to character deterioration. On one hand, this is no new conclusion. On the other hand however, one would think that those who have had to deal with setbacks would be more understanding of people who go through the very same thing. As such, poor people tend to relatively be more generous than rich people. Thus, from my point of view, it would be rash to state that personal setbacks per definition lead to character deterioration.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 forms another example. Having grown sick and tired of his tyrannical rule, the Russian people stood up against Czar Nicholas II. They believed Russia had to be improved by thoroughly reorganizing the political system. When tensions started boiling, the rebels stormed the Czarist palace and killed the Czarist family as well as several of their staff members. Let’s pause here for a moment. We see here that as a result of these actions, a dark shadow fell over the rebels. People were willing to go further and further for what was perceived to be the greater good and the murders proved this. And it didn’t stop there. After the murders, the Soviets’ character grew more and more malicious. During the Russian Civil War (1917 – 1921), the Bolsheviks slaughtered everyone who was still standing in the way of their ideology. This resulted eventually in the founding of the Soviet-Union, who ruled her population with an iron fist for decades – in particular during Stalin’s rule. In Soviet-Russia, Communism was presented as the ideal way to a better society. The truth was different however: many millions of people lost their lives as a result of executing this depraved ideology.

Perhaps the best example occurred in Nazi-Germany towards the end of World War II. Once it became clear that the Third Reich was not too last for long anymore, Hitler’s chief of propaganda Joseph Goebbels and his wife decided to end the lives of their children before taking their own, arguing that “there would be nothing left anymore after National Socialism”. In their perception, National Socialism was ‘good’ and they deemed it to be a better fate for their children to die rather than to live in a world without their doctrine.


Another example of a transition from good to bad while pursuing the good can be found in religions. Didn’t they start after all with teachings of love, peace and other dogmas meant to enable you to live as a good person? The problem is that only the rules of one’s own religion will apparently do in many cases. All other religions are ‘bad’, ‘hellish’ and ‘demonic’, let alone an ideology in which God has no place. Only one’s own religion seems to count, since this is the one and only ‘true’ religion. As a result of such ways of thinking, mankind’s history has become drenched in the blood of people who had beliefs that differed from the people in charge. Think of the many absurd witch burnings, preposterous hunts for ‘heretics’ and – more recent – the countless attacks of radical Muslims who try to bring the world under their rule.

It’s quite remarkable to see all religions have one ironic thing in common: throughout all the bloodshed, they all claim to pursue a peaceful world.

In business too, there are plenty of examples that can be found of transitions from good to bad intentions, one of them being formed by the pharmaceutical industry. It’s no longer a priority to heal people, but to make big profits which will then disappear into the pockets of greedy individuals. Many people are dependent on their medicines and this fact is being thoroughly abused. Ridiculously high prices and pharmaceuticals that cause you to need more medicines rather than to heal are the painful results of that. My all-time ‘favorite’ types of commercial for pharmaceuticals are the ones that promote anti-depressants. There is no guarantee that it will work, but there are a ton of potential side effects including users to commit suicide…

‘Charitable’ organizations
Just like happens in the medical world, charitable organizations are often abused by shady, selfish individuals for the single purpose of filling up their own wallets. Ask yourself: how many times has it been reported in the news that donations did not end up where they were supposed to? How many times have we been able to read or hear about self-enrichment within charitable organizations? Apparently, the directors of such organizations consider themselves to be a charity.

On a smaller scale
I’m fully aware that so far, I’ve only given examples among bigger groups and powerful rulers. However, the phenomenon can be applied to ‘common’ individuals as well. Think for instance of a police officer who has been through a lot, ends up getting a meltdown and kill his own family. I would imagine that such a person starts out with the idea to make his own country a safer place to live in. The next thing he knows however, he experiences such horrific things that he loses it completely and eventually commits a gruesome deed himself.

Another situation may occur whenever someone is repeatedly being ‘punished’ for good deeds. Not receiving any recognition and getting negative comments while someone really tries his best may lead to disillusions of which the consequences can be dire. The goal pursued to live a ‘good’ life turns out to be out of reach for those people, causing them to start looking for alternatives and finding them on more than one occasion on the wrong path.

Several factors can play a role in initiating the process of character deterioration among people who would originally have been perceived to be ‘good’ in the eyes of many. Personal setbacks, disillusions, an extreme urge to change certain things, possessing an exorbitant amount of power and obtaining the ability to work on self-enrichment can be seen as the most common causes. We can also add the term ‘egoism’ to this row. People often start putting forth effort for a good cause with the best of intentions, but as soon as they get a chance to have these efforts benefit themselves, they will grab it with both hands. In due time the means they use to improve their own lives take on more and more extreme forms. The way in which ‘good’ people eventually end up on the wrong path may be explainable, yet it does remain a bizarre phenomenon.

"If it would benefit themselves, some people turn a noble destination into a journey to depravity."

- Victor Brenntice -


© 2015 Victor Brenntice


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