Yeats said it very well -- "How do you tell the dancer from the dance?" In a more sociologically oriented direction, how do you separate what someone says from what he or she does? Does the fact that a preacher consorts with hookers invalidate his sermons on purity? Does a musician's pathological behavior make his/her music bad? Can a politician advocate reform if he or she is corrupt?
Early thinkers, the Romans, held that a good man couldn't make an evil speech, and an evil man couldn't make a noble speech. We know that isn't true, but what about the ideas in a speech or in a creed, or in a whole movement. For instance, if one looks at the tenets of National Socialism, one finds that they are, by and large, good things: honor, hard work, good health, care for the citizen, love of country. In the abstract, I note.
The goals of liberals are noble goals. The goals of conservatives are noble goals. Hell, the goals of Communism are noble goals.
The problem is that people make a hierarchy of goals, such that some noble goals have to be discarded in order to reach other, presume ably more noble goals. The protection of the country is more noble and more important than personal privacy, so the government listens in on us. In England even now, there are cameras on the streets that can track a person across town. Cameras take photos of people who run red lights, because public safety is more important than privacy. And so on.
All of which bothers me. There's always been a clash of rights, of course. And sometimes it's been worse than it is now (Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, I've been told).
I've been wondering if there is any one noble thing that tops them all. If there is one goal, one desire, one tenet of faith that always trumps everything else.
And I think I've found it. It's the desire for justice. This is more important than anything, more important than religion, than political party, than national pride, that personal safety.
I want justice. I want it for everybody and everything. In all times and all places. Except for me, of course. I want mercy for me.