Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.—Albert Einstein
Means and ends debate is not new. Philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, and John Maynard Keynes had all given us the same message: to “value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful.” However, living in the modern world, we fall prey to a process that we call means-ends inversion (MEI), which is when we confuse something that ought to be a means to helping us realize LLP as our ends. Money is the simplest example of means. We need money as a resource for a good life, but for most people, it becomes their end goal.
The reason we fall prey to MEI is because, as we become an integrated part of society, we start living compulsively and not consciously
We see MEI happening at the level of individuals, organizations, and countries as our life is getting enriched but more complex. More so, this phenomenon is happening without us even being aware of it.
The key to overcoming MEI is to be aware that we experience reality through our minds. Hence, we must get deeper insight to the workings of our mind. We are the only species that has significant excess mental energy over and above that which is required to fulfill our basic biological needs. This excess energy must be put to use and we do so by using this excess mental energy in asking and trying to answer the existential questions. Yet our minds have limited cognitive capabilities compared to the infinite reality that is all around us (e.g., we see only a tiny sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum). On top of it we are subjected to several cognitive and psychological biases such as confirmation bias, which is the tendency to favor information that supports what we already believe.
In addition to our limited cognitive abilities, and our inherent biases, we are also subjected to dominant false narratives, which are those stories that we collectively tell ourselves about ourselves, our history, and how the world works. These false narratives that turn out not to be true. For example, we glorify the pursuit of our selfish interests under a narrative that doing so will lead to the overall good for society. We are led to believe in the virtues of rugged individualism instead of seeing the reality of interconnectedness of all life. Another false narrative arises out of the misinterpretation of Darwin’s use of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ to mean that we individuals are constantly in a knockdown fight with the other. We will show many more examples of operating false narratives in subsequent communications with our readers
These dominant false narratives become a strong component of the socialized self that we layer over our authentic self in the process of growing up. As the voice of our socially constructed self starts dominating over the voice of our authentic self, we start to make wrong choices that drive us into MEI. We will also look to ways to avoid the obstacles. We will see that the key is to live consciously and not compulsively. This is the mission of UEF to help our readers with a deeper understanding of false narratives, MEI and how to live consciously recognising the compulsive nature of modern life everywhere in the world
In our UEF framework, Love, learn, and play are ends, not means. Means are conditional. They are the things we do. Ends are things we want for their own sake. Ends are the defining, motivating reason we take action. Ends define the kind of life we want to lead and the kind of people we want to be. What we do is not as important as why we do it.
To understand ultimate ends, ask yourself why. I want wellbeing because? I want love because? I want to learn because? I want to play because? An ultimate end is not a means to anything else. Nothing is worth doing unless the goal is an end in itself.
We confuse means and ends in personal relationships when we focus on what we want other people to do, rather than what we ultimately need and want. For example, we might badger a partner to travel less, take on fewer commitments, simply learn to say no when the real issue is that we want to spend more time together as a family.
At the institutional level, means crowd out ends in universities when publishing, building bigger endowments or networking are valued above increasing knowledge for students and society. Means crowd out ends in medicine when doctors are incentivized to take on ever more patients and spend less time with them in order to maximize profit instead of maximizing patient wellbeing.
At the societal level, we may follow the herd, without questioning whether what we value is contributing to our well being. We may constantly strive for attention on social media, obsess over celebrity culture, or care more about net worth than character. The economic/social policies of most countries focus on maximizing GDP. Instead they would be maximizing human dignity.
How do we achieve the clarity we need to distinguish between means and ends? We ask ourselves whether we value something as an end in and of itself, or as a means to a valuable end. Distinguishing between ends and means keeps us focussed on what matters, on what is likely to increase our wellbeing.
“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – Carl Jung