Last week I downloaded a virus. Congratulations, Dora! I spent hours doing my best to rid the computer of the nasty bug and playing with settings I didn’t understand. Patrick spent even more hours doing his best to rid the computer of the virus and figuring out what exactly I had messed with and attempting to put that back in order. Our friend and computer savior came to save the day on Saturday, but the computer is still not completely at peace. What a mess. Of course I feel awful for the innocent mistake that has wreaked such havoc and wasted hours. But what keeps running through my head is – why would someone write something like that just to hurt someone?
As we sat with our computer-expert friend waiting for certain programs to do their cleaning jobs, I interviewed him as to why people write viruses. This time around we had only been inconvenienced; no real harm had been done. But some of these programs are meant to hurt. According to our friend there are three main reasons for writing harmful computer programs (viruses, Trojans, and who else knows what they’re called): somebody is gathering information in the hopes of providing you or me advertising for products we would be drawn to. The virus-thing I downloaded falls into this category. Eventually we would have been swamped with advertisements of products that might, but most likely would not, be interesting for us.
The second type is searching specifically for bank information and passwords in order to, if all goes well, clean out your bank account. Or to in some other illegal manner accumulate money that belongs to someone else. These nasty guys could really do some damage.
Finally the third reason is simply taking on the adventure of seeing how far one can get with his computer savvy. It’s the challenge of breaking into governmental and top-secret agencies and quite possibly going on to make some money, also in an illegal fashion. To say these types are dangerous is a minor understatement.
Okay so maybe my initial question wasn’t quite fair: the people writing these things probably aren’t doing it with the sole intention of hurting someone else. But it obviously won’t come as a surprise to them when collateral damage is done on the way to their goal, mainly to advance themselves either financially or egoistically.
We know these guys are only looking after themselves. But what about a guy like Edward Snowden? To some he is a whistle-blower and traitor and to others he is a whistle-blower and hero. However you see him, he claims his intentions are good. As opposed to these computer programmers who are thinking first and foremost about themselves, Snowden says he wants to make these top-secret documents public because he believes the people have a right to know what is going on behind-the-scenes. He has sacrificed his relationship to his home country and his way of life for what he believes to be the good of others.
The good of others – Who decides what is good? And if something is right or good for me does it automatically mean the same for you? Good intentions do not inherently give rise to wise decisions. Do good intentions alone validate the actions that follow?
Years ago I rode a wobbly bike with three gears, only one of which worked. Thinking of the man who was responsible for fixing bikes and not wanting to add to his load, I continued riding the bike, content with the one gear. Soon after making my decision, the man discovered on his own that the bike needed repairing and was annoyed I didn’t come directly to him. I was accused by someone close to the repairman of being selfish, only thinking of myself and not the person who would ride the bike after me. I was deeply hurt, cut by the accusation of selfishness because I knew indeed I am so often selfish, but this time, this time I chose differently. Not only had I most likely not made the best decision although I had the good of someone else in mind, my good intentions had been misunderstood.
Even when we all know at least in part answers to my theoretical questions above, I wonder if good intentions and the actions resulting aren’t easier to forgive. It seems every time I turn on the news, I see people in positions of power thinking only of themselves. Of course most of those individuals would deny these intentions, might have even successfully suppressed such thoughts or somehow twisted them into pleasant words, but I see them clinging to the power they have, going to any measure necessary to retain it. Like the virus-writers these people in power know collateral damage will happen – even death and desolation – but that does not matter. What’s most important to them is they keep what they have.
If good intentions will most likely be misguided, wouldn’t it be easier to identify ourselves with the computer virus programmers and power-hungry? Probably. But the thought of all that death and destruction in the way of collateral damage just seems a bit too dramatic for me. And I find all those self-furthering individuals revolting. It’s certainly not easy, but putting the good of others first, even if sometimes misguided, could save a lot of grief. I think I’ll stick to my good intentions, even if they turn out to be the wrong ones.