There are direct and indirect consequences to actions. One can perform a well-intentioned action and still have an indirect negative consequence, just as one can do something bad and indirectly do something good. We are not always, if ever, aware of indirect consequences because we are not actively looking for them; indeed, sometimes they can’t be seen unless pointed out. At these times it is easy to deny that we had any part in an indirect negative consequence, especially when we had good intentions. However, the success of our action is not determined by our intention, it is determined by the sum of its consequences.

For example, when the United States initially invaded Iraq, if you discount the more plausible explanation of middle east oil control and take the official statement at face value, their intentions were good. Liberate a nation where, as far as the United States could see, the citizens were oppressed, and help set up a form of government that would benefit them. Although narcissistically flawed, this could still be seen as a noble action. But if we look at the indirect consequences, we see that the Iraq war was an immense failure based on American casualties, Iraqi casualties, and other criteria. Iraq is no more liberated now than it was before the invasion began.

Another example of this relates to money. It is abundantly clear that economy is the dominating force of the majority of the world, and it is the developed nations that control the base of this economic system. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization are the three main controls over the global economy. Their actions and policies impact every nation in the world – again, either directly or indirectly – and as I stated before, they may not even be aware of the negative consequences to these actions. The IMF will frequently give loans to undeveloped nations in order to stimulate economic growth; however, these loans contain stipulations that leave the country in a worse condition than it was beforehand, like Thailand and Indonesia during the Asian Crisis of 1997.

Speaking in absolute generality, people want to be good. Our beliefs and actions are easily justified this way. Even those people that are fully aware they are doing something wrong do so because it makes them feel good. When we think along these lines, we ignore anything bad that might happen because of what we’ve done. This is why it’s impossible to objectively evaluate the sum of our actions as good or bad. To be axiomatic, when you feed the wildlife, they forget how to forage; so, whereas it may make you feel good, you’ve done nothing of the sort. Keep that in mind the next time you’re going to invade a country or extend a ridiculously inflated loan to an impoverished country.