I’m sure that one of the formative influences of my life was watching Westerns on the new medium of TV. You know the story. It was always about the goodies and the baddies. The baddies got together in gangs, and got more of their share by force, imposing their will on the goodies, who were well meaning but ineffectual. Then along came the hero(es), who sorted out the baddies and gave them their just desserts. The goodies won.
Can the goodies win in real life? If we look at history who were the goodies? The indigenous peoples who lived a sustainable life over thousands of years in sympathy with nature? They lost bigtime, their lands and precious artifacts, even their lives, stolen by Europeans over hundreds of years, who look suspiciously like baddies.
The winners of wars against the likes of Napoleon and Hitler? So many baddish acts to rid the world of the worst sort of baddie. Hardly goodies.
The creators of political systems out of the ashes of wars – the American constitution, the UN, the welfare states, the German constitution, the Marshall Plan. Yes, these look very much like goodies.
The thing is, this is not a symmetrical polarity, as might appear. Goodies are, well, good. They do the right thing in all their dealings. They are driven by conscience and abhor bad acts. They are even inclined to give baddies the benefit of the doubt. They recognise the bad in themselves.
On the other hand, baddies are bad, and have no conscience. Baddies always do what will benefit themselves and those who profess loyalty. And they will do whatever it takes. They have no self insight, nor any desire for it.
So, in a straight contest, the baddies will probably win. Putative heroes are driven out of town, or worse.
But the thing is, goodies are more numerous, and more co-operative. Given the right political system, such as democracy, the goodies can and do win. Welfare states thrive.
However, in the wrong political system, the one-party state, the corruptible democratic institutions, the ruling junta, the baddies can rule the roost for a long time. So many countries seem to be in this state at this moment. Name your own examples.
This is why democratic institutions and the rule of law (and I would add limited terms of office) are so important, and why they should never be allowed to be undermined, which is precisely what populist leaders and beneficiaries of the status quo try to do.
My conclusion – the goodies can win, but eternal vigilance is needed from the heroes within the people, to sustain the institutions that are their defence against emerging baddies.
Featured image is shootout from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.