“Thank God there’s no justice in this world.”
Disney and “My Three Sons” actor Tim Considine, who died last week at age 82, in an interview quoted in his New York Times obituary.
Considine was referring to his success and rich experiences in life, which he felt were relatively undeserved. He did not regard himself as especially talented or ambitious.
The more I ponder his statement, the more profound I think it is. Understanding that there is no justice in the world is a necessary predicate for committing to an ethical life for the right reasons. Society needs as many people as possible striving to be good, having their lives exert a net benefit on others, and being exemplars of ethical values as often as they can. These habits and objectives must be committed to while fully understanding that they only collectively and on balance result in desirable results, and sometimes not even that.
Chaos and moral luck are constants. Those who try to be ethical because they think doing so guarantees success and happiness are making a quid pro quo assumption that one simply cannot rely on. Ethical conduct must be altruistic, otherwise, it isn’t truly ethical. Being ethical because one thinks it guarantees, or even necessarily increases the chances of one’s achieving desirable results is a recipe for anger, bitterness and disappointment.
In my favorite ethics movie, “A Man For All Seasons,” we see the idealistic and courageous Thomas More beheaded for his integrity, while the narrator tells us of the violent ends of all the other main players in the drama, except for the irredeemable villain Richard Rich, whose ambition and lies sent More to the block. “Richard Rich became Chancellor of England,” the narrator says, “and died in his bed.” Rich lived to be 70, the 16th Century equivalent of about 90 today.
Understanding that there is no justice in the world informs both sides of the raging “social justice” debate. Those who think they “deserve” their successes and benefits while others languish in defeat and failure need the tonic of humility and gratitude that Considine’s revelation conveys. The angry activists who think that some vast conspiracy is behind the foiling of some natural justice ensured by existence are similarly deluded. Society can strive to make human life less brutal and short, but the mission of guaranteeing justice through mankind’s contrivances is a fool’s pursuit. Good deeds have caused tragedies, while the unanticipated consequences of malevolence sometimes are wonderful. All human beings can do is to strive toward ethical literacy, wisdom, selflessness and beneficence while trying to persuade others to do likewise, and to do all this while expecting no justice or just rewards, never resenting those who end up on the lucky side of a bell curve.
I only remember Tim Considine as a kid and a teen. He is one of those figures who stayed forever young in my mind, and his death at 82 comes as a shock. He was “Spin” in the memorable “Mickey Mouse Club” series, “Spin and Marty” about a snotty rich kid—that was Marty— who became a human being through his friendship with the “cool guy” at dude ranch. Tim was half of my first version of “The Hardy Boys,’ another Disney series. He flirted with Annette in other shows and movies, and then aged into the oldest son of Fred MacMurray on “My Three Sons.” Then he disappeared; we never saw him get older. I was amazed to find out in his obituary that Considine played the soldier slapped by Gen. Patton in “Patton.’ I’ve seen that movie many times, and never realized he had that tiny but pivotal part.
Now I also know that Tim Considine was a child star and a celebrity who kept his success in its proper perspective, a crucial factor in understanding and practicing the Golden Rule.