Why do the firemen in Fahrenheit 451 believe their actions benefit mankind?

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The firemen are high status people in their society. They are essentially a police force that perceives itself as enforcing the rules that keep the rest of the people in their society happy and at peace. As Captain Beatty, the mouthpiece for orthodox thought in the novel puts it, the firemen are "the Happiness Boys, the Dixie Duo, you and I and the others."

Books are understood as a force making people unhappy and discontent. They put undesirable thoughts and ideas into people's heads and confuse their thinking.

For example, although Beatty admits that he never found any books at Clarisse's family home, he still thinks she was polluted by a bookish family, saying to Montag:

She didn't want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it.

Books cause people to ask the "why" questions that the government doesn't want them to be thinking about. The government wants people to be able to know how to do things, but not to consider the bigger questions. As Beatty states:

If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.

The firemen, therefore, think they are doing the good deed of giving the people happiness and the society stability.

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The firemen believe, or some of them do, anyway, that what they are doing is good because they are eliminating ideas from society that would stir up trouble. Captain Beatty, the character who most believes in what they are doing, justifies the actions of the firemen in this way in a speech he gives to Montag:

We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought. We have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don't let the torrent of melancholy and dreary philosophy drown our world.

By burning books, they are contributing to a peaceful and orderly society where people do not argue or fight over what Beatty believes are stupid metaphysical abstractions. In a society that has come to value passivity and apathy above almost all other virtues, the firemen serve as a wall between these attitudes and the ideas in books that might rouse the population with controversial thought.

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