Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Beyond Good and Evil


Is there such a thing as good and evil, or are these qualitative statements rendered from conscience minds?

I think to address this question we must return to humankind’s animal state and ask ourselves whether or not “good” and “evil” are matters for other beings and entities. For example, what is there of these two concepts between the deer who eats the grass, the ticks that burrows under the skin of the deer and the wolf who preys on the deer? Is the aardvark who decimates an ant colony committing a heinous act or simply foraging? Are two rival packs of animals vying for dominance in a specific territory simply endeavouring to survive or committing a form of gang warfare? In all these scenarios, I believe that most of us will concur that they are acts of nature.

Enter Humankind. Our prime difference separating us from the rest of the natural world is encapsulated in Descartes statement: “I think therefore I am”. We are perhaps the only creatures on the planet that reasons our actions and views the world in terms of it’s various layers, depending on our level of consciousness. This, in our early days, lead to the development of pagan and, later, monotheistic religions as we attempted to reason our existence, give our lives purpose and to develop social rules to allow our species to prosper and live harmoniously. Without these constructs, we would live in a state described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan: “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.” The power to which Hobbes alludes is represented in both religion and politics. As history has also illustrated, again quoting Hobbes: “Covenants without the sword are but words and of no strength to secure man at all.” Certainly, contrast Russia pre and post 1989 and we can see how when the totalitarian grip of the Communist Party and its various minions like the KGB let go, the Russian mafia took over.

So societal peace was originally based on fear, but is now, in many parts of the world, being reasoned as we strive for social harmony. I certainly see this experiment in the prison where I work as we spend thousands annually on convicted offenders to “help them so they can live as a law abiding citizen” while largely neglecting the victims and families of their crimes. This is part of not wanting to perceive ourselves as being a barbaric or vengeful society, but rather an inclusive and reasonable one (…yes, and Communism looks great on paper, but the human implementation leaves much to be desired!).

Ultimately, as all that I have presented was being created, we needed a rubric or gage by which to create this reasoned harmonious state. First, Humankind made itself distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom, putting more value on a conscious human life over an apparently oblivious duck or porcupine, becoming to Nature what the Church, in many parts of the world, had become to the peasantry. Then we started to make things qualitative: take neighbours cow = theft and execution (later reduced over the centuries to prison time and, later, fines). Kill cow = need food thus okay. Kill neighbour = not okay because neighbour’s kin kill back then no one left to raise cows = bad. These qualitative things eventually became “good” and “evil”.

It was all going along so well until society’s consciousness developed further and we grew from caves to condominiums. Then we realised that there are nothing but layers of grey as opposed to black and white. So, what was a Commandment as simple as “thou shalt not kill”, became a plethora of reasoned arguments, complicated by individual and cultural perspectives. Just as one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, our reasoning shows that there are no pure absolutes in regards to our concepts such as “good” and “evil”. Even if one belongs to a religion, questions still remain and we just chalk it up to not being quite as wise and omniscient as
G(g)od. If there is no immortal soul, what does anything matter if one day our planet is reduced to dust? I’m not advocating that we forgo these qualitative assignments as I have no desire to return to Hobbes natural state of man, but, can’t help but observe that, oftentimes, it’s our interpretation of such qualitative things that causes us to war rather than prevent us from warring.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that we have reached the epiphanic moment that Nietzsche wrote of: the Übermenschen or Superman as the masses tend to remain more like sheep as opposed to Zarathustra. Nietzsche wrote, appropriately enough, “Morality is the herd-instinct in individuals”. I would add to this that “good” and “evil” are the necessary implements required to keep the herd together. Closing with Wittgenstein: “The solution of the problem of life is seen in the vanishing of the problem”….

Enough said!

10 Comments:

  • At 2:31 AM , Blogger firedawg said...

    The nice thing about most religions is that they are revelationary. Therefore they are open to interpretation and doubt. This leaves open the option to be tolerant of others as no one is REALLY sure that the interpretation hasn't been somehow filtered or skewed. My recent reading of Islam is that their religious text was dictated by Allah and is therefore not open to intrepretation or to the toleration of other religions. What threat does this pose to world order?

     
  • At 7:07 AM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    Civilization is a tool. We invented it to increase our Net Creativity as a species. Imagine you are alone, trying to cut a path through a jungle. Tough going. Hard to cut a path and procreate at the same time. Pretty soon, along comes a group of you. In exchange for procreation time, you take turns cutting a path to new food-bearing areas. You just created society. A little while along, you get along so well that some can even draw pictures of the path (maps), think about how the path follows the stars, train each other on the best ways to cut the path, etc. You may meet another group cutting their path, then you just invented war. The one who has created the most efficient methods of getting along, cutting path, AND fighting war at the same time gets to keep procreating. Eventually, the path becomes an oil pipeline, the wars get uglier and uglier, and we arrive at what we call 'modern civilization'. Morality, therefore, is what helps us 'fit' our societal environment, an evolved quality that fits us to the society we live in. Some societies would get along fine if they remained isolated from other societies, but their developed societal environment is not equipped to deal with alternate moralities. Each morality is evolved in its own environment, it isn't so subjective as that everyone has their own morality. Morality is a local phenomenon, a quid-pro-quo with your local peoples (you agree to live by certain rules, and you receive certain guarantees or protections). From the universe's standpoint, the idea was working great (creating additional complexity/diversity for the DNA encyclopedia) up until the point where the opposing societies became so large that they began 'cheating' by consuming resources they don't actually need to procreate at a sustainable level. Nature has thrown up roadblocks (infertility, disease, starvation), but Society has thwarted many of these devices for limiting consumption.

     
  • At 7:33 AM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    Think about this Morality Locality when discussing the pros and cons of Globalization.

    The World Bank / Bilderberger Group /G8 know that real Globalization can't happen until they globalize morality.....When they can't buy it, they burn it.

     
  • At 6:10 PM , Blogger Real-E said...

    I don't think that Islam is a threat to the world order any more or less than Christianity. People need to ask why the Muslim world is acting the way that they are. 9/11 really messed with the minds of most folks in the western world, but think of the rockets slamming regularly in Iraqi suburbs - they aren't so selective that they only kill the bad guys any more than the planes of 9/11 took out only those supporting the perceived western meddlers in Middle Eastern affairs.

    Sadly, western media isn't doing anything to help our impressions of the Muslim world any more than their newspapers are attempting to give the west a positive image. The wole thing is far larger than religion or recent events.

    I lived in the former Czechoslovakia many years ago, shortly after the fall of Communism in 1989. Think of the media we were subjected to leading up to the collapse - these were the godless commies who were going to come over our nuclear ruined cities and eat our freedom loving children. Similar images of the west as being greedy money worshipping Capitalists were bombarded to the masses over there. Yet, when I went, there wasn't even a trace of animosity. Politics are one thing, but I believe common folks just want to live their lives without hinderence....

    Wow, talk about digress...

    Antigrav, I totally echo your point of local morality clashing with globalism.

     
  • At 9:51 PM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    Some chat about the hate hype here at Yahoo Answers Beta, maybe you can get there. If so, go to this link and scroll down to my answer:

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AhJThorlaBis8oLZ_1Lw0iXsy6IX?qid=1006021101439

     
  • At 11:33 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Good and Evil are difficult for philosophers and theologians to discuss. Easy for the simple minds and easier for drinking minds, so to explain the amount I drank for so many years, as opposed to the few classes attended at U of Eh. Skip to the what-we-know of life through science and it seems scientists have become "religious" about their schools of thought and intruded with the Intelligent Design Theory. Most simply, there are designs and intelligence is inferred in what I see. The morality of a God Who is implicated in the creation of "Good and Evil" is beyond my ken, as is His Mind. The state of awe and humility, with knowing how small I am, helped me survive the "recovery process" I have with George Bush. I cannot see him as a Christian, because of behaviours, in which he does not seem dedicated or "anointed" to a divine purpose. Seems to me he has been drinking, not thinking, so easy for him to think God would tell him to... I don't feel my life is anointed to analyze these relative questions. Sometimes I am happy, though all I can say about good and evil is "loving" and "selfish", or wise and fearless and sometimes afraid and hateful. So it is I am, nodroggout

     
  • At 7:14 AM , Blogger auntiegrav said...

    Good points anonymous. "wise and fearless", however, I would change to "wise and courageous". No fear implies overconfidence, lack of questioning. We should almost always have some hesitation to doing things. It takes courage to do the good things against the evil influences of marketing, conformity, and mob rule, I think.

     
  • At 1:21 PM , Blogger firedawg said...

    Is it just me being negative or do you see good and evil being situational? I'd like to believe in an absolute Good or an absolute Evil but the closer you get to a definition the more it seems to slip away. If it is situational then different societies will have different standards. Then there is no reasonable hope of World order (is a united Europe too much to hope for as well?). Can there be such a thing as basic universal rights? The good and evil required to keep the herd together will necessarily change as external pressures on food , space etc. change. The problem with accepting that everything is situational seems to be that you end up with the lowest common denominator and therefore limit real progression. What has stopped the world from providing food, shelter, basic health care to everyone. Certainly we have enough smarts and resources to accomplish this.

     
  • At 7:25 PM , Blogger Real-E said...

    Firedawg, you've nailed it - good and evil are purely situational, fabricated and therefore largely subjective. This also means that world peace and all of the nobel things you speak of will always remain out of reach. Survival is often at the expense of another. Food may be abundant, for example, but then a drought occurs. It is only natural that one community thus does what it deems necessary to survive, even if it means warring against another to seize their food supply. There are far too many opportunists in the world to allow for a utilitarian utopia.

     
  • At 12:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    back in as archie/nodrog/anon in drag mentality, now the walls are not around me, where i work and compromise with evil, management or inmate, maybe fellow staff, the good and evil are not dependent on the situation. the fearless, not courageous, was right on, and clears up philosphy vs. religion. i have had too many fearless moments, stumbled into things, like this blog site, that scare me. my compromised morals are from fear, like being afraid of an inmate's bullying nature and blaming the rec. staff, or the fact it is unfair to other inmates to have him out and around them, and unfair to have my partner put fist to face after i have put face to inmate's fist. he says he doesnot mind, but i know there are inquiries every time a staff does something which is good and fair, but seems evil only because it is violent. c'mon. the universe was created in a violent manner and jesus dealt with money-mongers in temple with violence. it was the right and good thing to do. so, as i spent last weekend worrying how a potentially violent method would work out, would my work-partner get hurt, would i, managers were meeting. a decision was made, the illusion of deus-ex-machina gave us temporary relief from a bully, the drugs flowed less freely, and i got what i wanted cheap and easy.
    answer to prayer and good thing for me, because my view of god is personal. after so many incarnations as a cockroach, i feel qualified to state absolutely, but i must admit the right to doubt and debate in others, as much as i doubt and debate too. here we are with no hope for resolution of debate, as long as a cartoon can get people killed. someone said utopia, but that is mans creation, as is any image of heaven, sculpture of moses, bastardized italian picture of jesus or cartoon caricature of mohammed. marx was so far from understanding plato, like gw bush from doing god's will. the playground brings us back to what seems fair and right and the streets and job sites drag truth out of us. as r.m.of the m.t. says courage requires this absolute truth, but it says in the newspapers, and bibles and kama sutras and zen masters agree, people get killed with that warrior mentality, no matter how honest and humble they had become, with many years of meditation and discipline. so, is it a good thing to kill and be killed for truth's sake?

     

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