Monday, December 18, 2017

More Good and Evil

I wish I could easily cough up terse epithets that say it all (I do very rarely; here's a compendium). The problem is that once you get used to writing wordy essays, every topic starts requiring that treatment ("Maslow's Hammered Keyboard"?).

In a posting titled "Good and Evil", I wrote:
"Cold" isn't a thing. It's just a subjective impression of the absence of heat.

Similarly, "Goodness" is just a subjective impression of the absence of malevolence. There's no being a "good person"; even saints are merely opting out of malevolence.

Why do people act malevolently? Simple. It's resistance, born of fear, insecurity, or other internal turmoil. Think of it as aggrieved friction between one's internal and external world; between how one needs it to be and the way it really is; between the burden of the myriad stories one carries around and the utter simplicity and lightness of the actual flow of it all. People are frustrated by the ineffectual toy steering wheel they've spent their lives grasping, and feel compelled to force a result of some sort.
I hoped this pithy take might spur thought, without my filling in all the blanks.

A Facebook friend replied:
If I walk by a lake and see someone drowning, I am malevolent if I throw rocks at them to make them drown faster. If I do nothing, I am malevolent because I am letting them drown when I could have helped (unless it’s too dangerous to help them or I can’t swim). Saving the drowning person will take work, I have to find a long stick for the person to grab on to, or, I have to jump in and get wet in the process, which is a huge hassle, especially if the water is cold. So, being good and saving someone is not simply a lack of malevolence, but a purposeful action that takes effort. I dove in:
People have different concepts of what "good" is. Yours, apparently, involves willingness to extend oneself for another. But that is an extraordinarily complicated matter that couldn't possibly be characterized with such a simple conceptual term.

I can list 100 scenarios where the person extending themselves does so out of selfishness, vanity, fear, even predation. And another 100 scenarios where the do-gooder makes things catastrophically worse - not always perfectly innocently. And 10,000 scenarios where the recipient didn't actually want help, so the would-be hero looks like an oafish busybody. In fact, that is the rule, not the exception.

If you give vodka to an alcoholic, who wants literally nothing else, are you "good"? If you tear away an alcoholic's vodka, are you "good"? How much is it about meeting desires or expectations? Who assesses the "need"? It's complicated!

More people than you might imagine fall in love with their problems and pain, so if you try to rescue them by vanquishing those things, you will find yourself the villain. There's a reason non-malevolent people often don't take the initiative to rescue, solve or save. Try being a hero or a saint, and see where it gets you!

In the end, demonstrating goodness by accumulating a tally sheet of cinematically noble-seeming acts is a ridiculous notion. I know people with such tally sheets, and they are, every one of them, nightmares of unbridled vanity. Batman was not a super cool dude.

If you pull apart the strands of most notions of Goodness, as I've just done for this one, it always unknots into nothingness. It's because there's no "there" there. However!!! The empathy, love, and creativity embedded in every person shines through, unavoidably (you needn't industriously build up a tally) the moment you remove the malevolence that shrinks perspective, cheapens aims, and twists emotions. Expunge that needless, counterproductive constriction and it's nothing but light, love, and creativity. Those things aren't cultivated. They were there to begin with (they're what we actually are), and radiate forth as blocks are removed - as we stop choosing to unnecessarily gnarl and armor ourselves.

That's why so many proclaimed "heros" inevitably tell reporters "This wasn't heroic. This is just what everyone should do". How many times have you heard that?
Again: "Goodness" is just a subjective impression of the absence of malevolence.

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