Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Good Versus Evil

Temptation of Christ - Ary Scheffer (Source)
Just going to throw a few thoughts out here today, some things I have been pondering for a while, some things which many a great (and not so great) philosopher has also given quite a bit of thought to, down through the centuries. With all that is going on in the world, and in my own slice of heaven, I have to wonder about the nature of good, and evil.

First off, my buddy Shaun has some interesting thoughts on the topic. Before continuing further, you should go read this post of his. 'Twas that post which got me to cogitating. Which isn't always a good thing. As I have mentioned in these spaces in the past, sometimes I think too much. (The converse of that statement has some validity as well.)

Now when Shaun writes of the First Principle, I do believe he means this -
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - Declaration of Independence, Preamble
While I wholeheartedly support the sentiment expressed in those powerful words (with the caveat that "men" here means all of humanity) I do have a couple of bones to pick with the Founders.

First off, what they really meant to say (and as an historian, amateur or not, there are facts to back me up on this) is that the men of the Thirteen Colonies were equal to the men of the home country, that is to say, Great Britain.

They did not mean to include women (who could not vote at that time), they did not mean to include slaves and indentured servants (the former having little hope of freedom, ever, and the latter's hope of freedom subject to the scruples, or lack thereof, of the man who "owned" their service), and they certainly did not include the native peoples of the North American continent.

The Declaration of Independence was a start towards what we have today. We're not there yet, as now, legally, all American citizens are born with a clean slate, so to speak, as in they are theoretically able to take themselves as far as their hard work and natural talents can take them. Which is all well and good until you look at reality.

I might note that those born with a disability are not by any means created equal in comparison with those born without a disability. But the point is, the law does not allow anyone to place any obstacles in a person's way based on their gender, "color," religion, sexual orientation, or other distinguishing characteristics (real or imagined).

While that's what the law is, in practice, if you grow up in a poor neighborhood with really bad schools, you need to work many times harder than, let's say, a middle class kid from Vermont. (Even if we were what you might call, lower middle class. Not sure exactly where we fell on the scale of wealth, but it wasn't down near the bottom, nor anywhere near the top. Somewhere just below the middle, I'd guess.)

Now what does all that have to do with the concepts of good and evil?

Now Shaun made the argument in his post -
...that there are no good people and there are no bad people. There are just people. People who take actions which are both good and bad.
The statement taken at face value, seems to make perfect sense. People are not bad, nor are they good, the things they do in life, the actions they take may be construed as good, or bad. So the person who stole my card number and used it to make some purchase at Walmart out in Oklahoma over the weekend, isn't a bad person, they just chose to do a bad thing. Which while it did not cost me any money, did cause me a great deal of inconvenience. And really, really, pissed me off.

Now how about the fellow in 1930s Germany who joined the Nazi Party because all the "cool kids" were doing it? Say he later joined the SS-Totenkopfverbände*, because that way he didn't have to go to Russia and fight in combat. Were that man's actions bad? I mean, if he didn't do it someone else would. After all, the State ordered this done, how could he be considered bad? If the murder of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, and others was countenanced by, in fact dictated by, the State, how could an individual be held accountable?

Well, the Nuremberg Tribunal did hold the individuals accountable. Whether they felt guilty, or bad, or evil, or not. They were held accountable for their actions. They were judged to be, if not evil, at the very least, criminals. Bad people.

Am I equating the person out in Oklahoma with a concentration camp guard? Well, yes I am, just a little. If one chooses to do a small bad thing, where does that lead? If you feel justified in taking that which is not yours, where does it stop? From theft to genocide is a large leap, I know, but both are, to some extent, bad. I would go so far as to say evil.

One definition of evil, as a noun, is:
profound immorality, wickedness, and depravity, especially when regarded as a supernatural force
Synonyms: wickedness, bad, badness, wrongdoing, sin, ill, immorality, vice, iniquity, degeneracy, corruption, depravity, villainy, nefariousness, malevolence
I think we can see already that there are degrees of evil. A concentration camp guard could no doubt be judged as being profoundly immoral and depraved. The card number thief charging a purchase to someone else's account might just be bad, or nefarious. If one has a strict interpretation of the Scriptures, both are doomed to eternal damnation. Or maybe not.

Admission of sin and the act of repentance can cleanse one of their sin (well, there's more to it than that, but I'm not here to debate religion, at least not today), forgiveness is there for those who seek it. Even the SS guy? Yes, even him.

Do I think mankind is inherently wicked? No.

Do I think good people can choose to do bad, even evil things? That depends.

Consistent bad behavior, doing bad things, even evil things lie outside of what defines a "good" person. Just what is good anyway? Let's hit the dictionary again -
that which is morally right; righteousness.

Synonyms: virtue, righteousness, goodness, morality, integrity, rectitude, honesty, truth, honor, probity, propriety, worthiness, merit, blamelessness, purity
Can a human be "good" according to that definition? Yes, but it takes effort. It's a lot harder than being bad, or evil. At least I think so.

I think that once one chooses to do bad things, to be evil if you will, then one will continue to do so unless some external force makes one stop. Especially if it's profitable.

Do evil often enough, then I believe you are evil. Your actions define who you are and what you are, like it or not.

The same holds true for those who go out of their way to be good. Does this mean more than just doing one's job in life? Go to work, pay your bills, love your spouse, your kids, your neighbor, try to obey the law. Or does one have to do charity work, donate money to orphanages and the like? Who decides?

I don't know.

They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, I think the road to Hell is paved, brick by brick, mile by mile, with evil deeds and treating one's fellows badly. It's also paved by the inaction of those who might have changed things but stood by and did nothing.
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. - Edmund Burke
If you stand by and do nothing in the face of evil, how can you be called "good"?

I really don't know. All I know is that there is great evil in the world. It's up to those of us who can, to stand up to it.

My thoughts. What are yours?

Sarge, out.




* Death's Head Units, these provided the guard force for the concentration camps.

28 comments:

  1. Well said, Sarge. That was my thought process I was trying to express last week. You said there's a difference between legal and moral. You are right. Slavery was legal, but not moral and it took 500,000 lives to prove that. Killing Jews was legal, but not moral and it took God alone knows how many lives to change that. While certainly not on the same scale as those examples, my point was the whole TSA BS process is legal, not moral and it needs changing.

    As usual, we have similar thoughts. I defer to your more capable skills in expressing them.

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    1. Concur on the need to improve the TSA process. While I have had no problems personally with them, I do see lots of inefficiency and arrogance on the part of TSA personnel.

      My daughter, in uniform, was pulled aside to be patted down. While a Middle Eastern male was waved through. As far as I was aware, there had been no instances of US Navy terrorism at that point in time. (Nor has there ever been.) TSAs biggest problem are their PC masters in DC. Can't profile? Insanity which gets people killed, you get bet your ass the Israelis profile.

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  2. I'm prone to over think things, too. So I defer to "trusted sources". One of my trusted sources says, "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?" That, "Yet man is born to trouble, as sparks fly upward." Just as natural as sparks from a fire.... No one has to teach a child to be selfish or lie, we figure that out pretty durn fast.

    It takes God in the man for man to be man as God intended man to be. One of our founders said our form of government would only work for a God fearing people. We are finding out how it works with godless citizens now. Not much fun.

    It has always been a minority that makes or breaks: a minority that fought the Revolutionary war, a minority that swung the 1917 revolt to communism. A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.

    Make no mistake, as we fight for truth, justice and the American way, it'll make a difference. But it doesn't mean it will be easy or fun. Doing what's right usually means doing what's hardest.

    My 2¢

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    1. And a good two cents it is. There is much to like in the Scriptures, some very sound wisdom therein.

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  3. Hm. So what happened to "Original sin" etc.? Methinks John Calvin and a host of others might not go along with your vision of man's goodness.

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    1. If Calvin is correct, there is no good, there is no evil. All is preordained. At least that's how I see it and I do not believe in the concept of "original sin."

      I am a man of faith, but I take all religion with a grain of salt.

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    2. My ideas are not exactly mainstream. There are days when I don't know what, or who, to believe. But...

      My faith in the Almighty endures, no matter how much we mere mortals try to define His Glory.

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    3. The only Calvin I follow has a stuffed tiger for a pal. :)

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  4. Great post Sarge.

    I think the terms good and evil are too often used imprecisely. I do this all the time. "That's a good dude, that guy is evil." What I always mean is that I assess their actions as being good or evil. Most people do this, but it falls somewhere along the line between conversational shortcut and intellectual dishonesty. Now here's the good people vs evil people kicker for me. If we say that some folks are good (as in saintly and superior) and some are bad (as in evil and defective), then we've set up three classes of human being. That directly contradicts the First Principle. Moreover, our right to set societal norms and to judge our fellows for their transgressions rests entirely on the principle that all men are fundamentally human, that all men therefore have the ability and responsibility to hew to those norms. We can't ethically judge animals by human standards, nor can we ethically judge the actions of those who are a different kind of human, H. goodus or H. evilus. As ugly as it is, imo, we have to believe and understand to the core of our being that the people who do evil are just like us. Only then can we set societal norms and ethically judge our fellows by the standards we set for ourselves. Humans are vastly complex. None of us are identical. None of this civilization stuff is easy. But we know from history that whenever societies set up "us and them" categories it leads to strife at the low end and, eventually, genocide. None of us individually will ever be perfect at living the First Principle. No civilization will ever be perfect. That's not the point. Societies who scrap the First Principle devolve to acivilization and Lord of the Flies. That's just the way it works.

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    1. Damn, Shaun, That's heavy thinking for a cattleman! Brilliant, but Heavy. That's going to take some deep ponderin' to get my head around. You sure you weren't a Jesuit Scholar or something in a prior lifetime?

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    2. The post I linked to of yours is what sparked this post. Your comment will, no doubt, spark another.

      You keep me jumping brother, and that's a good thing!

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    3. And oh yes, what Juvat said.

      (Did y'all know that The WSO went to a school founded by the Jesuits? Strong Navy tradition there as well. All three of the progeny did Navy ROTC there. Guess which college it is?)

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    4. I'm just rehashing stuff written by those who came before and did the real heavy lifting.

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    5. You have the right state, you need to go further west.

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    6. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

      If we're doing it right...

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    7. Now you're in the right town.

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  5. Hey, Sarge; Excellent discussion, as usual. I have to pull the string and ask, "What (or Whom) is the ultimate moral authority? And how/why did they become so?" It's kind of like arguing "There are no absolutes.", which is an oxymoron, because the one making that statement has just created an absolute. I believe there is an absolute Authority, and He claimed to be so, and He has proven Himself to be so. He is also the One Who made us in His image, and as a free moral agent, to accept or reject His position as God. With that choice comes responsibility (for the choice). If I accept His authority, He declares "There is none righteous; no, not one." and "All our (man's) righteousness is as filthy rags [before His holiness]." He's either correct (by virtue of His authority to declare it to be so), or we declare Him to be incorrect, whereby we have assumed that position to declare Him to be incorrect, thus assuming that role of absolute authority ourselves. Our track record (and credibility) as playing God ain't that good, or consistent.
    I'm with you. Resist and stand against evil, as He commands us to do. And in doing so, we honor Him, and we show our love to our fellow man who are also created in His image, in that we don't "do evil" unto them, either.
    Didn't mean to preach, but you asked! :-)
    Hap

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    1. Well said Hap. And I did ask, explicitly. :)

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  6. WOW, just wow. This post and comments are way above standard. Again, I'm with juvat. It's going to take some time and re-reading all this to wrap my head around it.
    It is an honor to be able to say that I know y'all, even if it's only through the web. It is more and more reminding me of a previous blog. Thank you.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. As to your last, that's my goal.

      Thanks Paul.

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  7. Definitely a brain bender. Is it evil if I and my society destroys another because we see them as a threat? The victors write history, and so get to define what the 'greater good' was. What short term "pains" (i.e. deaths, to take it to the absolute) are worthy of longer term "gains"? And who gets to make the judgement? One sees this played out whenever the use of the atomic bombs on Japan is discussed. "Bad" vs "evil" on the way to a "good" outcome.

    I'm also pondering if the First Principle is universal. If my society believes in it, but the society down the block doesn't. Or is the Principle true, and the challenge is that all men are also self-directed beings of Free Will. Who may decide to subordinate their will to that of others.

    Much to ponder.

    /
    L.J.

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    1. Ah yes, what one society views as "good" might be deemed by another as "evil."

      Subordination of one's will to another, that's something I need to think more on. I think when one does that, one becomes part of the crowd/mob/herd. We've seen this sort of behavior where there are certain behaviors an individual would not do, if they were by themselves. But as part of a group? They just might.

      You're right L.J., there is much to ponder.

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    2. Becomes part of the crowd/mob/herd, or part of the society/country/culture? There's the rub!

      /
      L.J.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)