Does good and evil have any meaning in today’s society? Haven’t we moved Beyond good and evil, according to Nietzsche and many would-be followers?
Many of our most cherished modern myths, including Star Wars, LOTR, Harry Potter, Star Trek, and the like, are based around a fairly obvious confrontation of good vs. evil. But is real life like that? When it comes to actual human functioning, many people who will unswervingly root for the good guys find themselves swamped in a morass of relativism, which makes it very difficult to see what is good and what is evil. It used to be, that the church and religion gave us fairly strict rules on good and evil, and while many of these were fairly useful, others provided a strong framework for abuse–most of the wiser parts of society have realized that this kind of ‘absolute’ guidance, because it necessitates a hierarchical social structure and encourages people to obey rather than to be critical minded, is not really the best path towards personal fulfillment, let alone some notion of what ‘good’ might be.
At the platonist, we assert that in fact, good and evil are every much as important in ‘real’ or ‘daily’ life as they are in our modern fairy tales: this is why we cherish these fairy tales so much. We all instinctually know what is good and what is evil (as Plato taught): much of this is due to the fact that some rules of ‘good’ behaviour are better evolutionarily. Other aspects of this are not so easily explained by behaviouralism (though as a scientist I can’t really commit to anything genuinely ‘platonic’ as a cause of this).
What then is the practical definition of good and evil? We might start with the Satanic Bible, which unequivocally states that being selfish is the essence of evil. Ayn Rand and the Satanic Bible both attempt to make a virtue out of selfishness, which quickly ends up creating a rather illogical moral code that no serious philosopher can endorse. With this as a basic guide, we can quickly create a slate of questions that can test our personal goodness and evilness.
1) Are you most driven by empathy for others, or by selfishness?
2) Does your work involve duping or exploiting people for personal gain, is it mostly neutral, or does it involve helping people?
3) Do you think that it is OK to dupe or exploit people for your gain, because the ‘system’ justifies it?
4) Do you, essentially, have hope that the human condition can be bettered, or do you essentially despair?
5) Do you follow a creed or lifestyle because it gives you personal power, or do you follow a belief system which is genuinely based on a desire to see more good done for more people, whatever may be your role in the process?
6) It is ok to wish physical comfort for yourself: you cannot do good things or be good without it. But, do you desire money simply as a means to personal comfort and actualization, or do you desire it to gratify base desires, such as gluttony, or to dominate others in terms of ‘showing off’ your superior physical possessions, or to dominate others psychologically or physically (i.e., to be a head honcho, to hire and fire people, to be a landlord in the sense that this gives you power)?
7) Is your political philosophy predicated on your desire to see your own ‘in group’ remain, or come into, power, at the expense of ‘the other’? Or do you seek to ensure your ‘in group’s comfort and safety, while seeking to exploit and profit from ‘the other’ as little as possible? (Too much altruism, i.e., extreme tree huggers who would eradicate humanity to save this or that other species, is a form of despair and so is also, technically, evil.)
8) Do you believe in humanism? or some form of authoritarianism? If you believe in humanism, then you will try to maximize the happiness actualization of the maximum number of people. Your only enemies then are those who wish to do ill under the guise of their despairing, egomaniacal, or authoritarian beliefs. If you believe in authoritarianism, then, in some way or another, you believe that certain groups of people should be discriminated against, or exploited,
9) Do you believe that love is essentially egalitarian/shared, or essentially hierarchical/authoritarian/exploitative?
10) Do you believe that friendships are essentially egalitarian/voluntary, or essentially authoritarian/dominance-based?
11) When you argue, can you admit that you are wrong? Good people realize they are fallible. Evil people are so concerned with appearing to be right, so worried about losing dominance, that they will even argue with their wives over the composition of waffles, when their wives are obviously right and they were wrong. This is perhaps the greatest failing that otherwise good people have in real life: it’s a true test, of whether you can be more like Qui-Gon Jinn, or more like Darth Maul. (more…)