How do we, as individuals, know what is good and what is evil?
We can usually tell when two things are “different” from one another. Some cowboys wear white hats and some cowboys wear black hats.
But how do we judge how an action or a person or a thing is “good”?
Are spoons bad? Is there something about forks, some inherent fork-ness that makes them a superior form of cutlery? These are strange-sounding questions.
Here’s a question you’ve heard before: Soup or salad?
So the waitress asked you that, and she blurted it so you wondered a quick second: “Super salad?” You’ve considered your values. Flavor and nutrition. You didn’t even ask what the soup was, because it’s probably watery minestrone in a thick white cup. You chose the salad because salad is vaguely “healthy” and there might be chunks of actual cheese in the dressing.
Flo brings you the salad you chose. And she brings you a spoon. Ever try and pick up lettuce with a spoon?
Now, a fork is good. Now, Flo is a bad waitress.
We tend to think of things as being “good” or “bad,” or “right” or “wrong” as if there is some sort of essence inside them. We all value survival, so we tend to agree that diseases are “bad.” Beyond survival, there are many differences in human desire. We each see the world a little differently, we each value some experiences over others, and we have different ideas about what would work to create what we want.
Yet we get in the habit of starting at the question of “Is this good or bad?” instead of starting with the underlying questions that support a thing as “good” or “bad.”
It’s fun to judge people or choices. We call it political “debate” – you root for “The Red Tie Fat Guy” or you cheer for “The Blue Tie Bespectacled-Intellectual.” It’s all Pro Wrestling, good guys versus bad guys. If we’re honest with ourselves, we want one of them to win before the other guy even opens his stupid fat mouth. It’s fun to cheer for the good guy, because the good guy is on “our team.”
The thing is, when we look at the world in terms of “good” and “bad,” without being aware that our own values and choices make it that way – we behave just like racist warmongers.
We practice racism, or anti-racism, and never get down to the underlying questions that matter. What experiences do you value? Who do you want to have those experiences? What action would be most effective in creating those experiences?
We end up barking about “what’s good for people,” getting all excited about how “right” we are and how “good” our ideas are – when we’ve leaped over the things we need to know about ourselves in order to discuss the world with others. When we question our values as individuals, we find ideas about what constitutes a good life based on our own nature and nurture. When we know what we want and why we’d choose it, first, then we can work to create it.
Good things are only “good” because we perceive them as effective in creating an experience we personally want. Of the options we see available, the good choice is the one we see as likely in creating something we value.
When we aren’t aware that we value the motion of living systems, systems so complex that no man can predict how a piece affects the whole, when we are not aware that we value a harmony with the animals and plants that make this world breathe, we become environmentalists instead of humans. If we cannot talk about what purity is, and what it means to us as humans to put lab chemicals in our bodies or in the air, we end up being “isms.” Conservatives value purity, but they’ll eat cheeseburgers all day long and tell you what to put in your genitals. Liberalism, conservatism, racism and environmentalism make for loud red-faced debates about “right” and “good” that are fun to watch.
An aware, honest human being that knows their values and makes choices based on them moves the world forward. You can be one, no matter what “ism” you see as “your team.”
Isms, in my opinion, are not good.
Good, in my opinion, is not good. There are things that are useful in creating the experiences we value.
The next time you see a spoon, ask yourself if it’s a bad spoon. And the next time you hear a bad idea, ask yourself what you value, and what you see as effective in creating your choices in the world.