Good versus Evil

      1 Comment on Good versus Evil

Most people, at least where I’m from, are taught to be nice from the start. We are exposed to stories from books, movies and games, where the nice characters win and end up happy, while the evil ones lose, are disapointed, punished, and sometimes even die. You probably encountered so many such stories, that stories where the villain wins are considered extremely rare and special.

In real life, the separation between good and evil is not as clean cut. Most people you would think are villains see themselves as the good guy. Maybe it’s because they were not taught the same values as you were, and have a different set of beliefs (Hitler tought he was working for the greater good of his country, for example). Maybe it’s because they are totally unaware of the bad they are causing, and only see the good. Maybe they believe that their victims deserve it and they are working for justice, like you could argue Islamic terrorists believe. In real life, both sides are the hero, and both sides believe the opponent is the villain. When they don’t they usually end up coming to an agreement. I believe even cartoonish villains like Kim Jong Un probably justify their own actions somehow.

So in a way, I subscribe to the philosphy that people are usually good but misguided. I think most evil deeds are done either because the evil person believed it is not truly evil, because they believed they had no choice, or because they believe the victim deserved it somehow. This goes from petty crimes to genocides. We have a history of justifying horrible acts and believing our own bullshit (Think slavery, with that whole “they aren’t actually humans like us” idea).

But on a more individual level, I also believe that people are selfish assholes. To take a current political discussion about taxes, most people disagree on the ideal level of taxes that should be paid by different groups of people, but everyone (except maybe a very small minority of extreme libertarians) agrees that some taxes are necessary. But if I gave you and only you the option to opt out of paying income tax (or any other tax) altogether with no negative consequences, would you do it? In public, when people are watching, I expect your answer to be along those lines

I would probably pay a bit less in taxes, because I believe we are currently overtaxed, but I wouldn’t choose to opt out completely.

But I believe that in private, where absolutely no one could ever know your choice, you would cut your own taxes more than “a little bit”. You probably still wouldn’t cut them completely, because that would induce cognitive dissonance in your own “I am a good person” illusion, but you would cut them more than you’d admit.

The best example of this that I have found still doesn’t apply to everyone, but to a large majority of people. The people who eat meat. I am a meat eater. I eat meat, and I absolutely love meat. Yet I honestly believe that eating meat is the most selfish trait in my character by a long shot, and I am selfish very often. I originally was in cognitive dissonance. I justified it using every textbook excuse. We need protein to survive (there are plenty of protein in non-meat foods), the circle of life includes hunting so it is natural (rape and murder is also “natural”, this doesn’t make it moral), animals are not smart enough to be worth the effort (they do suffer and fear death), they wouldn’t even be born if not for the meat industry so they can die without consequences (their living conditions in any mass-production facility are horrible, so they are literally born to suffer, or at best be bored to tears, their entire life until they are slain), the meat is already killed whether I buy it and eat it or not (But reducing the demand would, on the long term, reduce the production because waste is the opposite of profit), etc.

But the fact is, if you ignore the crazy hippie vegans that are virtue signaling all day long, most vegetarian arguments are actually pretty good. Most of the times if I encounter a 10min video on the internet that is well structured and researched about meat eating, I can’t argue back at all. I have no excuse. Yet, I never turned vegetarian. At this point, the only honest explanation is that I am selfish. So selfish, that I would rather have thousands of animals suffer and die than me missing out on delicious food.

It is not fun to think of yourself as a bad person. But once you are aware of it, it is much easier to live with the idea of being selfish and self-centered, than the idea of being so deep in your own lies that you lie to yourself. At least I guess I’m sort of avoiding the hypocritical tag.

That is a situation similar to the one described in this Global Warming post from this summer. If any vegan is reading this, you would be wasting your time trying to change my mind using hard facts about health benefits, animal cruelty or cute piglet pictures. The only way to take me away from this rampage is to give me a meat equivalent that is as tasty and affordable and doesn’t include the negative bagage. I am already convinced, I just don’t have the willpower and selflessness to make the jump. That’s the area that needs help.

  • Kingfisher

    I think the only place that you can start in discussing good vs. evil is to select which of the myriad definitions for those terms you are talking about.

    The broadest definition I use is also somewhat circular, when thinking about the stories we tell. Evil is whatever leads to destruction and a bad ending, while good is whatever leads to growth and continuation.

    Like anything, this can be relative or absolute. If I kill an animal and eat it that’s good for me and evil for my lunch. If I can find a way to eat without killing that’s absolutely more good. If I risk my safety hunting dangerous trophies that’s absolutely more evil.

    I think that most ‘evil’ actions are done out of ignorance. The villains cannot see the harm that they do – especially the harm they do to themselves. Maybe they can be saved, Scrooge-style, by being made aware of the bad end of their actions. Or maybe not.

    But there are also people who are knowingly evil. These people are possessed – for lack of a better word – by self-destructive ideas that make them act spitefully or sadistically/masochistically. It’s a case of misery loving company, where they wrongly think the only thing that can make them feel temporarily less miserable is to make others feel worse. These people are rare, but I think we all know some of them. Thankfully, the anti-social temperament of these people usually keeps them from acquiring real power (though people in power can be infected with negativity).

    These people can also be turned around, not by showing them their error (they know the harm they are doing), but only by replacing the evil intent with desire for good. That’s harder.