There is No Good and Evil, Just Smart and Dumb (Part 2 of 2)

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This is part 2 of a 2-part post.  The first half is here.

If there’s no good and evil, why do people steal and hurt others?

Because they’re dumb.  They just don’t know any smarter and more rewarding ways to live.

Ok, ‘dumb’ is a little misleading.  There are intelligent people who commit crimes and atrocities too.  A person can have a genius IQ, yet still misbehave himself into addiction, ruined relationships, or prison.  ‘Foolish’ might be a better adjective.

What they lack is wisdom.  Insight.  They just don’t know how to cultivate peace in their lives.  So they grasp at things that provide fleeting scraps of fulfillment: money, power, gratification.  They don’t know where else to look.  But of course it’s never enough, and so desperation mounts.  They begin to feel an even stronger draw towards gratification and security, mistaking them for some kind of salvation, and soon they are stepping over others (or worse) to acquire these things.  They just don’t get it.

A common argument is that without morals, we wouldn’t know how to behave.  We’d become greedy, cruel and petty, slaves of every selfish impulse we have.  Well, I don’t think so.  I don’t know about you, but I’m smart enough to see the benefits in being good to others, and the drawbacks of being mean.  There are natural incentives built into both love-based and fear-based courses of action.  It is clear to me that this is exactly what religions were trying to teach: that there are smart ways to live, and dumb ways to live.

If you try to make your way through life by stealing, hating and killing, you will suffer.  This is a guarantee.  And it doesn’t take a vengeful deity to dole out that punishment.  You do it yourself!  By approaching life with disdain and greed, you create suffering in your own life.  You create guilt.  You create resentment in others.  You create enemies or jail sentences or self-loathing in your life.

Acting from love and acceptance, on the other hand, provides abundant natural rewards.  More friends, a higher quality of consciousness, inner peace, well-managed finances, a pleasant worldview, a happy family, self-acceptance, and more.  It is these acts that create a high quality of life for a person.

The Bible makes clear the benefits of acting out of love.  Unfortunately, power-hungry theocrats reframed these smart and wise choices as orders, enforced up by severe, state-sanctioned punishment.  I suspect the word ‘commandments’ was carefully and purposefully chosen, centuries after the Bible was written.  This violent reframing sabotaged the value of the message by making them fear-motivated acts, rather than love-motivated.

A sin is just a thoughtless or foolish act that creates some degree of misery for yourself or others.  It is not an abomination that makes you unworthy.

The Good and Evil mentioned in scripture, are not invisible, polarized external forces controlling people.  Evil is just a descriptor for unconscious, egoic behavior, while good is just a descriptor for loving and wise behavior.  They work as metaphors, certainly, but they were never meant to indicate anything other than those two different modes of human consciousness.  If quality of life is what we’re after, one approach works very well, and one doesn’t.

The Sopranos is a particularly brilliant show, because it shows characters attempting to find happiness by going about it in all the wrong ways.  And thankfully, they show the humanity in these people; they don’t characterize them as unfeeling monsters.  Even though they are murderers, thieves, and adulterers, we can’t help but love them.

No matter how much Tony Soprano loved his family, he never learned smarter ways to play the game of life.  He was educated about how to deal with life by his gangster father and his bitter, broken mother.  He keeps coming back to the methods he’s been taught: violence and force.  And that approach creates all kinds of hell for him and for those around him: broken families, enemies, legal trouble, guilt and death.

‘Evil’ — which I would describe as unskillful and destructive ways of living — punishes itself.  Act out of hatred, contempt, pettiness or greed, and you will suffer, there is no question.  The forms of suffering vary, but they will find you:

  • low self-esteem
  • enemies and paranoia
  • attachment and addiction
  • world-weariness and cynicism
  • unmanageable debt
  • legal trouble
  • persistent dissatisfaction
  • identification with material possessions
  • untrustworthiness
  • insanity

There is no escape from this natural mechanism of compensation.  These are the punishments scripture refers to. But unfortunately, some historical bad apples took the opportunity to take on the role of punisher themselves, in order secure the power to do whatever they wanted.  And in doing so, they made a tradition out of moral judgment and disdain, and permanently warped the message of their religion.  Nice job, boys.

Everybody is subject to the forces of selfishness, anger, resentment and hate.  Everyone has those feelings, but some of us know better ways to deal with them than others.  I’m sure all of you can think of people in your lives who are very short-fused and reactive, and I’d bet any money that their lives are far less enjoyable in general than the people in your life who are calmer and kinder.  The difference is not morals, it’s skill and wisdom.

The saddest consequence of this trend is that it has become common to apply an all-or-nothing approach to people.  Many honestly believe that there are two types of people in the world: good ones and bad ones.  The quote I mentioned in Part 1 (and its disturbing popularity) provides a perfect example.

Part of the reason for this myth is that the gulf between those of low skill level and those of higher skill level widens throughout their lives.  As the years roll on, wise and skillful people create more and more joy in their lives, and troubled, unskillful people create more and more suffering.  There is often such a stark contrast between two people, that it almost appears as if they are utterly different in nature.  In this sense, people do seem to take one of two distinct paths, but the direction they are headed is a function of their wisdom, rather than their worth.

Don’t Fuel the Fire

Since we all have more or less the same instincts, the place people end up in the happiness spectrum primarily depends on their upbringing — a factor which nobody is able to choose.  Yet our culture tells us to hate and condemn those who hurt others.  We can’t help but feel that initial emotional reaction to somebody doing something harmful, but I think we are not serving humanity by expressing disdain for them.  It is worth biting our tongues, and letting the negative feeling go when the urge to condemn arises, because to trust and act from that feeling really only fuels the fire.

People who are unlucky enough to be in the habit of destructive behavior make themselves constant targets for derision of others.  Any ‘bad’ person has assuredly been sneered at, punished, belittled, kicked and punched throughout their whole lives, and this can only serve to build a stubborn, rationalized (some might say justified) dislike for other people in general.  By hating ‘bad’ people, we are creating monsters who are capable of much more destruction than they would be otherwise.  Don’t be an accomplice.

Often, it is only an initial, unbearable dose of disdain and mistreatment that starts people on a troubled path in life.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with the effects child abuse.  When a person grows up in an environment where they are hurt repeatedly, they will find it virtually impossible not to recreate more suffering for themselves and others.

Whenever news a heinous crime breaks, I often see letters to the editor of this type:

I don’t care if they had a bad childhood.  I don’t care if mommy didn’t love them enough.  A killer is a killer, and should be punished severely.

This is the prevailing mindset where I live.  Whatever your views on corporal punishment, we have to admit that not caring about the origin of terrible behavior is a huge reason why there is so much of it.  To think that it has to do with a lack of morals is shortsighted.  It assumes that we’re all starting from the same place mentally, and if I couldn’t do something that bad, then anyone who could must be an agent of evil.

Whether a person has done something ‘bad’ before receiving such cruelty from others is not relevant.  It is ridiculous to think that we can somehow mete out exactly as much suffering as a person ‘deserves’ for what they’ve done, yet our whole culture, as well as our justice system is built on the assumption that we can and should.  Surely we have to have legal consequences for crime, but I think the more we can keep hatred and moral idealism out of the process, the better.

The Habit of Judgment

Moral judgment just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  You can always apply a judgment to someone else’s actions, but who is helped by it?  It just complicates and subverts the natural learning process, because judging others (as warned in scripture) is one of these ‘naturally punished’ acts (see Matthew 7:1 .)  Character judgments have a cost.  When you judge a person’s worth based on their behavior, you paint a little bit of your world black.  You create a dark spot on the reality you see, and it stays there as long as your verdict remains unexamined.  If you are particularly judgmental, most of your world eventually becomes stained in this way too, until you live in a world you don’t like.

The most judgmental people I know are, correspondingly, the most unhappy.  Chronic judgers complain about how nobody can be trusted anymore, how greed runs the world, how society is going to hell, blah blah.  What they don’t see is that they’ve created that world.  They’ve slapped a “this is unworthy” label on most of the people, ideas, and organizations that make up their world, and they mistake it for reality.  Not wise, and thus, they suffer.

And of course, the most tolerant, loving and appreciative people I know, are the happiest.  Whether they learned these lessons from the Bible, or another source, they understand deeply how beneficial it is to understand and accept others, rather than measure them against something.

People who do good don’t do it because they possess some exclusive ‘moral compass’, or because they learned to in Sunday school, they do good because it directly benefits them. They are simply wiser than those who steal and hate their way through life.

Treating others with compassion invariably results in less suffering for yourself.  Those who spend their lives mistreating others are never pleased with their lives.  Try to find an example to the contrary.  Some people identify this principle at some point in their lives, others miss it altogether.

There are people who are outwardly friendly, yet well-being eludes them because their friendliness is rooted in fear and desire for acceptance, rather than compassion.  They seek to receive, rather than give.

There appears to be some sort of inalienable mechanism that ensures this compensation.  It may be a function of our psychology, or sociology, or some as-yet unknown influence.  It is often described as karma, which has unfortunately picked up all kinds of undeserved connotations about magic and religion.  It’s simple cause-and-effect.

To do something because “it is right” is at best just parroting what your parents and your culture have taught you.  The benefit of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is an intuitive understanding that cannot really be taught; it must be discovered.

It is very difficult not to react judgmentally when we see or hear about someone committing a crime or behaving cruelly.  But you have to remember, they are doing it because on some level, they’re just not very smart.  It could be an acute episode of mindlessness, such as when someone takes an insult the wrong way and gets violent.  Or it could be just another upsetting incident in a very counterproductive lifestyle, born of a tragic lack of wise influences.

Leave Out the Hate

I propose we remove the condescension from the equation.  People misbehave because they, for whatever reason, do not find themselves capable or aware of a smarter action at that time.  If anything, their poor choice is evidence of a failing on the part of all of us to recognize the real reasons behind bad behavior.  It is time to remove the venom from ‘sin.’  It is not helpful.  Bad behavior should inspire compassion and an urge to help, rather than condemnation.  But only if you want to make the world a better place.

This is not a prescription for excusing hurtful or destructive behavior, just a way of explaining it.  There are no magical forces, just varying degrees of wisdom.  Those who live lives of crime are not happy.  From the street-level thug to the Columbian cocaine god, a habit of taking selfish and underhanded actions does not lead to fulfillment.  It can lead to a stream of momentary pleasures, certainly, but habitual ‘evildoers’ are missing the vital component of what it takes to be happy: love.  That’s what the Bible is all about, in my humble opinion: love and its extraordinary benefits, as measured against fear and its pitfalls.

So next time you feel the rush of anger at what someone has done, remember that there is a bigger picture behind it.  Morality is an attempt at explaining bad behavior without looking any further than the perpetrator. It would certainly be convenient if the causes of malevolence were contained within some personal scorecard we call morals.  That way we could (as we commonly do) direct our frustration at a person, as if that person is the beginning, middle and end of the problem.  But that just isn’t looking deep enough.  The person is just a clue hinting at the real problem, which is a pervasive human ignorance of how to be happy.

Let’s get something straight: any hate you express, whether it’s for people who drive too slow, or for Osama Bin Laden himself, is only adding to the problem.  This costly indulgence, though it is extremely common, actively creates thieves and killers.  This is not an exaggeration.  Indulging in disdain, no matter the target, is just an unskillful response so the passing emotions of frustration and resentment we all feel.

If you don’t understand what I’m saying, then for now just try to do as little harm as possible.  We’re all in this together.  Be smart.

This is part 2 of a 2-part post. The first half is here.

Photo by Francis Storr


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{ 54 Comments }

matt April 19, 2009 at 7:56 pm

wow,
mind blowing post to add to this collective consciousness we calll the internet, your perspectives always seem typical at first then make my brain take a right turn into a deeper, more fulfilling way of life

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carter April 19, 2009 at 10:22 pm

I applaud the thought and effort you have put into considering and presenting this concept. I can’t find the words to clearly express my response to specific thoughts in the blog but I am so excited just to have this worldview logged in my brain to consider and to take in. I especially enjoy considering the thoughts related to wisdom and to viewing punishment in a social aspect instead of just a legal aspect. Another highlight was this insight: “There are people who are outwardly friendly, yet well-being eludes them because their friendliness is rooted in fear and desire for acceptance, rather than compassion. They seek to receive, rather than give.”

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sara April 20, 2009 at 1:15 am

Great post David. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you.

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sara April 20, 2009 at 1:16 am

Great post David. This is exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you. I will try to be less judgmental of myself as well as others.

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Roger - A Content Life April 20, 2009 at 6:21 am

David,

I completely agree with what you have written.

We directly benefit by being kind and helping others. Hate and anger is not a solution and only causes more suffering for ourselves and the object of hate or anger.

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Lisis | Quest For Balance April 20, 2009 at 7:52 am

I mostly agree with you… mostly. But I’m trying to wrap my head around a couple of parts in this treatise.

First the concept of not judging others for the “bad” things they are doing… they are just dumb (or lack wisdom, or insight, or something). How is that not a judgment? Maybe they have the wisdom and hate that they are doing those things, but have to because they have no other way to feed their children? There are so many reasons why people do the things they do… I just can’t fit them into smart and dumb.

Second the idea that people who do good do so because it directly benefits them… I’m not feeling this one. Some people are just so loving and compassionate that everything they do is done out of love for others, often to their own detriment, in fact. Mother Teresa didn’t have to live among the poorest of the poor to get to heaven or please the church. In fact, most of her superiors tried to discourage her from leaving the convent. I don’t think she left for selfish reasons… at all.

I do agree that there is no objective “good” or “evil” and that these concepts were basically coined by religious authorities in order to govern behavior. Of course this isn’t any different from Hammurabi or Justinian creating laws to get those who would otherwise be barbarians to coexist in a social contract.

Anywho… those were just my initial thoughts upon finishing your second part here. I’ll probably go back and reread them both to see if there’s something I may have missed along the way.

Thank you for the thought-provoking weekend reading!

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David April 20, 2009 at 8:59 am

Great points, Lisis.

Maybe they have the wisdom and hate that they are doing those things, but have to because they have no other way to feed their children? There are so many reasons why people do the things they do… I just can’t fit them into smart and dumb.

You are right. I wasn’t referring to people who break the law because it is genuinely the best option (sometimes it is.) Obviously feeding one’s children is not unwise, or unloving, even if it requires violating a law. I do not believe legal and illegal match ‘unharmful’ and ‘harmful’ particularly well, thought they are meant to.

I am not suggesting we judge people as smart or dumb, only that we understand that the reason behind hurtful actions (and I’m speaking of clearly destructive acts, not hypothetical ‘grey’ areas) is that the person is just not aware of a smarter, less-destructive approach. If they were, they would surely take that approach, if only because it provides greater benefits for them. It isn’t ‘evil’ that drives people to hurt others, it’s a lack of understanding and skill. They don’t know what they’re missing.

My point was to suggest we examine the impulse to hate people who do hurtful things, or to think that they’re fundamentally different, motivation-wise. I don’t mean to replace the categories of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ with equivalent categories of smart and dumb, not at all, I think that kind of binary assessment is a mistake. Maybe I didn’t choose the best title.

Second the idea that people who do good do so because it directly benefits them… I’m not feeling this one. Some people are just so loving and compassionate that everything they do is done out of love for others, often to their own detriment, in fact.

Here’s the way I see it. Nobody does anything without a reason. I think Mother Teresa (and other very giving figures) are viewed as having sacrificed something of importance in order to help people, such as money, time, or comfort, as if those things are what are truly important. But I think these were not sacrifices to her; love was her motivation, and none of what she did was to her own detriment. She was certainly not just trying to earn her way into heaven, she simply knew the best way to spend her time.

Selfishness is a tricky topic, because it has picked up negative connotations. It usually refers to serving oneself at the expense of others. But to serve others with love, is to serve oneself, and there’s nothing ‘selfish’ about it at all.

Thanks for such an insightful response!

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David April 20, 2009 at 9:14 am

@ Roger — That’s really the point I was trying to get across. That the idea of ‘evil’ people is just inaccurate and unhelpful. Good and evil are a dangerous false dichotomy, because anyone can place himself on the good side and justify any act of spite towards anyone they perceive as being on the other side.

@ sara — Thanks sara.

@ carter — Hi carter, welcome to Raptitude. Glad you liked it.

@ matt — It’s always nice when I can blow a mind or two : ) I try not to be typical. Thanks for the kind words.

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Nadia - Happy Lotus April 20, 2009 at 11:22 am

Hi David,

Have you ever read the book “Crime and Punishment”? It is an old book by Doestevsky (I know I spelled that name wrong) and it is a brilliant book. The whole book shows how the criminal mind works and when I read it at 18, it changed how I looked at people. People justify their actions based on what they know to be true. So therefore, truth is relative to the person. The brain is so flexible, it can justify anything.

I agree with all that you said except I take issue with the use of the word “smart”. There are many drug dealers out there who are very smart business people but they are doing something very bad by selling drugs. Many people who invoke crime or who are abusers are smart.

I think you are trying to say by being smart that means being aware. However, intelligence has nothing to do with awareness. I know brilliant people who are clueless and I know not very smart people who are aware. I think awareness is something that comes when people learn to think outside of the box and to think of others.

BTW, here is something interesting. When someone judges another or points to another, one finger is pointed to the other person but three fingers are pointed back at the person who is doing the judging. When we judge another, we are judging ourselves. :)

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David April 20, 2009 at 11:36 am

I guess the terminology I chose kind of got in the way of my point. Some would describe ‘smarts’ as just raw mental horsepower, or cognitive sharpness. I liken it more to wisdom and the ability to find effective approaches to life. Awareness is only a part of it. Experience and empathy have a lot to do with it too.

Like I said in the post: “A person can have a genius IQ, yet still misbehave himself into addiction, ruined relationships, or prison. ‘Foolish’ might be a better adjective..” Personally, I was always quite intelligent, but I am far less dumb about how I conduct myself in life now. I haven’t gained any intelligence, but I’m certainly smarter.

I considered using “wise” and “foolish” in the title, but it was a bit too cumbersome. Maybe it would have been best.

I will check out Crime and Punishment. It’s a bit intimidating to me, to tackle the Russian masters, but I think I’m game.

Thanks, Nadia.

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Jay Schryer April 20, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I love this post, David! This is some really powerful, thought-provoking ideology you have here. This is really a great way of thinking about the whole good v. evil dualism.

I was reading a Steve pavlina article many moons ago; one of the ones where he was talking about lightworkers v. darkworkers. He used the analogy of individual cells within an organism. In order for an organism to be healthy, each cell must be healthy, and each cell must contribute to the health of the organism at large.

In order for society as a whole to be healthy, individuals must be healthy. We must nourish ourselves, and take care of our own needs. At the same time, we should nourish others and take care of others as much as we can…without sacrificing ourselves. In the same way, we shouldn’t harm others, because by doing so, we harm our body at large, or society. When we harm society, we are harming ourselves, and that isn’t very “smart”.

I’d like to thank Lisis and Nadia for bringing up some good points, and I’d like to thank you for responding so eloquently to them. This has been a great post, and a wonderful discussion.

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Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching April 20, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Thanks for this post. I particularly resonated with the idea that acting “morally” follows naturally from a certain way of seeing the world. This will get a little New-Agey, but in moments when I can see that everyone is made up of the same energy or substance, treating others with kindness comes naturally from that, since any action I take is ultimately an action toward myself. But when I lose sight of that and see myself as separate, kindness won’t come as naturally.

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Rogerscott April 20, 2009 at 4:58 pm

‘good’ and ‘evil’ versus ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’?

I understand the tack being plied
yet think in some ways the dichotomy
being used for the sake of a point
may be debilitating the point or points.

The ‘Good and evil’ dichtomy has
in recent times been reduced to an
issue of ‘relativity’. This is a highly
popular mode in modern opinionation.

‘Smart’, too, has recently come to
be a term we use for ‘physicists’ and
‘genius’ types, but formerly it could
mean ‘hurting’ or feeling pain or being
‘sassy’.

And ‘dumb’? A pejorative but derived
from of old: silent.

So, maybe not out of bounds with regard
to your quote of Burke.

The satirical Charles Erskine Scott
Wood wrote a comedy, once, entitled
‘Heavenly Discourse’ wherein ‘God’
decides to have Peter make a sign
for a parade: a new ‘commandment’:
‘The Stupid Shall Not Enter The Kingdom
of Heaven!’

We should, definitely, inform our
discretion and read as widely as possible
with our free time so as not fall into
that most abominable state of making
judgements or investing our energies in
things we might rue further on in time.

Reading writings, biography, autobiography
and consultation with the aged and wise
. . . maybe right next door or down
the road . . . are components of wisdom
no doubt.

With the older writing, we may rely
upon faulty translations or misrepresentations
of what is writ or carved or scribed.

See, for example, this:
http://books.google.com/books?id=jSIJAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA241&lpg=PA240&ots=4vlCReVcyf&dq=sesamum+phallus&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html

If anyone doubts that symbolism is
altered by interpretation and then
expurgated, let them read the link
above.

According to this 19th century
writer, all different from his
preconceived notions of worship and
adoration and ‘seemly’ behaviour is
hedonistic, idolatrous, and evil.

Period.

It is not an ‘archaeological’ treatise,
it is a religious tract.

and such opinion was rife and prolific
and propoganda such as that helped keep
us from seeing some substantive history
and archaelogical data deducible from
them.

I take this point about ‘smart and
dumb’ very seriously. Though, I wouldn’t
personally have used those terms.

What’s wrong with intelligent and
unintelligent?

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David April 20, 2009 at 6:38 pm

@ Rogerscott — Hi Roger, welcome back. Eloquently said, thank you. Now that I’ve had some feedback on this article, I’m not so sure I would have used ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ either, if I were to do it over again. I meant to have a punchy headline, but they really aren’t the most accurate words for what I mean.

Intelligent and unintelligent doesn’t work for me, because it is possible to be intelligent and hurtful to people at the same time. Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was very intelligent about eluding authorities for seventeen years while he blew people up.

Though he was a genius with a PhD in mathematics, because of his choices his life will end in prison. I think ‘wise’ and ‘foolish’ might have been best. I have a few misgivings about this post, but I think the main idea got across to most.

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David April 20, 2009 at 6:44 pm

@ Chris —

This will get a little New-Agey, but in moments when I can see that everyone is made up of the same energy or substance, treating others with kindness comes naturally from that, since any action I take is ultimately an action toward myself. But when I lose sight of that and see myself as separate, kindness won’t come as naturally.

That’s beautiful Chris, and I know what you mean. As I talked about in the bad moods post, our own levels of wisdom are in flux; sometimes we don’t have access to the same insight and wisdom we do other times.

@ Jay —

In order for society as a whole to be healthy, individuals must be healthy. We must nourish ourselves, and take care of our own needs. At the same time, we should nourish others and take care of others as much as we can…without sacrificing ourselves.

You hit it right on the head Jay; if we get angry we are in danger of becoming what we are angry at. Great analogy.

{ Reply }

Josh Hanagarne April 21, 2009 at 11:29 am

David, an astute and brilliant post. I grew up in a very conservative family. While I am no longer comfortable labeling things “right” or “wrong,” I subscribe whole-heartedly to the existence of negative and positive. I believe that if you seek to do create or experience more positives than negatives, you will be all right.

Where I live, there is an OLD crossing guard who has been helping kids cross the street for DECADES. He waves at every single car that drives by, every single day. And he makes me smile every day and I look forward to seeing him–every day for that briefest of moments.

That’s who I want to be and I believe he would agree with everything you’ve said here. Fantastic stuff.

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David April 21, 2009 at 11:36 am

Hi Josh, good to hear from you. Thanks for your comment. That crossing guard is a hero. An unexpected smile or wave can really change someone’s day. I still remember unprovoked acts of kindness towards me that happened years ago. It’s amazing how rare it can be, considering how easy it is to do.

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Rogerscott April 21, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Welcome to the world of post-posting
thoughts, eh?

I did contemplate asking why not use
the terms ‘foolish and wise’, but gave
it some thought and chose to keep with
‘intelligent’ versus ‘unintelligent’.

I have to question describing a
Ted Kaczynski as ‘intelligent’.

Kaczynski was reactive and violently
so.

That he was methodical in applying
his reactions to ‘evils’, as he deemed
them, didn’t even in the least approach
a demonstration of intelligence.

There is in the term ‘intelligence’
a tinge of meaning having to do with
‘telemtry’ or the taking in and giving
out of information.

To be fully informed.

A reactiveness that develops an inarticulated
rage may take any inducement for venting
such and inwardly such an ego will feel
justified or maybe even ascribe to their
actions the title of ‘art’ or something
uncommunicable: but still needing ‘saying’.

This is not ‘intelligent’ it is the
outburst of unrestrained emotion or even
‘stoked’ emotions and as such is very
opposite to ‘intelligence’ or the
methods of intelligence.

Even the ‘proverbs’ or various cultures
we preserve unto this day took some
articulation and recording so as to be
shared and garnerable by others. THAT
is INTELLIGENCE.

As to what is ‘wisdom’, that is any
one’s guess I’d guess. The wired-up
folk who blow themselves up and others
in the process deem what they are doing
‘wise’, because they believe the ends
justify the means and see a ‘reward’
in so doing.

Such is not intelligent. They have
limited their intake of information
and been indoctrinated so as to limit
their intelligence willfully. To limit
‘learning’ or informing their discretion
and thereby altering or at least impinging
by information the trend of their will.

They might ‘will good’. As long as
information is lacking or restricted,
they cannot be acting intelligently,
lacking ‘intelligence’ as a noun.

It is both verb and noun.

I for one really appreciate this piece
and if I were you, wouldn’t rue it that
much. It’s a good piece

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David April 22, 2009 at 7:49 am

Hehe, I’m done ‘rueing’, I think. I guess it just comes down to what different words mean to different people.

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Rogerscott April 22, 2009 at 3:30 pm

That can be a can of worms, too. I know
you know.

Because all of us can go back and
forth with all manner of positions
wherein either side of an argument
can say ‘meaning’ is relative. In the
end, though, action and
inaction BOTH speak louder than words.

I’m thinking in particular about
so-called ‘developers’ and the ‘business’
concept of ‘government’.

The surface of the earth as of now
is a limited quantity or area.

The developer thinks: the only thing
that keeps us from getting profit from
‘empty spaces’ is that we do nothing!

There are those who believe that
limiting growth requires we actually
NOT DO SOMETHING. Like NOT making more
babies we can reasonably support or
NOT cutting down rain-forests, or
NOT pressing the idea ever forward
for every town and every possible
community that ‘growth’ is good!

There is such a thing as homeostasis.
Else, from infant to maturity we’d
expect a body to eventually become
a million-foot-tall body. Right.

Then ‘space travel’ would definitely
be a ‘must-do’ proposition.

We can restrain ourselves. We might
even HAVE to ‘do nothing’.

So I’m rather with you as to the
dichotomy of that statement attributed
to Burke. I think it is a double-edged
sword that cuts both ways.

The bottom line will always be
a kind of bifurcation and the issue/issues
will revolve around what people deem
‘good’ and ‘not good’.

If life on earth is to continue
harmoniously: the concept of homeostasis
must gain greater traction and understood.

And I don’t think we have to take
access to war to accomplish it. Just
restraint. And where our local communities
are being treated as ‘potential profit’
zones, if we say nothing: that beauty
and security community: potential gone.

We do have to say ‘no’ sometimes.
And because of the persistance of greedy
developers: maybe even often and every
day.

<p

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Jason Epperson April 22, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Fucking great post!

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David April 23, 2009 at 4:19 pm

@ Jason — Thank you sir!

@ Rogerscott — The phrase homeostasis is new to me, I’ll do some research, but a quick look at the Wikipedia article makes me think you’re on to something.

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Roger April 23, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I looked at the wiki page and others
with reference to this term, but a
simpler understanding of ‘homeostasis’
is a sum or balance between two basic
operations:

Creation and destruction.

The entire form persists through time
due to replacements of defective or
debilitated functional or structural
elements of anything.

When new old cells dysfunction or
become unable to perform up to par,
or die, new cells come in and take their
place.

When more new cells are created than
needed, we call that a ‘tumor’ or
‘overgrowth’.

It isn’t necessarily a ‘cancer’, just
inappropriate and not fit to the form
and function.

When death or destruction outstrips
replacement operations, then that is
called ‘wasting’ and ‘withering’ and
‘shrinking’ and ultimately: death.

I took a biological concept and
applied it to a political and environmental
scope because I believe the exact same principles
involved in preservation of a normal
healthy body seem to necessarily obtain,
writ large, in the social body or
humanity.

As long as we are mortal, we do have
the potential to balance out the demands
versus the supply or the stresses on
the available resources.

Technology keeps insisting we only
need to adjust our methods and expand
our artificial techniques so as to be
able to squeeze out more or make more
and more from less and less. Yet these
methods also have a limit, especially
when the illusion of ‘infinitude’ in
finite things is taken as grounds for
greater and even vain consumptionism.

It has amazed me that after the beginnings
of the ‘green revolution’ that started
with ‘Silent Spring’ and later ‘Diet
for a Small Planet’, there seemed to be
a counter-reaction that has stressed the
importance of four-wheel drive vanity
vehicles and ‘bling’ and ‘material girl/boy’
excesses!

And then those icons run amok soothing
conscience by adopting from amidst third-world
and starving cultures! Like that makes
it all okay.

Right.

We only need to equalize the idea of
the normal desire for accessible resources
in the form of arable land with the
counter-desire inherant in the earth itself:
don’t take more than you actually can
use or need to live happily and harmoniously.

Otherwise we end up with a ‘social
cancer’ in the form of developers, bankers
and speculators whose sense of compassion
and native intelligence is obviously
defective. They are uninformed. Otherwise
they are defenitely operating with truly
evil intent directed at the ‘excess
population’. Remember your Dickens?

<p

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Alex @ Happiness in this World April 23, 2009 at 8:48 pm

David,
Commenting on this post after reading and commenting on part I. I especially agree that wisdom and foolishness are separate from intellectual intelligence or lack thereof and have much more to do with good and evil, but disagree that judgment has no purpose. Identifying an action as good or evil, rather than a person, helps people to codify the way they want to live. We are all examples to one another. The part about not judging PEOPLE I completely agree with, but to abstain from judgment of ACTIONS taken by people sounds to me like saying “everything anyone does is okay.”

Best,
Alex

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David April 24, 2009 at 6:52 am

@ Alex — Well I’m not sure if I said judgment has no purpose. Certainly we sometimes need to discern what is harmful to us and others, and what isn’t. But to me this is an intuitive distinction that requires no words or thought.

If I questioned the usefulness of judgment in general, I meant it in an interpersonal context, so I think we’re in the same camp here.

While I don’t believe “everything anyone does is okay” exactly, I do believe there is great wisdom in accepting everything that does happen before responding, no matter how objectionable. If we do not accept every event without judgment first, then we are not acting, but reacting. I think reaction is the source of virtually every human problem.

Once something is occuring, a moral judgment protects nobody from it, and it isn’t necessary for determining what actions to take in response.

Compassion is the only faculty of discernment you need when it comes to actions, I think. And that happens automatically when the brain stops its incessant accusations. Morals are not necessary for compassion, the way I define those qualities. Morals occur in the realm of rational thought, and compassion occurs in the realm of intuition.

A wise yogi revealed his secret as this: “I don’t mind what happens.” I think this is quite profound, because it frees us from the internal and external tides of reaction and conditioning.

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Kim April 25, 2009 at 9:54 pm

An interesting series of posts. I remember having to change my mindset on my first stay in a foreign country at 18 from “everything is wrong/bad” to “it is different” – it is all relative.

Jay Schryer – I think you hit the nail on the head. Jesus covered it by saying “love your neighbour as yourself” Mark 12:31 which is how I’ve tried to live my life.

I don’t think that you can use any form of intelligence measure to differentiate between good and evil. In some instances it is the intelligent person (both EQ and IQ) who is “evil” because they understand how to manipulate other people for their own benefit.

Someone once made an interesting comment – when we come out of the womb, we are inherently selfish. We will cry until we get what we want with no regard to anyone else. It is only as we grow up and learn to live in society that we start to think of others, but it is only in exceptional people that manage to continuously put others before themselves.

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David April 26, 2009 at 1:35 pm

when we come out of the womb, we are inherently selfish. We will cry until we get what we want with no regard to anyone else. It is only as we grow up and learn to live in society that we start to think of others, but it is only in exceptional people that manage to continuously put others before themselves.

This is a great concept. In fact, I’m not sure we are capable of not being ‘selfish’. I think that as we mature and become wiser we just find that the most rewarding way to serve ourselves is to serve others. Serving oneself does not have to put others out in any way. It seems to me that there has to be an interest in it for the person doing the ‘serving’, otherwise their brain and body would do something else. *scratches head*

Thanks for your response, Kim.

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Φιλιππος April 28, 2009 at 3:25 am

hi David.
an alternative to the use of the loaded word smart is to think of all people as equally wise but acting on different data. this is how i like to see it and it’s essentially the same idea behind your post. the data or information is the cumulus of all live experiences. i think people always choose their best course of action of the situation at hand… they “sin” because their decisions are made on faulty or incomplete information. so bad choices come from ignorance and good ones come from efficient use of the available data (or having more data/information/experience to begin with). an individual then is able to become wiser only by enhancing his/her pool of information i.e. living, experimenting, communicating, etc. when i see people making mistakes i don’t think “dumb guy”; i know i would have made the exact same decision if i had his current available data. our hope is to share, build and expand on our quality info to make better informed decisions in the future.

also, yeah, morality sucks. it’s an euphemism for passing judgment.

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David April 28, 2009 at 6:55 am

Good call, Φιλιππος, we are definitely on the same page. We do work from different data, both internal and external. That’s a nicer way of putting it than the way I chose.

Thanks for the great insight, and welcome to Raptitude.

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SoulRiser May 14, 2009 at 11:59 pm

I agree with everything you said, and you put it in words better than I could have. I only have a few minor problems with your usage of the word “morality”. I know the meaning of the word has been dragged through the mud quite thorougly, pretty much like the word “love” has, but I still use it. Like if someone is attempting to justify hurting another person, I’ll tell them it’s morally wrong and attempt to stop them. Somehow telling them it’s dumb just doesn’t convey the message quite as well, at least I don’t think it would. *They* probably wouldn’t understand if I told them what they’re doing is dumb, but if I bring the concept of morals into it, I just think it’d make more sense.

Personally I always say that the right thing to do is whichever thing is the most compassionate, and/or which will do the most good and the least harm. That’s what morality means to me.

“To do something because “it is right” is at best just parroting what your parents and your culture have taught you.”
Not if you’ve done a lot of thinking and figured out for yourself what “right” and “wrong” mean to you. I often do things “because it is right”, not because I’m thinking of the consequences of my actions, or how happy it’s going to make me later on. Just because it’s right. Even if it’s a really annoying/tedious thing that nobody else wants to do, and the person I’m doing it for probably isn’t even going to find out if I ever did it. I’ll still do it anyway.

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David May 15, 2009 at 6:21 am

HI SoulRiser,

I agree with you, and in fact I’m not entirely comfortable with the way I defined morality in this article. My point was really that immorality is not a lack of personal worth, but of wisdom, and that it isn’t helpful to devalue a person based on the harmfulness of their actions.

Nice site BTW! I wish I had that when I was in school.

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SoulRiser May 15, 2009 at 11:00 pm

My point was really that immorality is not a lack of personal worth, but of wisdom, and that it isn’t helpful to devalue a person based on the harmfulness of their actions.

Though I understood your point in the article as well, this is a good summary, and it’s helpful for adding extra clarification for nitpicky people like me :)

Nice site BTW! I wish I had that when I was in school.

Thanks. It’s been around for 10 years now actually… but then I don’t know how long ago you were in school. *just checked about page*… okay, it might have existed (in a more primitive form) at the time. Not sure though. :)

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drain3swritebeatsgametheory May 21, 2009 at 9:10 pm

what a beautiful post. scripture holds great wisdom, but its explanation of insight is often weak, and therefore it is difficult for people to relate to its teachings before learning first hand the results of leading a sinful life. many do not even know which of their actions are sinful.

your article claims that seeing things as good and evil, or that viewing actions as moral or immoral is erroneus. however, using a term lik erroneus is judging the beliefs as others, and it shows that you are not willing to accept their viewpoints on life as rationale. maybe that is an opportunity for you to learn and grow. if there are people out there who believe in right and wrong than it is therefore an instrinsically correct viewpoint as its a natural human perspective.

the difference is that judgment only pushes people further into hatred as you have stated, whereas love is the medium that can change their demeanor.

genesis 2:15 states that god put adam into the garden to work it and take care of it.

paganism is often viewed as the worship of nature, and how can you blame that view? nature I beautiful and cannot be replicated by humans. however, to be spirtual from a biblical perspective requires that you love humans more than nature.

to work the garden is a selfless act that helps others appreciate the benefit of natural life. however, it serves as a good example of how selflessness is just smart. if you enhance the garden you yourself also gain its benefits, and you have nourished non human life in the process.

-mike

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Darren Kennedy December 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Thank you for such thought-provoking blogs. I’ve worked as a counsellor with people who have committed crimes ranging from the really stupid to very horrific. Some are totally irredeemable and have no remorse for what they’ve done, but most of them are genuinely sorry for their crimes, taken the programming needed to prevent them from re-offending (substance abuse, anger management, etc), served their time in jail, got jobs and moved on. Some re-offend, but a lot of them don’t. These are the kinds of stories you just don’t hear about in the news, because stories about bad guys turning good do not serve the culture of fear perpetuated by the media and government.

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Andy Parsons March 18, 2010 at 6:18 am

As usual that was a very insightful and thought provoking article.

I must admit I am very guilty of judging others according to my own values and I have always felt fully justified in doing so. However this article has given me a new way of looking at some things and perhaps I’ll be able to see another angle to the bad things people do from now on. In my law enforcement career I have seen a lot of it so this would be a very valuable ability for me to have.

I’ve also been taking an interest in the study of religion in recent times (mainly Christianity). Having been brought up to follow that particular faith in a very traditional sense I have in more recent years been learning more and more about its origins and was particularly impressed by the very eye-opening video “Zeitgeist” which explains how most religions probably developed from ancient practices of sun-worship and astrology (I strongly recommend the video to any open-minded person who wishes to learn more about religion by the way and it can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNf-P_5u_Hw)

However whilst I still believe now that there is probably no “God”, at least in the traditional sense that most followers of organised religion tend to believe, I am beginning to also see that the ancient scriptures upon which Christianity and other religions are based contain not only stories about the sun and the stars, but also some genuinely very insightful wisdom about the way the world, society, and humanity works.

If only we can interpret them in the ways they were truly intended to be uunderstood, I think some of the bible stories do in fact still have a lot to teach us today. Having said that, I personally find that it is sites like yours and Steve Pavlinas that are better sources of such inspiration than the bible because the same wisdom is presented in much more accesible and easy to understand form, and in such a way that it can be openly discussed.

Anyway thanks for another great article and I look forward to more to come.

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David March 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Hi Andy. I completely agree with you about Biblical wisdom. It is full of the most powerful teachings: how to be happy; how to transcend anger; how to forgive. But like I said I think it has been bastardized in order to leverage power over other people, and so now much of its meaning has changed.

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Thomas March 27, 2010 at 12:30 am

Interesting post…I agree very strongly with you that morality is often used by rulers to manipulate those below them into doing what they want (paying taxes, obeying laws, etc.) But to me, this doesn’t necessarily mean morality itself is a false concept. I also wholeheartedly concur that we tend to be very quick to condemn those who hurt others without looking at what led them to that point.

However, I would take issue with some of your other points. I don’t know that much about Christianity, but my understanding of it is that there some stuff about love, forgiveness, and all that, but also a lot about killing non-believers and so on, particularly in the old testament.

Also, you say that people shouldn’t kill, steal, rape, etc. because it will lead them to unhappiness. But how do you know this? I think this is true for most good and decent people, but if you asked Hitler “are you unhappy about what you have done ?”, he would almost certainly say “no”. The problem with sociopaths is that hurting others does not affect them, and many of them enjoy it.

Lastly, I am a bit confused about your take on morality and objectivity. You say that any objective moral standards are impossible, but you are making an objective statement. You are saying that if I say “Killing is wrong” then I am wrong because objectively it is not true. I just find this viewpoint kind of confusing and contradictory because clearly, by the nature of your argument you think we can arrive at objective truths, so why do you believe it is impossible to so in the realm of ethics?

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David March 27, 2010 at 1:50 am

Hi Thomas. I have expressed misgivings about this article in the past because I did not give it a much needed rewrite to clarify my views. It is confusingly written and I may give the idea a more concise treatment in the future.

In particular, I agree with you that morality is not a false concept, though I basically dismissed it in this article.

You are right, I can’t know that certain acts don’t bring happiness, but I think the unhappiness of rapists and murderers is self-evident. Of course Hitler would say he wasn’t unhappy with what he’d done. What else could he be expected to say? We all must defend our actions to ourselves and often to others, and so we pretend it brings us happiness. But do you really believe Hitler was a happy man? Do you believe there is even a reasonable possibility that his mass murders brought him lasting joy? I don’t.

You are saying that if I say “Killing is wrong” then I am wrong because objectively it is not true.

Well, no. I’m saying there is no objective yardstick for right and wrong, but perhaps there is for happy and unhappy. We know intrinsically the difference between ease and unease and that is probably a better benchmark for a person to decide his ethics than to adopt learned ideas of right and wrong — which is what we’re doing if we believe that morality is absolute (as in right and wrong are the same for everyone.) In other words, my view is that what is “right” is that which is a skillful means to achieve happiness, if anything is right.

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Thomas April 1, 2010 at 3:36 am

Thanks for your reply.

I do agree that Hitler, or people like him on a much smaller scale, tend to be pretty unhappy relative to most other people. But their actions are still what they preferred to do. A serial killer, for example, must prefer killing to not killing. Even if it doesn’t bring lasting happiness, it must at least bring relief from some sort tension or emotional pain. A serial killer could probably be happier if he or she received a lot mental health help, but I think there is still the problem of proof. A murder could still just say that he enjoys killing more than not killing (it could be self justification, or it could be true), and really what can you say to such a person? And if it self justification, then of course this would be another way of maintaining happiness or avoiding pain at the least.

I think I do actually generally agree with you though. I think the way to be happiest is to behave virtuously. But I think that ethics can be objectively understood, and I don’t think they are always social constructs.

This guy lays out a pretty good argument for objective ethics, I think:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZsHm2Z1SVI

His series on ethics is a bit long, but I’d highly recommend it if you’re interested in seeing a plausible idea for how morality could work without unsubstantiated beliefs.

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Kevin April 4, 2010 at 7:34 pm

First off, fantastic blog :), i read it straight after i read your one with quotes from Neitzsche (cant spell it) and i was going to read the comments again here, but its 2:30am and i have to get up tomorrow rather early, however i did want to tell you want an outstanding blog this is, if there were more people who could see the world like this, i believe we wouldn’t have near the same amount of serial killers who seem to do “immoral” for want of a better word, acts with no apparent motive to the untrained eye. I believe you have captured the spirit of people perfectly, as while i and i am not attempting to sound like i know the secret of life here, and i have actually been depressed for a period of over two years, but anyway i have a friend who constantly has flashes of rage and does things in the ensuing anger he later regrets, it is a probable by product of a youth where he was constantly bullied, however i find it interesting that while i too spent a year at a school where i was ridiculed without relent, i somehow always manage to think of the consequences before i take action, and i must say one of the most rewarding things i can think of is helping a friend, or indeed just helping anyone and knowing youve made a positive difference in their life. However i have always wondered as he simply when asked says he cannot stop himself from getting angry, and personally even though i have never told him, i believe it is because he has convinced himself he is like that, and as long as he continues to tell himself thats who he is, he will not change, if you get what im getting at, however i would be interested to hear if you also believe that some people are locked into their perceptions of themselves simply because they bully themself into believeing that they cant change who they are, in an attempt to perhaps spare themselves from their own shame? i dont mean to say that they are worse than others, but perhaps find it harder to change themselves, especially if the more foolish habit they have has been in action for many years?

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Astrid August 3, 2010 at 8:13 am

David, thank you for this. I came across your site a few weeks ago and am astounded by how enlightened you are, it has been the highlight of my day to read your posts and I am so grateful for your eloquence. I wonder if you have any intention of addressing controlling behaviour in a future post? I think it is something that people who chose live an examined life have to face often as their ‘freeness’ (for want of a better word) is a state which can make less aware people very insecure and as a result behave in destructive ways. Do you have a perspective on this?

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Adam November 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I think you might be a goddamned genius.

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Ed February 9, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I’m curious of what you think about people who use destructive behavior as a way to occupy themselves. Say someone who is otherwise brilliant, relatively mature and level headed finds it enjoyable to shoot pellet guns at a gas station. No one gets hurt, nothing is broken. Just young people having fun, while no one is getting hurt yet it is still viewed as misbehavior and ‘dumb’. It may not be dumb to that person, that kind of thrill may be critical to the balance in that specific persons life. This is just an example, there are many other ways to do this. I’m sure no one would condemn them as sinners, but surely doing something like that is not ‘wise’ or ‘smart’. But say they instead of doing this and enjoying themselves, they sat in a routine and eventually became depressed and killed themselves. Something that could have been avoided by midnight rides to do dumb things. This situation is very very circumstantial, I know. But if someone does ‘evil’ because they know it is good for them, does that not make it ‘wise’?

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David February 10, 2011 at 6:58 am

I think maybe we are always expecting a clean dichotomy when there isn’t one. This post is a really old one, but I think even at the time I mentioned that it’s not always possible to understand the consequences of any behavior because the cause-effect web is so complex and far-reaching, so we often can’t easily categorize a behavior into good/bad, or wise/foolish. So it’s not important to get the right “tag” for a person or a behavior, only to understand that unconscious behavior leads to the creation of suffering, and conscious behavior leads to the reduction of suffering.

Recognizing what those sorts of behaviors (conscious and unconscious) really feel like from a first-hand perspective is what allows a person to understand the sort of consequences they are creating with their intentions.

I know that’s pretty vague, but every time somebody attempts to prescribe specific actions to do and specific actions to not do, then we get tenets and sins, and we have a religion on our hands.

I regret the way I worded the title of this post because it is misleading — it seems to encourage looking at this with that classical kind of good/bad dichotomy.

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David February 10, 2011 at 7:06 am

I forgot to mention that the point of the post was not to create a new false dichotomy, but to recognize that “evil” behavior has traditionally been seen as a justification to hate somebody, even torture and kill them. If we reframe evil as the consequence of low levels of awareness and wisdom, then the intuitive reaction is to see if we can find a way help the person not do those things any more. That’s the esoteric meaning of “forgive them for they know not what they do,” but Christian institutions have often ignored that in favor of justifying punishment and shame.

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Ed February 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I appreciate the response, and the post itself. The wording you used was really the main (maybe only) disagreement I had with this post. The way ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were worded as ‘wise’ and ‘dumb’ distracted me a slight amount while I was reading. Because it did sound like you were simply creating an incognito dichotomy. I assumed this wasn’t intentional based on the points you were stressing. I also realize that it is hard to word it any other way. I just came across this post and this website so I read the article as if I did not have the unwritten understanding that is required to truly understand your meaning. All in all, great post! Things like this are honestly a breath of fresh air. Thanks for everything.

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Paul March 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm

It’s a lovely sentiment, But it assumes some kind of cosmic justice that simply is not there. The reality is much more complicated with people being happy or sad due to a whole range of circumstances eg. (genetics, ignorance, wisdom) which often have little to do with their own choices.

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David March 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I’ve expressed misgivings with this article in the past, but I don’t think I came off as arguing that there is a cosmic justice system, only that serving oneself in short-sighted ways that cause harm to others creates the inescapable consequence of suffering on oneself, which manifests itself in all sorts of ways. This is not the same as saying that all unhappiness is a result of our choices. The concept I was getting at is called karma vipakka in the Buddhist view, and reading about it will probably give you a better idea of what I was getting at than what you read here :)

Karma is hugely misunderstood in contemporary culture as if it’s some kind of cosmic moral balance. Karma is a collective term for your intentional actions, vipakka are the real-world consequences of those actions. If a person’s ultimate goal is to alleviate anxiety and other unpleasant states (and I would argue that it is for everyone, even if they don’t realize that the impulse to avoid or escape unpleasant states is behind every desire), then stealing, cheating and killing are unskillful ways to go about it, even if we don’t make any moral judgments about those acts.

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Nina Maryn March 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Thank you so much :) I loved this article xD

The passage where you discuss ignoring the unbringing of an individual because of their actions struck me in particular. A dear friend of mine was recently transfered from our school because he was accused of bringing a legal marijuana-like substance to school. Several weeks after an adversary makeshift court session was held, with his mother sitting right in the room, paralized from Lou Gehrig disease which he has had to deal with since he was small, he was “sentenced” to a school transfer. Shortly thereafter, my friend killed himself on January 20th. The school system showed no concern for the insignificance of the crime or the hardships he’s delt with at his home.

People are not just good or evil. They are just people.

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David March 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm

People are not just good or evil. They are just people.

That’s all I’m trying to say with this huge long-winded post. The idea of good and evil can be used to justify anything.

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Irina July 16, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Agreed. Humans are neither good, nor evil. Everyone is trying his/her best to be happy. Some people choose destructive paths – and for that there are many reasons.
Also agree that doing good is beneficial. Unless ur a sociopath…
However, when you are writing about hate or anger I agree partly. Understanding that everyone has his/her reasons to be ‘evil’ really helps in most cases and the anger doesn’t even appear. But that concerns minor things or things that happen to others.
If a misguided ‘dumb’ person hurts you in a serious way, or harms your loved one, you naturally feel anger and/or hate, even if you realize the criminal had a tough childhood.
You may sympathize that the poor guy had a rough time in his life, but that wouldn’t stop you from wanting a punishment for him if he raped ur daughter or killed ur brother.
There is a limit to how much understanding the root causes decreases the anger/hate occurrences or intensity.
So Id say anger/hate are destructive in most cases, but in some they’re natural, justified and a person experiencing them shouldn’t feel ashamed of the fact. At least on the current stage of evolution )) It is only human to make bad choices and cause harm, but so it is to scream when you feel pain or to hate when u’ve been hurt. Of course, you want to get rid of the negative feeling someday, but not necessarily straight away and under the pressure of being perceived as an idiot unable to ‘be smart’.
Just some thoughts on the subject…:)

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Caleb Reynolds July 30, 2011 at 2:02 pm

For further thought on developing a common moral baseline from which we can operate, see Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape”. It’s an insightful work dealing with the foundations of “morality” and how we can use them to our advantage in trying to create a better world

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South African July 25, 2012 at 3:16 am

Please tell me how three people breaking into a house, raping the mother in-front of the father whist another stands on her face, then shooting both in the head, then going to the 12 year old boy’s room, tying him up, and throwing him face down into a bath full of almost boiling warm water to drown is not evil. I am sure no person, of any religion or belief would say that such an act is not evil? Or tell me how there is no “right or wrong.”

True story by the way: http://www.beeld.com/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/2-het-kind-verdrink-in-kookwater-20120724

As the quote from K-Pax goes “every being in the Universe knows right from wrong.”

It is easy to sit in the western world and muse over the good versus evil debate from the comfort of our homes.

Welcome to South Africa. Incidents like this are abundant.

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marc henry April 29, 2013 at 4:30 am

Great article. To me, behind your idea of wise/ smart vs foolish/ dumb behavior, is the concept of inevitability and causality. I’m not philosopher, but didn’t Spinoza and J Krishnamurti say something like this- people will do what they will do because they will do it. In some way , all such actions are interconnected and therefore people’s decisions are inevitable. The data/ information analogy is close too. But for me, the ideas of inevitability comes through very strongly. Seen this way, how can you judge people? They are doing only what they can and will do. Like a tree, which is busy just being a tree. And putting aside the practical benefits of punishment of “evil-doers”) ie deterrence, public safety etc, punishment has no positive function whatsoever. Yes, if someone killed a family member might get enraged enough to want to kill him back. But if his action was inevitable, what purpose would it serve. Other than ego inflation, and giving me some satisfaction in dealing with my grief- which is often self centered anyway (“how will I live without her”, “I miss her”, etc etc-i am talking from experience). Seen this way, it shows we all have a responsibility to ensure more wisdom is inevitable in the world. Knowing what we wise people know (we have better access to data), knowing that people with psychological problems, traumatic childhoods, poverty and lack of data/ insight or wisdom do actually exist in the world, we should do what we can to divert the course of the river. Make more wisdom inevitable. It reminds me of one fo the school massacre killers, and i imagine looking back into every single detail ofthe person’s whole life…i imagine one would see how each tiny little thing or fact – a hurt, a slight, an obsession etc etc- led to the next which led to the next which led to…and you wonder where along this change the inevitable could have been made the impossible.

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