Good and evil
Good and evil are not absolutes. The perception of what is good and bad depends on the person or creature experiencing the action.
A person too is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, a person performs acts which one then classifies according to how one experiences them. Even then it is not at all straightforward:
- An act which is one of LOVE is loosely defined as an act of goodness – a good action.
- An act which is one of HATE and hurt is loosely defined as an evil act or a ‘bad’ action.
So, if we provide an example, a child who has hurt another child might by this definition be classified as having been ‘bad’. If his mother then gives him such a telling off for doing so that he cries, he may well feel he has been ‘hurt’, but the mother is not ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. Sometimes acts of apparent hurt are needed in the scheme of things.
In reality absolute good and absolute evil do not exist. They only have a meaning when the actions of something or somebody is set against some set of rules - a value system that defines some actions as good and some evil. They only have a meaning in other words in the context of a system of morals or alternatively in for example a political system or a civil system. If your mother calls you a ‘bad boy’ then it is in the context of the family rules, not civil laws!
The selfish nature of good and bad - example 1
Let us suppose a country is deeply in debt. The debt is caused by a previous administration spending unwisely - entering wars, adding to bureaucracy without any added value. The people who get jobs in the bureaucracy might label the administration as ‘good’, because they have a job – a job in which they are paid to do virtually nothing. A cushy number.
But the previous administration has inflicted an act of ‘hurt’ upon the people of the country as a whole by accumulating this debt, a debt which will incur interest that the people have to pay and which will need to be paid back. They were thus a ‘bad’ administration by the system of rules in economics.
Now a new administration takes over and in order to remove the debt they remove the cushy number bureacrats, increase taxes for all and cut services and benefits. Many people will be affected by this and they may well call the new administration ‘bad’ because they have to pay more tax, they have to suffer the cut in benefits and they may lose their jobs. But are the administration bad? They are actually doing their job – running the country as they have been elected to do and attempting to spend within budget. They are acting much as the mother did above – short term pain, for long term gain. And they are acting within defined economic rules.
As the average person seems unable to work out the consequences of their actions – a skill which desperately needs to be taught in schools, they are totally unaware of the knock on effects of one action. That an apparently ‘good’ action - in that it pleases one or a few people, - may have a domino effect that detrimentally affects millions. A large deficit, for example, usually results in a plummeting currency, and a plummeting currency means that if food is imported food bills will soar.
Thus ‘badness’ is a selfish and short termist perception. And interestingly, so is goodness in some cases.
Let us now take two very extreme examples.
Another extreme example - 2
To the Nazi of 1930s Germany, Hitler would have been described as ‘good’. Within the political system of 1930s Germany, the actions of Hitler were everything that was to be expected of a good leader. Hitler galvanised Germany in the 1930s into a nation that believed in itself again [regained its pride].
Within the context of the economic system of the 1930s, he pushed through any number of economic reforms – all of which aimed to reduce inflation from its post world war I level and stimulated industry again. Hitler oversaw one of the greatest expansions of industrial production and civil improvement Germany had ever seen. The unemployment rate was also cut substantially. Hitler oversaw one of the largest infrastructure-improvement campaigns in German history, with the construction of dozens of dams, autobahns, railroads, and other civil works. All of this was a form of Keynesian economics – invest in the infrastructure and you will stimulate industry. Hitler also contributed slightly to the design of the car that later became the Volkswagen Beetle and charged Ferdinand Porsche with its design and construction. So, in a sense the start of today’s German car industry.
Judged against the political and economic system rules he was indeed as far as a large number of German people were concerned ‘good’ – good for them, which is what good ultimately means to human beings.
If we now use a system of morals that defines ‘hate and hurt’ as ‘bad or evil’ and ‘love’ as ‘good’ then judged against this system Hitler was evil, because he was ultimately responsible for hurting countless thousands or even millions. And so was Stalin and Pol Pot and many of the Emperors of Rome, the Khmer Rouge, and George Bush and Tony Blair and Saddam Hussein and …. You see what I mean. Nothing is actually absolute. All wars are by this definition evil and the men who instigate them equally evil. I wish to emphasise here this is not necessarily my view, it is simply an example to show that the rules and the phrasing of the rules are everything in determining these value judgements.
Another extreme example - 3
The Second World War caused the death of millions and millions. It involved hate, cruelty, destruction on a massive scale. It is perceived as evil by most who write about it, but it had some interesting consequences.
Before both the First and Second World War, women were effectively slaves. They were expected to marry and serve a man. Education was largely denied them, few had ‘jobs’ other than menial ones, meaning that half the potential of every country was unused. Women were expected to cook, clean, shop, mend and sew, and bear children; they were also expected to lie down and let the man have sex, whether they wanted it or not.
During both Wars women proved themselves perfectly capable of running the country whilst the men were away massacring themselves and others. The Queen in the UK, bless her, led the way, by showing she was a very able mechanic.
It took two world wars to demonstrate this and the removal of a large number of men – who were the problem and the block to progress. Women would not be where they are now, in positions of leadership, in positions of influence and scientific achievement, with good though still not equal pay, without those two Wars.
The men had no reason to change, the situation they had carved out for themselves was as far as they were concerned ‘good’, the fact that women generally did not agree and considered it ‘bad’ was irrelevant. Men had no reason to change, thus an event of enormous barbarity equal to the hurt done to women was needed to make them change and rather fascinatingly, the women were not involved in setting this act in motion – the men shot themselves metaphorically in the foot.
Balance needed to be restored and only a very extreme event would have worked.
Of those who change system – the necessary ‘bad men’
One of the characteristics of many men and a few notable women is that they are men of ‘power’ and often ‘charisma’. Many of these men show scant regard for any of the existing laws – moral or civil, but they are drivers, huge forces for change. They are the power houses behind businesses, behind countries, behind empires. Without them we would still be living in caves in tiny groups, cold, often hungry, frequently sick, a bit frightened, eating wild bunny rabbit. Larger aggregates of people achieve things – they act as a ‘super unit’ because tasks can be distributed. You end up with a massive organism – a business say – that if led by a person of real vision can achieve extraordinary acts of creation – not with violence but with new creations that change people’s lives for the good – make them happier.
Long ago, in order to form bigger tribal groups or to form nations or to impose new political system these men used violence. Often, they used violence because in those days they were met with violence. There is little need for this now, because economic groupings are more important to our well being than geographical ones.
But these men of the past and even the men of today sometimes get labelled as ‘bad’ because they challenge the status quo. Furthermore, people fear that kind of power [with reason]. But they are not ‘bad’, they are agents of change. Sometimes a system is outdated and needs replacing with something better suited to the other changes that have taken place in a society. As cultures, as civilisations, move on, so systems must also move on – moral civil and so on.
‘The King is dead, long live the King’
So any purveyor of a new system of morals, for example, or politics or a rather ruthless businessman who manages to take over a market with his products [and of course then puts out of business other companies] is quite likely to be branded ‘evil’ by those still clinging on to the previous system and who have much to gain by the old system. To a person made redundant as a result of a business failing in a competitive world, the business that ‘won’ and its founder seem bad. But they aren’t ‘bad’. They just are.
Destroyers are needed, they are essential and they are not evil, they help to establish ‘new order’.
Heidrun the goat; an eagle, a stag and a squirrel dwell in the branches of Yggdrasil. The viper Nidhoggr is at its roots and constantly tries to destroy it. Every day the eagle gives battle to the viper...... The fight between the eagle and the snake, like the struggle between Garuda and the reptile – a very common motif in Indian mythology and iconography – is a cosmological symbol of the struggle between light and darkness of the opposition of two principles.
Natural systems and good and evil
Value judgements in natural systems make no sense. Death is not evil , nor disease. We all die and disease just happens to be one of the ways death comes about.
It isn’t evil, it just is.
There is disease, it is a fact – a system, it isn’t inherently evil or good, it is only perceived as being so by us if we get disease when we don’t want it.
Paramahansa Yogananda – Why God permits evil [and how to rise above it]
Certainly it is terrible that bacteria kill two billion people every hundred years. But think of the chaos of overpopulation if there was no death
Natural systems just are. To question whether they are good or evil or any such value judgement is pointless – earthquakes happen, floods happen, volcano eruptions happen. Flowers burst open at a certain time of year and at a certain stage of growth, volcanoes erupt at a point where the pressure of the magna reaches a certain limit. Instead of blaming ‘God’ we should instead be trying to learn more about the systems and how they work. Our ignorance of this at the moment is woeful.
The need for rules
It is we who have defined evil and it is we who have created the moral systems that define what is ‘bad action’ and what is ‘good action’.
These moral codes are not ‘God given’ they were devised by men for men. And they are needed, but they are not fixed.
A number of very astute philosophers of old realised that in order to alleviate suffering and pain in human beings, it was worthwhile putting together a set of moral codes that aimed to restrict human activity – control their natural behaviour - in order to minimise the suffering caused. At the time they very often gave their astute set of laws a bit of added authority by claiming they were delivered by angels or similar divine beings. It hardly matters whether they were or weren’t, because the laws are man-made and are aimed at ensuring man lives with man in a more productive harmonious way.
Civil laws were just an extension of moral codes. And the key to ensuring they are enforced is an effective system of justice.
Good, Bad and the Great Work
This thus leads us to the Great Work – the plan for the evolution of the universe.
One of the abiding comments one notices from those unable to see the big picture – or acknowledge there is one is that of ‘Why does God allow this [bad thing] to happen?’ and ‘Why does God let children starve’, or ‘why are their parasites or viruses or terrible diseases?’
The Varieties of Religious Experience – William James
I heard told a story of a brute who had kicked his wife downstairs and then continued the operation until she became insensible. I felt the horror of the thing keenly. Instantly this thought flashed through my mind ‘I have no use for a God who permits such things’
Immediately we see that models influence our idea of what is good and what is evil. If we believe that there is a sort of father figure God, who is there to make us happy, then we will be flummoxed as to why he doesn’t get rid of all the things that make us sad. Automatically we have used a model [a largely Biblical model] which states that God is our father – and fathers shouldn’t make us unhappy.
Rather naïve thinking.
We are responsible for making laws – all of the man made ones; we are responsible for seeing they are sensible and logical and work to the common good of the maximum – the majority; we are responsible for devising the retribution systems that ensure transgressors are – not punished – but taken from the society they are harming and either taught the laws or made to relearn.
‘God’ – the spiritual world does not make these sorts of laws .
When an atheist accuses a non existent God [an anomoly they tend to forget] of allowing hurt to happen to humans, they are assuming in typical egotistic fashion that we are the most important thing on this planet. But in the Great Work, there is no thing more important than another.
A parasite, a worm, a virus, bacteria, are all part of the plan. We may view some as bad because they hurt us, but in the scheme of things – in the Great Work – they may be essential. Bacteria and viruses have been around far far longer than us, have been better stewards of the planet and appear to be a great deal more intelligent than we are.
The ego gets in the way of seeing that in the Great Work, the plan is more important than the players. And we are only players who have been on the stage as bit parts for a tiny fraction of a second in comparison with the other players.
The only thing as an absolute that is ‘good’ is the Great Work.
The only things as an absolute that are ‘bad’ are actions against the Great Work.
We might in fact have a far better and peaceful blissful life if we went with the plan instead of constantly battling against it, but that is another subject.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Aurelius, Marcus - Meditations - Good and evil #003784
- Bailey, Philip James - from Festus I - Good and evil #018518
- Bhagavad Gita - Good and Evil #022007
- Boethius - The Consolation of Philosophy - On Good and Evil and the Great Work #022008
- Boethius - The Consolation of Philosophy - On good and evil #015028
- Burton, Sir Richard - THE KASÎDAH 05 1 #018679
- Chuang Tzu - Leaving things alone #015080
- Gatha 01 – Yasna 028 #022347
- Jianzhi Sengcan – On balance and good and evil #022074
- Khan, Hazrat Inayat - The Art of Being and Becoming - On Good and Evil #021999
- Khan, Hazrat Inayat - The Art of Being and Becoming - On Good and evil, and justice #022000
- Lethbridge, T C - A Step in the Dark – Using the pendulum and colour symbolism #021905
- Mesopotamian - Means of achieving spiritual experience 08 Believing in the spiritual world #022213
- Mircea Eliade - The Nature of Varuna #022004
- Mircea Eliade - Tunguses, Yakut and the concepts of Good and Evil #022003
- Nietzsche - On the Genealogy of Morals - Good and evil #022010
- Paramahansa Yogananda - Why God permits evil - The Great Work #022002
- Phillips Brooks - Visions and Task - On Good and Evil #022001
- Plotinus - The Enneads - Happiness in animals and plants #014211
- Shaivism - Concepts and symbols - Intelligence hierarchy and Great Work #022479
- St Francis - The Little Flowers #022009
- Steiner, Rudolf - Nature spirits - On creation and destruction #013751
- Sumerian poems and lamentations – 16 Penitential Prayer to Every God #022226
- Tennyson, Alfred Lord - In Memoriam A H H - On yet we trust that somehow good Will be the final goal of ill #013881
- Thich Nhat Hanh - The Miracle of Mindfulness - The monkey's shadow #023473
- Tirrukural, the - Book 1 In Praise of God #022818
- Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass - What blurt is it about virtue and about vice #018539
- Yasna 10 - Prayer 16 #022344
- Yasna 11 - Verses 1 to 4 #022345
- Zoroastrian - Means of achieving spiritual experience - 06 Reducing threats #022350