Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Musings About The Nature Of Good And Evil...

Culled From Various Posts Of Mine On Facebook

Sometimes I agree with a lot of what you say but I don't think it's True. I just agree with it. What you and I might call "horrible", other people may call "wonderful", and what we might call "wonderful", other people might call "sinful". I'm just saying that "good" and "bad" lie in the beholder, not the thing beheld.

If enough of us agree, we start to believe that the things we like are somehow written into the structure of reality. Why can't we just say, "Wow, I guess millions and millions of us believe this thing. There might be something to it...", rather than, "This is right and good.".

For me there is a crack in any solid pronouncement. As soon as I make one, I can hear something working its way through that crack and it will not be denied.

The line in Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem" that I most love and that I would trade 50 of my songs to have written is this:

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack. A crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

There's even a crack in those words! The Tao Te Tching begins: "The way that you can talk about is not the true way." I agree, but I still love to talk. We might not nail "it", but we might get close now and then, and I enjoy doing it.

I'm not dismissing ethics as such, only ethics that seeks to find absolute truth. I find ethics and logic useful at times. Given a certain premise, or point of view, or value orientation, what follows from that? How should one behave in order to fulfill one's ideals? That kind of thing interests me. But how should one behave in order to be good? or right with God? That doesn't interest me at all.

One thing I've observed is that when another person's behavior makes no sense to me, seems wrong or stupid, pointless or self-destructive, it's often because we do not share the same goals. Given their goals, their actions make perfect sense. Life is, after all, the product of millions and millions of years of trial and error, and we have become, in a relatively short period of time, the most successful species on Earth. We are at the very top of the food chain, we can eat any damn thing we want, and do. We've explored or are exploring, everything we can think of. We may have some big problems and the show isn't over yet by a long shot, but we are sure as Hell not dying out.

Am I to believe that only the "geniuses", only the smart people are responsible for the success of our species? That the rest of us are idiots? I think all of us are incredibly intelligent and resourceful. It's just that for a lot of us, that intelligence is serving what might call "different" goals, goals that might not manifest clearly as "progress".

Take a goal like "proving to my parents and the world what a fucked up job they did when I was growing up by wrecking my health and prospects". You and I might consider this a pretty unrealistic and irrational goal. But man, look at the intelligence and resources people can apply to a goal like this. It's not nearly as easy as it sounds. It's painful and requires a deep holding and commitment. Many people with nobler goals don't follow through nearly as well as those with what we might call "odd" ones. But who knows what side benefits there are for the people who are around someone this self-destructive? We're individuals, but we're also social animals who can't survive alone. What serves the group might not serve the individual, but we might do it anyway.

I think we are all little scientists, trying to get our goals, constructing world views that help us do that, or at least trying to. Somehow with all these crazy contradictory goals, standards, values, beliefs, and ethics, we're at the top of the heap. So I think that we're doing something right with all of our disagreeing. Somehow it seems like "part of the plan" that we don't get along all the time. Maybe life is best served when almost every path is being chosen by someone. That way whichever path is suddenly favored by conditions, someone will he on it. Who knows what the survival needs of the future will be? Maybe, as a species, it's best to have someone from your "company" trying just about everything there is to try. I bet we've always been like that. Trying to get everyone on what one considers the "right" path might actually be detrimental to the survival of our species.

This is the kind of thing I say and the kind of thing that interests me:

This is what I don't say:

"Balance is our true nature. The source and connecting energy of the Universe. It is who we are and everything else is illusion. Let me show you how to let go of your false self and walk into the light of who your really are and blah, blah, blah..."

This is how I express my personal sense of rightness without making an ideology out of it. Like balance, it's a dance that's never over...

Personally, I don't believe in "good" and "evil" as having any kind of independent existence. If there are no people, there is no good and evil. We made these things up. I always ask, Good for whom, for what? Evil for whom, for what? To me, context is everything.

If anything, I think that "It's all good", in the sense that the Universe is a beautiful, impersonal balancing machine and everything that is happening needs to happen or it wouldn't be happening. It's all an expression of this perfect balance. It may hurt like Hell for a given individual (or me), and I feel for that person (or me), and want to do my best to alleviate his or her (or my), suffering, but from a larger perspective, it's all part of a huge mysterious balancing act that I cannot even begin to "know" about, certainly not with any certainty.

I think the concepts of Good & Evil are used to justify all kinds of violent and hurtful things. That said, we all have some kind of inner compass, some kind of sense of what is "good" and we try our best to steer in that direction. A "Satanist" just believes that "bad" is "good". He's still trying to be good, just doing it by being bad.

In the every day conventional world of life and love and problems, our sense of what is good or bad is real and has real consequences. But in any kind of absolute sense, Good & Evil fall apart, they shift and change and ultimately disappear, along with people. So sure, be nice to your kids, be firm, be gentle, teach them about the life they will be encountering. In the short term, in this world, that's "good". In the long run though, especially the really long run, it doesn't matter what you do with your kids. Existence will run right over every form that is, crush it to dust and start all over in some new form. I do "good" because it feels good, not because it is good.

What I aim to do is to live everyday in a more or less Newtonian world (Do unto others etc..), include an intuition of the Einsteinian world (but really it all depends on your point of view) and acknowledge the ultimate underlying Quantum world (uh, actually, we don't know shit, it's all a mystery). I try to include it all.

In my everyday life I do what feels most deeply right and leave the ultimate consequences of my actions and it's ultimate rightness or wrongness for the Universe or other people to decide. What feels right, feels right, so I do it. And by "feeling right", I don't mean just acting on the emotions of the moment, although sometimes I do that. I mean that I do what feels most deeply right in my whole body, brain, mind, heart, guts, feet, spine, etc..

Here's a paradox: All wisdom does not agree. To me existence is just happening, it just is. What we project onto it is real, but still a projection.

"What you see is not Nature, but Nature exposed to your line of questioning" Werner Heisenberg. I have a song about this called "You Are Wrong".

I think too that there is a world of difference between saying "You should do this. It is good." and saying, "This is what I do and here's why." or even, "I think you should do this." The former is a pronouncement that leaves no room for dialogue. "I know what is right, it's this, and you should do it." The other two statements leave room for not only dialogue but for the other person to have some autonomy, some volition in whether or not they feel like doing what you want them to do. The later statements also include a sense that the speaker might be wrong, that there might be missing pieces in their conclusions. As in, "I might be wrong, but this is what I would do". There's also an implied, "And what do you think?" in this kind of statement.

When someone approaches me with the former type statement, I hardly feel in contact with them at all. Whereas the other two statements invite a discussion, not just to see "who's right" but to get to know each other, to find out what we think and feel.

Just as names are not the thing named, our personal sense of right and wrong is not what is actually right and wrong. I know that the word "book" is not what a book is, it's just what I call a book. But it's so easy in everyday life to get them mixed up. We don't want to say, "Could you hand me that unknowable mystery", but that, to me, is what a book is. So, I try to remember this as I go through life.

It's the same with right and wrong. I have a sense of basic right and wrong that most people would agree with. Even though I know it's not ultimately right or wrong, it's easy to get them mixed up too. So I try to keep the balance. This is why I'm always saying "I don't believe in Good and Evil." I mean that in the absolute intrinsic sense. In everyday life, yeah, sure there's good and evil. But man, start throwing the "E" word around and murder surely follows. The word "evil" is usually followed by killing. I'm not saying killing is evil though. It's just violent, hurtful, and not very nice.

It's hard to avoid value judgements, perhaps it's impossible, but I think it's worth the effort. Otherwise, people confuse their value judgements with value "facts" and start doing things that like start and fight wars.

There's a line from "You Are Wrong" that goes
: "The world is like a lover--Or like a lover's fight. You can try to be close--Or you can try to be right."

I like holding contradictions and benefiting from the resulting tension and stretching. Even it there's no such thing as absolute truth, I don't think it's a waste of time to look for it..if that's what feels right. If World War II resulted in improved air travel, the quest for an illusive capital "T" truth must surely yield other unexpected benefits.

In Science, "Truth" is always provisional and all it takes is one piece of data, or one new experiment to knock today's "Truth" off its pedestal and into the dirt. Maybe all we have is an evolving partial truth and that will have to do. Maybe all we have are fantasies of truth that are nonetheless valuable and useful, maybe even indispensable. I dabble in Truth, but what I'm really after is developing a knack for readiness, balance, music, love, kindness and friendship.

And...I'm looking forward to my next swan dive into a guitar.

1 comment:

  1. "I dabble in Truth, but what I'm really after is developing a knack for readiness, balance, music, love, kindness and friendship." ... all good things!