I was introduced to the concept of “evil” at a very young age. It was introduced to me through religious conservatism, as well as through television news. Both were saturated with incessant talk of evil things that people were doing all around the world. When my religion taught me that I was evil, when I watched “the news”, I equated my evil with their evil. I equated myself to the murderers on the television, even though I hadn’t killed anyone. If we’re all lost as sinners, then who cares about comparisons?
Just thinking about evil is exhausting. There is no way to create a perfect man. How do we “measure” ourselves as good? Or, better yet, is there value in measuring how “good” we are?
In the past, I would’ve said “Yes”. I measured my good (as well as the good of the whole world) to see who among us, including myself, was going to Heaven. But I never knew what that amount of good needed to get into Heaven was. But I measured away anyway, completely dissatisfied, as the only result I came up with was that “None of us are good enough.”
Well, my religious beliefs have changed over time. And so have my ideas about “good”. But evil still bugs me. I still notice it everywhere. I seem to notice it all of the time. I don’t think it is really possible to ignore it. Throughout the day, I think everyone will, at least one time throughout that day, say “Damn. That isn’t right.” Evil is simply too prevalent to ignore. Sure, when we’re playing with our kids, or reading a book, we aren’t thinking about someone getting raped or murdered in the world. But surely it’s happening. There will be no “end” to it until we die.
Since none of us are sure when we are going to die, and surely we don’t want to think about death constantly, what do we have to look forward to? Why does “looking forward” matter? What do we have but to “look forward”? We look forward as well as looking back. We pleasantly reminisce about the past, while being thankful for getting passed the negative times. We dread the future, while looking forward to what we believe we will enjoy about it. There’s no “constant settling point” with regards to the past and the future (besides the fact that we are alive in the present). There’s no “perspective” that ultimately takes precedent. The past, the present, and the future engage all of our minds. But there’s something special to be said about “moving on”. To hoping. And to just being thankful. You can’t be thankful for anything when your whole life is spent anxiously lamenting and condemning the lack of perfection in the present. Sadly, even this can be taken over by anxiety. There’s nothing that anxiety can’t ruin. It’s a shame.
I should state that, once again, I’m not against lamentation completely. Of course, I’m not completely (there’s that word again) against anxiety. Both serve important functions. But there’s a difference between compassionately bringing up a serious subject that needs attention, and being an asshole about it that no one wants to listen to (being an asshole, I should know this). The latter ultimately boils down to a fear of the lack of “perfection”. I think, ultimately, the motivation comes into play, as well as the “soundness” of one’s argument when one brings up an issue. Is it objectively an issue? That should be argued. After that, why are you bringing up the issue? That should be discussed as well. After those are discussed, it can then be determined whether or not the issue being put on the table is worth “tackling”. Even with this, there will, ultimately, be breakdowns in communication, as ends will conflict with ends, means will conflict with means, etc.
My solution to this is: do what you want. If you want to argue, then argue. If you don’t, then don’t. One can try to bring to the attention of others as many wrongdoings as one can. My measurement is “However many one wants to”. Does it bring you some sense of joy to bring a problem to light? Do you receive something from it psychologically? If so, bring it up. But if you do not gain anything from it, I think the whole situation is fruitless. The nurse that tends to others as a “duty” without getting any pleasure from caring for others is missing the point of her helping others. Of course, they are being helped. That’s important. But the issue is: why wouldn’t that bring one joy? That is the even deeper issue at hand. If one is compassionate, wouldn’t helping others out bring that person joy? (Personal Happiness as a Virtue).
I’m not being stabbed right now. That’s a good thing. I focus on doing things in the present. And that’s what we all do. We all go through our day, working our jobs, reading books, doing a whole range of actions without thinking of the people getting violently attacked throughout the world.
Many would see this as a bad thing. Many people spend their whole lives pointing out these wrongs. Indeed, I would have to say I’m included among these “Hey, this is bad” pointer-outers. Should it not be the case that each and every single one of us should point out each and every single wrongdoing that we are aware of constantly? Wouldn’t this be a good thing?
In the first place, most “moral” ideas never take into account man’s limited nature. Man has to sleep. Poop. I’m not going to be able to help a man getting stabbed while I’m asleep. Nor when I’m pooping. What if the murder is happening hundreds, if not thousands of miles away? What if I have to poop? Not only that, but even if I didn’t have to poop, am I really to fly all the way around the world, only to risk my own life to save someone else? I’d certainly find it noble if someone decided to do that themselves. But should I do it for the “overall good”?
I have reasons for not flying to Africa to help out, for example, someone getting murdered, or for not flying anywhere to help out anyone suffering any kind of injustice. Why? Well, I don’t want to spend the money on a plane ticket. Nor drive to the airport. Figure out where I’m going to stay once I got to wherever I was going. Not to mention, I’d, more than likely, be putting myself in danger. What if I, for example, get kidnapped? Who will help me? My point is that when it comes to “good” and “action”, there has to be some other way to think about it besides the “perfection” attitude: that everyone must spend all of their time and energy to combating every injustice in the world all at once until every justice is eliminated. That is impossible. But, more importantly, I don’t want to do it.
This, of course, does not mean that I am completely against helping out people in need. I, personally, am not going to go out of my way to search for people in need (I commend those that do), but if I see someone get hit by a car, I’d, of course, have no problem with dialing 911. It isn’t that I’m against any person receiving help at all, but I am against an attitude of “moral perfection”. Words like “perfect”, “complete”, etc., really can’t be applied to humans; especially when “good” is involved (this, of course, does not mean that punishment should never happen).
I learned a long time ago that nobody is perfect (I don’t think I learned it in a particularly healthy way). But I was asked “WWJD (What would Jesus do?)” I was taught that I should live a “Godly” life. I spent much of my life being worried over “doing enough.” But enough is enough.
There comes a point when we have to accept our own limitations. I certainly don’t ever think we should say “Welp, that man raped that lady and stole her purse. Oh well. What are ya gonna do.” In an immediate circumstance, when one becomes aware of a wrong, it is certainly commendable to try to “right” the wrong. And there’s various different ways to go about trying to “right a wrong”. But the key to this and what I mentioned earlier is anxiety. Anxiety relating to “perfection”. Of course, it is perfectly natural to feel anxious if one witnesses an attack. But why do you feel anxious? You feel anxious for your own safety, anxious about the health of the one attacked, anxious about the safety of anyone else that may happen to run into the attacker, etc. Anxiety isn’t the problem, but why are we anxious, and what are we anxious about?
“Moralistically”, “good” must be done because one is unsettled by the lack of perfection or perfect good. Any philosophical axiom based on “perfection” must be rejected. We are not God. We don’t have the strength of Superman, the speed of The Flash, etc. Perfection is a destructive goal. It becomes counter-productive. The purpose of doing good is that…well, it is just good. It spreads good will throughout humanity. Compassion is natural and genuine. But the idea of “perfection” waters down “compassion”. Imagine you are a nurse. There are one-hundred seriously injured people under your care, all wailing out in immense pain. “Good perfection”, besides being the case in one definition that no one would ever suffer anything negative ever, would require you to be able to at least completely alleviate the pain of all one-hundred patients instantaneously. This simply isn’t possible. The “ultimate good” would be that no one ever experience pain. The “perfectly good” action would be helping everyone at the same time. But these are, quite obviously, impossible. Striving towards an impossible goal is pointless. Life is not about “the struggle”. “The struggle” just exists: we don’t have to manufacture it. In fact, our whole lives are spent alleviating “the struggle”. If “the struggle” is such a noble idea, why do we all spend so much time trying to relieve ourselves from it? We naturally hate our human condition. Conservatives exacerbate this problem by perverting the human condition, and telling us that we must enjoy it: that God is “testing our faith”, and that we should “be thankful for it”. That our suffering gives us credit that we later redeem to God when we die to get into Heaven. (In addition, according to these same conservatives, there’s a billion little things that will take away this “credit”. I think the fact that we all naturally hate “the human condition” says a lot about these perverted conservatives). Liberals exacerbate the problem of the human condition by striving for perfection to pursue the good. They equate compassion with perfection: if we don’t spend every hour of every day fighting poverty, rape, and racism, then we aren’t doing enough good. And, once again, “enough” is only a complete elimination of poverty, rape, and racism.
The problem, once again, is one of “perfection”, or “the perfect good”. “Perfection”, “completeness”, etc., are words that should not be part of one’s ethical vocabulary. One can never be “completely good”, or “perfect”. “Good”, “helpful” action should never be based on perfection, but should rather be accepted as they are: as “good”, and as “helpful”. One man being saved from starvation is good, even if there are countless others that are, at the same time, not being saved from starvation. We must not lose sight of “the good” simply because we can never achieve “perfection”.
Of course, it is true that, in the Christian belief, perfection is required to be saved from eternal damnation. But it is also true that, in the Christian belief, Christ died as a forgiveness of sins as this perfect requirement. That is Christianity. Christianity is “Perfection is required. Welp, here you go. With love.” That’s it. That’s the “extent” of the “perfection”. A nurse can’t alleviate the severe pain of one-hundred patients simultaneously. I suppose God could. But what if He doesn’t? What is the nurse to do? Should she sit around “believing” that she can simultaneously alleviate the pain of all at once? Or should she focus on each patient, one at a time, doing what she can with compassion?
The thing “to do” is what you want. Eat what you want, read what you want, do what you want. If you want to do evil (besides the fact that you’d do it whether or not you had my approval, or anyone else’s), people are going to want to bring you to justice. I think that is the ultimate point of all of this. Expecting everyone to be a sheriff, an executioner, etc., is impossible nonsense. It is an impossible “moral” goal. Someone will want to bring murderers to justice. Someone will want to be a nurse. The key word is “want”. People’s wants will find a way to meet people’s needs; whether people “want” to get paid, or “need” medical care, things find a way to get done. Never perfectly, nor completely, but they happen enough to be significant enough to garner well-deserved positive attention.
This diversity of values truly is a testament to how peaceful coexistence can happen at all. We’ll go back and forth, arguing over how to increase “the good” and decrease “the bad”, but a perfect, complete elimination of “the bad” will never work.
True compassion does not need an anxious duty to ignite action.
“Perfect love casts out fear.”