JUST WHAT ARE GOOD AND EVIL? Radical Bleeding Heart image


Conservatives like to say that they believe in absolute morality and scorn relativistic ethics. What do they mean?

When people make general, abstract statements like that, it is always a good idea to demand specifics.

In this case, if you dig deeper, if you go to the roots, you will find that the demand for moral absolutes is either a reflection of moral cowardice or a peculiar view of the nature of the world (or both). Moral courage is a complex issue which we look at elsewhere (and is by no means a monopoly of liberals — moral cowardice afflicts us all).

The absolutists see the universe in moralistic terms. They think the world is made up of Good People who work for the Forces of Good and Bad People who work for the Forces of Evil and that God runs the one shop and Satan the other. Or something very much like that. Manichaeism, in other words. And if you dig even deeper it turns out that the Good People are actually People-Like-Me and the Bad People are People-Different-From-Me.

There are all sorts of differences between people all over the world. And all over the world some of these different people are convinced that people who look/speak/act/worship/etc. differently are, by virtue of the difference and to the degree of that difference, bad people.

As long as these different people ignore each other, the situation is unhealthy but not serious. But when they come into contact, they start to abuse one another. Then a vicious spiral begins. When groups of people abuse each other each gang gives the other justification for more abuse. Pretty soon they are enthusiastically slaughtering one another. Each points to the atrocities of the other as incontrovertible evidence that their enemies are agents of Satan.

On that last point at least, they are both right. At least that is how a do-gooder sees it. To a do-gooder, evil is as evil does. That point of view is sometimes called Pragmatic. When you see people slaughtering each other in the name of God and all that is holy, listen carefully: you may hear Satan roaring with laughter, his forked tail quivering with delight, his red eyes dancing with joy and merriment, so jubilant he is that these pious and self-righteous people are so vigorously doing his work while the most delectable irony of all! — blaming the carnage all on God.

[Next: The Universal Taint of Manichean Ethics]