JUST WHAT ARE GOOD AND EVIL? Radical Bleeding Heart image


But are do-gooders really that pragmatic? Not really, I'm afraid. Like everyone else, we mostly just follow our instincts. We don't generally go to our own roots. Our instincts are to reach out to others, to see the best in others, and we see the world through the lens of our instincts. In that respect do-gooders and do-badders are alike. We both let our instincts shape the way we see the world, but different instincts produce different worlds.

At one extreme, we want to be friends with everyone and believe everyone is basically good. We think that people will be nice to us if we are just nice to them. Do-badders laugh contemptuously at such naïveté. Going to the roots means thinking carefully about whether or not they are right.

Yet very few, if any, do-gooders live consistently at that extreme. We are all susceptible in some degree to the do-badder world-view. Most of us have been guilty of hatred, anger, or cruelty. So do-badder instincts are not absent even in most do-gooders. Those instincts have shaped our view of the world in ways so ingrained that we take them for granted. We are hardly aware that there might be anything wrong with them. In one sense the do-badder view is genuinely conservative: it is part of our received wisdom, an ancient inheritance. One challenges it at one's peril.

If you think about it, the notion the “everyone is basically good” is a Manichean idea. That is, it assumes that “goodness” is some kind of inherent quality in persons and things. Or perhaps it just accepts half of the Manichean view, banishing evil from the world, but accepting the good. That would open us to the charge of moral cowardice, of being afraid to confront the fact of evil in the world. Because if we are to face the world honestly, we must concede that some people can do perfectly horrible things to other people.

And so do we. In the name of National Security, of Law and Order, and of Justice, we kill people, and we destroy people's lives. We do all manner of terrible things to them. We: the liberals, the progressives . . . the do-gooders. Why? Are we hypocrites (as the do-badders would sneeringly assert)?

We need to examine our own beliefs, and look hard at the nature of good and evil in the world.

[Next: Let Us Look at Relative Ethics]