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POSTED
2021-04-15
07-081940
08-47148
09-081966
10-31

Why are we so attracted to the idea of "good versus evil"? How is it helpful, and where do we need to be more careful?

This page is a stub, created on 2021-04-15 (last updated on 2022-04-02). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.


Oof--there are a bunch of thoughts I have on this that are super scattered and which I really need to straighten out.

  • the importance of moral judgment
  • moral versus non-moral judgment
  • judgment versus condemnation
  • when it's appropriate
    • judging things and ideas ("that is good or bad") versus judging people ("he/she/you is/are good or bad") versus judging behavior/results
      • moral agency and mental disorders
      • cognitive utility and practicality of judging people
      • (subconscious) motives versus (conscious) intentions versus behaviors
      • when you need to know more about person's context/reasoning/motives before judging them as a person, versus judging the behavior/results
      • Can you say with love and compassion in your heart
        • "I know you were doing your best, but that's not good enough, and I can't have that you my life."
        • "You are a bad/evil person, and I can't have you in my life."
    • judging in your own mind versus pronouncing judgment
  • good versus bad, to make any sense at all, as having to be by some standard (ie, causally related to achievement of some goal, whether long-term/fundamental, like happiness, or more immediate/superficial, like rowing a boat)
    • "is good/bad" versus "is good/bad for..."
    • potential reframing: good versus bad → useful/helpful versus unhelpful
    • contrast to a religious (especially Christian) approach to good and evil
  • in Objectivism, fundamental "moral" evil is evasion
    • evasion as a result of emotional difficulty and turmoil; insufficient skill in emotional regulation
    • errors of knowledge / mistakes
  • concern that I've defined evil out of existence and reduced everything to the moral equivalent of an error of knowledge
  • connection to biological egoism
  • the ways in which the media (TV, movies, fiction books, our cultures' mythologies) create cognitively attractive melodramas of good versus evil, since they appeal to the (legitimate) human need for understanding and certainty, and how those melodramas (where the bad guys often even think they're the bad guys!) condition us to believe that real life and real people are like that, too, which completely flies in the face of the idea that people are generally doing the best that they can, that they are trying to pursue values (though perhaps in misguided and ineffective ways), and is inconsistent with the principle of assuming positive intent
    • how this plays out on the international stage (notice that we call it a "stage", like it really is a melodramatic play!), what passes for "diplomacy" and how readily we conclude it doesn't work because we're dealing with "evil" people "who want to destroy us"
    • how my views on the Middle East and the difficulties therein have evolved
    • how and when motives become irrelevant in self-defense, ranging from personal to international scales/scopes, as well as in a legal context
    • connection to Benevolent Universe Premise
  • connection to our culture's addiction to the drama du jour and to fear
  • connection to avoidance of introspection and growth by focusing outward
  • proper role of activism
  • how judgment of other people (and their motives) affects our own experience of events (and even objectively harmful behavior)
  • what "good versus evil" does to our inclination to use retaliatory force: even when it might be justified (from the perspective of individual rights), it may lead us to resort to force instead of a more effective, safe, and mutually beneficial resolution

Some parallels:

"you are bad" "you did a bad thing"
fixed mindset growth mindset
willful evasion error of knowledge
anger/hate love/compassion