My goal was to publish a new blog post at least once a week. I missed last week, and here I sit on Monday night with nothing written yet for this week, light on topics, and short on time. And so, I’ve decided that in such a circumstance, rather than tell you about my thoughts on the Skeleton Twins (it’s great btw), I figured I’d tackle the nature of mankind. Specifically the question of whether human beings are inherently good or evil.
I know, I know, everyone from Plato to Carrot Top has weighed in on this one, but I haven’t and really how can I leave this world one day without having shared with the eternal webosphere my thoughts on this subject.
Is man (of course meaning men, women, children, LBGT, etc, etc.) inherently good or evil. Religion tends to adopt one of three doctrines depending on the sect, that of total depravity, limited depravity, or restored doctrine of atonement. Think about that for a second. Your spiritual leaders think you are either completely and totally depraved, just kinda-sorta depraved but definitely depraved, or are born good will become depraved but will find redemption from your depravity. “You were created in God’s image, you depraved little monkey!”
Shame on us all. Of course, that is the business of our religious leaders, isn’t it? Shame us, then show us how to overcome the shame through prayer, penance, and Bingo every Tuesday night? Anyhoo… I digress.
Philosophers have philosophized about this very question since time began. I could tell you all about Plato’s take on Ethics (I studied that for a semester in an attempt to avoid math. Instead I learned that Philosophy is simply a mathematical way of thinking about non-numeric ideas. Should’ve taken Algebra II), but I won’t. You’ll have to look it up for yourself. (No cheating)
Instead, I’m going to give you my take on the whole shebang right here. Is man inherently good? No. Is man inherently evil? No. We’re all capable of both good and evil. What man is, is inherently selfish. We are all selfish, and by necessity. It’s survival. It is us at our most basic level. Strip away all else and what have you got??? Selfish. Survival. Me making it to see another day. Goes right back to primitive man and it is ingrained in our DNA.
It is a person’s ability to control that selfishness that dictates whether the bulk of his deeds are good or evil.
Mother Theresa was selfish. Adolf Hitler was selfish. Mother Theresa was able to control the natural instinct to be selfish and, through selflessness, the bulk of her deeds were good. She is in line for Sainthood, to go down in the annals of history as one of the most giving and caring people there ever was. Adolf Hitler on the other hand, had very little control over his selfishness. As a direct result, his actions were vile and millions of people lost their lives. He was evil personified. He became one of the most reviled and despised people to ever walk the face of the Earth.
Is that because one was born evil and one good? No. They were both born with the capacity for both, not either-or, but both, and like most of us, I’m sure they, to some degree, each engaged in both. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is perfectly good, and nobody is perfectly evil. Did Mother Theresa ever lose her temper or become annoyed? The mere fact that she is human would suggest that of course she did. Did Hitler ever respond to a sneeze with a considerate gesundheit? Probably.
What made all the difference in the world between these two extreme examples was the desire and ability to control naturally inherent selfishness.
Of course, these are extreme examples. None of us are Mother Theresa, yet none of us are Hitler, though there’s seems to be no shortage of people looking to unseat him as the most evil of modern times. For most of us, we do both a little good and a little bad everyday, often without knowing it since we’re so wrapped up in our own objectives to notice the effect we have outside ourselves. Looking back on one’s life, you can see monumental moments when you know you did something, if not quiet evil, at least certainly wrong. And you can see monumental moments when you know you done good kid.
You see, we want to be able to say, “Deep down, I’m a good person, I just made a mistake.” And we like to look at the mongrels of the human race, the two-legged rats and say “They’re simply born evil.” Neither is true. We were all born selfish and we can’t just do away with selfishness completely. We need to keep a little of it to survive, but not so much that we’re blind to any moral obligation to our fellow man.
Suppress the selfishness. Look outward as well as inward. Keep your moral compass pointed to true north which is kindness and caring for others. It goes back to one religious tenant, the golden rule. “treat others as you’d like to be treated”. In other words, you’re friggin’ selfish. To be good, realize other people matter too, and feed their selfishness as you’d feed your own and in the end, you’ll come out pretty much even on the good-evil scale. Guess religion knew this, they just let something obscure this beautiful Ethic of Reciprocity with all that depravity talk. Wonder what that something was. Oh well, I can’t answer every question tonight.
With that said, I believe it is time for me to put all of this nonsense about mankind away and do something good – for me.
And whether or not we care to admit it, a lot of the things we do that appear to be selfless are really self-serving in some way – if just to appease our guilt or sense of obligation.
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Absolutely. People will even say, “It makes me feel good to help others.” If that’s true, it’s not truly selfless. Very few of us do anything without the expectations of getting something in return even if that something is as simple as the easing of guilt or that feeling of being a good or helpful person.