The Primary Human Problem

Note: This is why I published the Zuihitsu post yesterday. Trying to pack these ideas into a coherent essay is something I’m going to have to work on before it takes on a useful shape.

At the center of human problems are two facts:

  1. Most people are good.
  2. Most people are also self-centered, lazy and stubborn.

It’s difficult to think. It’s difficult to do the right thing, when it isn’t obvious. It’s difficult to be anything, when there is nothing to strive for.

What the world lacks in meaning, it makes up for in alienation. What cannot be understood is cursed with incomprehension. The incomprehsible is invisibile, nonexistent. Our thoughts are abbreviated versions of the totality of our being.

But, our thoughts both rarely change and are constantly changing. Cycling through the well-worn pathways, but the routes are static, nuchanging. Societies break these chains, evolve only as a function of generational replacement. New ideas gain currency as they are embraced by new generations creating new pathways. But, the new isn’t necessarily worse than the old. It’s just that no one is worse than the people we were yesterday, or the generation before.

No one wants advice. They want corraboration. Advice is useless. The wise won’t need it, and fools won’t heed it. And, even for the wise, when under stress, everyone will regress. Easier to judge, since changing patterns of thinking is difficult, and in the wrong light anyone can look like a villian. And, in the wrong environment, anyone can be the villian.

Look at the miscalculation. Mistakes are often as revealing as the answers. They reveal the limits and heirarchies of our social environment and of our vision, of what was and what could of been. But, who’s to blame?

If you are looking for absolution, you are going to have to forgive yourself. No one can do it for you. Sometimes, it’s impossible. There are some arenas so corrupt that the only good act is to burn them to the ground. Some problems require surgery. People are gods of ruins and disfigurement.

Find nourishment where you can. Tell the truth, without shame, with heart. Focus on nourishment over poison. Live on the precipice. You can still love something and see its flaws. You cannot dichotomize things that are deeply connected, and often, the flawed part is what makes love possible. It provides the vulnerability that leads to intimacy.

We are all here for our own reasons. What’s important is that we came.

Conquering Evil

“Evil can not be conquered within this world. It can only be resisted in oneself.”

Kung Fu (television series), Master Po

The world is full of people that look at the world they live in and see evil all around them. It’s easy to point to outliers, such as Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a., the Unabomber, to illustrate the point. But, looking at individuals is a good way to only look at trees and miss the forest.

The fundamental problem is that every human being has evil tendencies, and they live with other human beings that use those tendencies to increase the group’s chances of survival in a world with limited resources. Hunter-gatherer groups protect sources of water for their groups exclusive use from other hunter-gathers. With the advent of agriculture, surpluses allowed a larger population, which could then take control over the sources of water in their area from hunter-gatherers. Larger societies took from smaller ones, and killed and consolidated with outside groups. Human history is simply a chronicle of the rise and fall of these groups, whether it be tribe, city or modern nation.

How then can these tendencies be eradicated? How can evil be fought?

The first step is to transcend the notion that our group is somehow special, whether this idea is talked about as “The Chosen People”, the “twice-born” of Hinduism, the “Elect”, or any of the other many permutations of this idea of a special group that is above others. This kind of thinking allows for a double standard of morality, where the in-group is treated one way and the out-group is treated in another.

The second step is to realize that all human beings are the same, with capacities for both good and evil. Evil is the product of desires to get the things we want or need. We need to turn and face this tendency in ourselves and make a choice. That’s the only evil we have any hope of eradicating, and realistically, most people can only hope to reign in their evil tendencies, particularly in a cultural environment that promotes them.

Varieties of Good

Ethics is talked about having three flavors: consequentialism, deontological and virtue ethics. One way of thinking about it is that consequentialism is relative value. Deontological ethics is value according to an objective standard. Virtue ethics is inherent value.