It takes a long time to realize something sometimes. It has taken me many years of study to reach the following conclusion. The thought that occurred to me has a simplicity about it which suggests it may well be true. Real truths usually are simple - they are made complicated by people who are in love with analysis and deconstruction. My thought is not original because there is very, very rarely such a phenomenon but it is now part of me as it is part of other thinkers as well.
The concepts of good and evil have played a massive part in the lives of most human beings since the idea was first proposed thousands of years ago.
My thought was that these concepts are purely man-made which emerged out of a desire to control people by rewards and punishments. Both require archetypes hence the emergence of a good god and an evil devil, but, in reality, neither exist. The first recorded definitions of good and evil were the Ten Commandments as laid down by Moses, though earlier civilizations had their own laws long before this most famous set was written down. From this dictat came all the laws ever made in all subsequent western empires in particular, and which have laid the foundations for every conquering civilization ever since. The result is a world constantly in a state of chaos and confusion because the codes they are obliged to live by are based on a lie.
So what do I see now? I see a much more logical and rational concept, namely altruism and self-interest instead of good and evil. Neither of these two qualities require an archetype because both are an absolute necessity for survival and basic to evolution at every one of its stages. Without a degree of altruism, the human race would perish very quickly, and without a degree of self-interest, exactly the same result would occur. You could say that examples of ‘good’ people carried altruism to an extreme, and vice versa for ‘evil’ people carrying self-interest to an extreme, but the motivation for each quality is very different. ‘Good’ people seek to emulate a perfect archetype which does not exist because manufactured by humankind over the centuries, and the same applies to ‘evil’ people, but less so, because ‘evil’ people are classified as such only by the ‘good’ who are, in turn, basing their judgement on a lie. It is far more likely that ‘good’ people based their judgements of good and evil on what they believed their god had revealed to them about such matters. ‘Evil’ people, on the other hand, would be far less likely to base their judgements on what they believed the devil had revealed to them about such matters. Such people would be very few and far between in any population. Far more likely is that such people pursued their own needs without regard for their effect on their fellow human beings and became classed as ‘evil’ by the ‘good’. In reality, they pursued self-interest to an extreme end which damaged those around them because not tempered by an appropriate level of altruism.
Altruism will always balance self-interest if a human being is taught the value of both aspects of human existence from an early age. To accent the former above and beyond the latter is just as dangerous as the earlier ideas of good versus evil. All human beings must, to a greater or lesser extent, protect their own survival which will require a healthy amount of self-interest. But, running alongside this self-interest will be altruism which will enable each human being to recognize when it is better to lay aside personal needs in favour of another’s. The right balance between the two should create mentally and physically much healthier people than do the still current concepts of good and evil.
The most dangerous trend at the moment in human history is the movement to re-instate ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as the basis for all judgements made on fellow human being’s actions. ‘Axis of Evil’ - ‘god fearing men and women’ - ‘God bless us’ etc. etc. etc. are just a few examples of much used phrases usually voiced by those who see themselves as ‘good’ going up against those perceived as ‘evil’. The incongruous fact that the majority of individuals designated ‘evil’ by those who consider themselves to be ‘good’ in today’s world were, not so long ago, considered ‘good’ as well, because allies in the past against another set of human beings classified as ‘evil’ by the then two allies. The fickleness of these distinctions is what makes me certain that the basis for judging is profoundly flawed and based on a non-existent reality.
All major religions in today’s world are undergoing a backward step towards fundamentalism amongst many of their followers. This entails a re-enforcing of ancient concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as interpreted by successive spiritual leaders who refuse to accept any watering down of ‘scriptural truths’. The end result is tunnel vision and an incapacity to see that human evolution and survival depends on its ability to adapt and change as history unfolds and times change. This can only lead to greater and greater conflict, not only with the world at large but between the various religions as well. The whole basis of these beliefs are strengthened by reward and punishment - the good find god, the evil find the devil - the good are rewarded with heaven, the evil with hell. The promise of immortality in the afterlife goes hand in hand with these respective rewards and punishments thus rendering the believer terrified that failure to be ‘good’ will earn them eternal punishment in hell. The fact that the ‘afterlife’ is based on a completely man-made concept escapes these believers and has little or no basis in reality. Faith in the teachings is the demand made on all believers and those who fail to maintain their faith are castigated and cast out.
There was an effort to create a system of living based on altruism in the last century. It was Communism. Unfortunately, many countries, which adopted it, fell into a trap which proved to be fatal. The leaders tried to drive out self-interest and make altruism the be all and end all. It was doomed to failure because of this. It is not surprising as its founder, Carl Marx, belonged to the very people who created the Ten Commandments, and it was extremely unlikely that he would have been able to entirely eradicate its influence on his thoughts. The raising up of altruism as the guiding light of the entire movement entailed the suppression of all forms of self-interest. This led to tyranny and the oppression of millions of human beings, but, the basic premises of Marx’s beliefs were not entirely wrong.
There was a great need to move away from the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and to replace them with more rational and logical qualities. The great mistake was to underestimate the value of self-interest as a survival mechanism and to force individuals to accept altruism. Forced acceptance of any quality cannot be right. Human beings must see that a particular pattern of behaviour is in their best interests before they can accept it. It is their very self-interest that will enable them eventually to see the reality behind the concept. Drive self-interest away and what are they left with? A grudging acceptance of an imposed pattern of behaviour which will be abandoned as soon as the individuals enforcing the behaviour are removed from power. Self-interest will have a field day then instead of being balanced by the very quality the enforcers were trying to impose namely altruism.
China, unlike Russia, has realized that healthy self-interest is not the enemy but only after years of extreme repression of any sign of it. Today it encourages both altruism and self-interest and is well on the way to becoming a very successful economy. Russia, on the other hand, is still caught in the grip of self-interest with few signs that altruism is managing to loosen its hold. It is an extremely hard balancing act for any people to achieve and only time will tell whether those who have embraced communism in the past will find that happy medium and create a healthy society where all individuals can thrive and prosper. Cuba is probably the most successful country in the world at achieving a balance far earlier than the huge communist states but it remains to be seen whether the death of Fidel Castro will change that - personally I hope not. Mistakes were made in the early days but it does seem to have acquired something unique in the world; a people who have remained loyal to one leader who clearly has their trust and respect and who has mellowed over the years alongside his people. The people are certainly not wealthy materially but appear to have an attitude to life and each other which reveals pride in their achievements and freedom to be themselves regardless of how much their vast and immensely wealthy neighbour objects to their existence.
The last point I need to make is to warn of the danger of misinterpreting such a concept that I have proposed. Neitsche wrote ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ where he tried to show how humankind must move beyond these two concepts to more mature concepts. He proposed that Humankind must be a god unto itself and to leave behind the ancient gods. To become a super Man. His was a genuine effort to express a new concept but, unfortunately, it was perverted and corrupted by Nazism into a grotesque parody of what he was proposing. To be a god unto oneself means that you and you alone are responsible for your own actions and their consequences. This entails a huge amount of responsibility placed on shoulders of individuals not used to thinking profoundly for themselves. The Nazi propaganda machine took over the role of religious leaders in order to remould their people into the first members of a new world order. It was the absolute antithesis of what Neitsche was advocating. Setting an individual up as a supreme leader is always a mistake but to provide him with a machine to manipulate the minds and hearts of a whole people is nothing short of madness. Instead of using altruism as a motivation for helping fellow human beings, the Nazis appealed to the most savage aspects of the human mind namely territoriality, ritual, aggression and social hierarchy. Self-interest, in this case, was promoted as the supreme good with altruism demoted to blind obedience to the point of annihilation of responsibility for one’s own actions. It is not necessary to say here what the result was of that particular experiment other than to say that humankind still has not recovered from it.
To sum up now: all human beings have to adapt and change in order to survive. This is the law of evolution which governs our world. When a concept becomes a danger to the survival of humankind it has to be looked at very closely. The concept of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ has become a threat to the existence of all human beings on this earth because there are individuals prepared to defend its survival with nuclear war if necessary. No sane human being would consider this a rational response to a perceived threat, but, unfortunately, sanity is in short supply in some areas of the world. Lies produce insanity in the guise of ‘honorable’ men and women prepared to defend their way of life no matter what the cost to the rest of humanity. Unless we grow out of our infantile approach to these all-important issues, we might well see the end of our current world in a nuclear holocaust. There are individuals today influencing those in power with their fingers on the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons to bring about Armageddon. The utter insanity of this leaves most sane people reeling with disbelief, but fundamentalists of all the major religions believe in a cataclysmic end to human kind and then a renewal from the ashes of the old world. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy if sane individuals do not stand up and raise their voices in protest.
So far we have seen biblical and scriptural prophecies of doom as little more than warnings of what might be rather than what will be, but, today, sadly we are beginning to see a movement towards fulfilling the most horrifying one: that of the destruction of humankind in the totally erroneous belief that a god will come down and make everything new. To grow beyond ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is not demonic as some individuals might see it. It is a sign of the human race maturing and leaving behind its childhood. Altruism and self-interest are kindred spirits which could lead us to a much more balanced and prosperous future. The only thing I am absolutely certain about is that clinging to the concept of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ will lead us only to disaster and bloodshed on a scale never conceived of before. Taking care of each while taking care of ourselves at one and the same time seems a much better way to live than the ways of the past. I hope it is because it is what I believe in now with all my being.