There is no such thing as a wholly good person and, I do not believe, there is such a thing as a wholly evil person.
Of course these are such subjective, existential and ontological categories that I must admit I cannot be certain I am correct in my own assertions but I make them nonetheless if only to stir thought.
What is good? Often good is defined at its most base level as that which contributes to the ongoing life and well-being of the individual and, by extention the community.
Personally good is that which does not injure, restrain or otherwise contrain my life.
Does this include freedom and free will. Is unconstrained free will good for me? Well perhaps you might think so but that might lead me to my unconstrained consumption of candy and chips and dip and cola etc. In this sense my unconstrained freedom is not, ultimately, good for me. So then can one call it truly a good thing?
To rescue ourselves from such dilemmas we appealed to outside arbiters and definitions of good and evil. God or the Gods depending upon who you are.
We were told that which was good – “do unto others as you would have others do unto you” and evil – “thou shalt not murder”.
Of course the problem with this method is that, religious or not, people were imposing their own interpretations on these rules. In fact, even if you believe in the divine the content of these moral codes passed through the flawed human filter into flawed human language to be read and (mis)understood by flawed human beings and then, after all of this, implemented in flawed human systems.
In some ways we find evil easier to understand. Evil hurts. Evil diminishes and destroys.
Still, we find ways of compartmentalizing these things. What is good for you is not necessarily good for me. It may be evil to kill but I think it is still more evil to be killed and therefore my evil is less evil than yours and thus my evil becomes good.
What is evil? A man takes another human being and makes them his slave.
“But I am bringing them the light of civilization?”
A country finds and possesses a land filled with millions of already indigenous peooples without regard for their claim.
“But this is the way of conquest and they lost. They had no writs of ownership, no system of parceling the land and owning it – therefore it was ours for the taking.”
Good and Evil have always been subjective – Subject to beliefs; Subject to cultures; Subject to appetites and whims.
If we follow the biological imperative to live and continued existence of the species than good is that which continues these things but not just for you or me or our unique cults and countries…it is good for all or none.
Further to this and by extention we can converse about rights and who has them. If it is good for a species to exist it is good for all species to exist and if this is the case, our rights are equal, for once our rights exist as a result of our power to enforce them they are no longer rights – they are bounty, stolen at another’s expense.
I have a right to exist because I exist. With this then I have a right to all that extends from this. You do as well as does all within the living order.
What about when these rights conflict? Does a mosquito have a right to exist and inflict malaria upon me or an entire nation? Do I have the right to eradicate a species whose very survival techniques could eradicate me? This is the classic might vs. right discussion and suddenly we’re back to the relativity of good vs. evil.
In the instance of conflicting rights does not the species with the greater faculty for reasoning, and the most abundance of resources, bear the responsibility of resolving the conflict in favour of both species survival? To apply that wonderfully evolved wit to the problem at hand and not simply gas species into non-existance?
I believe they do.
Leaving aside how we might measure the varying capacities for reasoning between mosquitos and humans we assume it is our role to “make it work” on behalf of both parties and apply ourselves with vigour.
But what if we are equally resourced in both intellect and resources but at odds regarding one-another’s survival? How then are we to proceed?
The immediate gut reaction is that war is inevitable in such circumstances, either cold or hot.
I would suggest that arriving at this point in the first place is an expression of our failure to be. Failure to be in harmony with one-another.
The pragmatist points out at this stage that it is all good and well to philosophise on these matters but in reality there is conflict. There are victors and vanquished. Move along. Try words and than, when they fail, warfare. Back to the might equals right solution.
In the end conflict, warfare…evil if you will…may have to occur but when they do the are surely a sign that we are no further along than hyenas and lions (and perhaps less so given our ability to ponder existence in the first place).
We dream of good and evil but still act out of animal self-interest which always leads to destruction.
Good and evil are shadows at play on the wall of our cave. They represent a truth beyond our reach but perhaps achievable with effort and luck one day.