Thursday, March 28, 2013

Good vs. Evil: Reality or Fiction?

Good vs Evil by Sugargrl14

By JccKeith

“No man considers himself a criminal; no man can conceive of himself as a doer of evil; the mind is generally incapable of such realities and would rather condemn the society or the powers-that-be as persecutors and too dull-witted to understand the essential good of the acts.  And when you find a man incapable of understanding the depth of depravity of his own acts, then how can you, in all good conscience, kill him?  He then becomes an object of pity, a figure in need of help.”
-Controversy: Sharpest Sword of the Paperback Novelist by Harlan Ellison

I was scanning through the book Legends of Literature when I found this article by Ellison.  It struck a chord in me enough to turn to my husband and repeat the above paragraph.  The actual paragraph sounded vaguely familiar, if not in word for word citing then at least in subject matter.

I asked my husband what he thought about the paragraph.  Personally, I felt it was bunk.  I mean, in all reality, I feel most human beings have an inherent sense of right and wrong.  Granted there are sociopaths who lack such innate sense but I don’t believe such people are who the paragraph refers to at all.  I think the paragraph is slightly more general on the subject of right and wrong as a whole.

My husband agreed with me, for the most part.  He said he didn’t believe that people could act in an evil way and not realize what they were doing was evil.  If he did something wrong he knew it was wrong and had simply chosen to do it anyway.  

His statements on the matter brought immediate agreement at first.  I did at first feel that people; all people (except sociopaths) had this inner feeling of whether what they were doing was right or wrong.  When people committed mass murder, for example, they knew it was wrong.  When people stole from someone, they knew it was wrong.  When people practiced random acts of kindness they knew it was right.  Telling the truth is right.  Lying is wrong.

Now for any of you out there who suddenly tensed up at those last two lines, you will understand my next
point.  Telling the truth and lying are not always clear cut cases of right and wrong.  It completely depends on your position in reference to the truth.  If you are asked by a very unfortunate looking person who is overly sensitive if they look alright – and the truth according to you is no they do not because they are wearing neon orange and blue striped clothing with yellow sequins and flashing red Christmas lights sewn into the sides of their pants – is the right thing to do to tell the truth according to you or to lie to spare this person’s feelings?

After all, truth can be subjective.  You may not like this person’s attire but someone else; say, a Vegas producer or fashion magazine editor may think it is spectacular.  So you are not really lying if you say “Yes, you look fine,” because they didn’t ask you what you specifically thought – that was only implied.  They merely asked if they looked alright.  So a partial truth is only a partial lie.  No you don’t think they look alright but someone else might so saying “Yes” is the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, if you go by everything is black and white rules, then any direct lie, partial or not, is wrong.  Not telling the truth and nothing but the truth is wrong.  After all, in a court of law, it would be wrong to tell a partial truth or partial lie.  So by law, all lying is wrong and against the law as it is perjury if you agreed to tell the truth.

Circling back around to the original discussion, what or who determines what is right and what is wrong?  I had initially agreed with my husband that individuals simply know right from wrong but on review this seems a tad silly.  If my individual opinion of right and wrong were to be thrust upon everyone then a lot of people would be wrong.  I think it’s wrong to wear high heels with shorty shorts.  It is tacky, looks trampy.  I think it is wrong not to share your meal with your dog when they are sitting next to you.  Even a small morsel makes the dog happy.  I think it is wrong not to give to others when I have more than I need.

So not everyone agrees with my estimation of right and wrong.  Are my examples somewhat tedious?  Well, yes.  Let me offer a more important one or two.  I think it is wrong to not get involved when witnessing someone being hurt.  I would never walk on by a mugging and not call 911.  I wouldn’t walk on by without getting involved if I saw someone abusing a child or an animal.

The whole idea in pointing this out is that how can one tell if someone knowingly commits a wrong action?  How can one judge another’s intentions or reasons?  I can judge and I do but I have no more right to do so than anyone else.  The fact of the matter is, there are any number of ways to interpret someone’s actions and they all depend on reference point.  They all depend on where you stand in relation to the incident.  They depend on your personal views.

The attempt to deny that right and wrong are based on personal views is useless.  They are.  Your views on right and wrong are completely and inextricably linked to your personal history and experiences.  You see the world through the glasses you were given.  They may be rose colored, they may be gray, they may be sun shiny bright but they are all jaded in small ways.

So why do I bring all of this up?  I bring it up because, well weren’t you paying attention at the beginning when I said I was reading Legends of Literature?  I read that selection and paused for greater study on the matter.  As a writer, I considered suddenly that all of my characters may have flaws I did not consider.

My characters all share my deep down sense of right and wrong.  They may be good or bad people but whether they are good or bad is based on my view of good and bad.  Their actions according to being good or bad are consistent and do fall into either one or the other but how the reader judges whether that is good or bad is personal.  I see good in a way that my reader may see as bad.  So all of this character‘s traits may be bad according to a certain reader.

As a person I have to think along the same lines.  All of the people I have judged my entire life as bad may be good if I viewed things differently.  The opposite could also be true, good people could be bad.  I could for example, to give an extreme somewhat silly example, see Mr. Rogers as a deceitful old brainwasher.  He had designs to influence millions of children and teach them his ways of thinking.  He lulled them into believing everything he said with his mellow ways.  And we all know that any brainwashing is bad.  I could see the devil, if we go by what is told in the Bible, for a really far out example, as a guy merely trying to expand the minds of Adam and Eve.  The guy was just trying to enlighten them on the ways of the world.  He is just trying to help people have a good time.

The ultimate point to this post is good vs. evil may be entirely in the human mind.  It may simply be a concept we make up in our minds to make us feel better and more in control of the world around us.  It may help us label things to make them easier to deal with in a chaotic universe.


  1. In the interest of explanation of the quote, it refers to a Gillespie who was hired to kill Hoffa but once he gets close to Hoffa he feels the man lacks understanding that his actions are evil. He then has a moral dilemma on whether or not to kill Hoffa.

  2. This is an extraordinary dissertation. I agree that good and wrong are not so clear as they are also conditioned to the point of view of a person or society and what they consider good or wrong. As there was a time when it was right to burn people in the stake for considering them sorcery practitioners (and blasphemy was to say the earth was round and it moved around the sun). Concepts as true or lie might not be so clear either as they depend on people's knowledge. In any case, this is an exciting theme of study.

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