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August 24, 2004

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Chuck Conway

There is a deeper question here: What keeps people from doing wrong? Of course that begs the question what is wrong.

At birth we are Tabla Rosa. (As opposed to original sin) Meaning we are a blank slate. We learn right from wrong, good from evil through experience and guidance. How can we define good and evil when those terms are subjective?

There is something common to all living beings: life. Good and bad is judged by what value an action furthers life. A thief steals other peoples’ production. He is not wrong in trying to survive only in the fashion he chooses to survive: by leeching off others or someone else’s production. This is not a sustainable practice. If everyone stole nobody would live.

Going back to the Super-duper- Nice post, it’s expected they wait and pay for damage “they” cause the other person. If they didn’t they would be no better than the thief. The fact it was noteworthy only means very few would do it.

I defined above good or bad as “what value an action furthers life.” If it takes away from life, it’s deemed as bad, if it gives to survival its good. (This is a simplistic definition, if you want more details “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand)

We are born not knowing right from wrong (Tabla Rosa). We learn right from wrong through experiences. Consider this: when two people break up there is always pain. Why? Because we can not live alone, we would die and the human race would cease to exist.

What keeps people from doing something bad? The fact other people know. In the Super-Duper-Nice post there was a couple. Would either of the couple have waited for the man in the BMW if either of them was alone? They waited to look not to look bad in the others eyes.

Think of the things you would do with an invisible ring. --- Think about it for a second. If nobody knew then what would be the harm? You could listen to your girlfriends private phone calls, rob a bank and break the speed limit. Why don’t you do these things now -- because someone would find out.

Why do people thirst for “bad” news? For the shock factor, it gives them something to talk about. Why don’t people talk about good things? Who wants to talk about something someone is suppose to do. A house is not supposed to burn, so as long as it doesn’t there is nothing to talk about. Until it burns the house is doing exactly what’s expected of it.

Above I defined good or bad as to what value it brings life. I pointed out we are born a Tabla Rosa and must experience right and wrong. Pleasure being good and pain being bad (again in simplistic terms). I also stated the reason people don’t do wrong, it’s because someone else will find out. And sometimes this includes them knowing.

Jon Strande

Chuck,

Another great comment - thank you! Yeah, self-interest is a guiding force in many of the decisions people make, great point(s).

However, I'm going to disagree with the fact that we're born a blank slate, we're not. We're all born with certain characteristics and behaviors, this could include morals or ethics. Consider religion for a moment, couldn't one explanation for religion existing in every culture (in some form) be due to the fact that we are born with a "spiritual" gene? I will agree that experiences help shape who we are, but it is the combination of nature and nurture that ultimaltley determines who we are and who we become. Check out the book Liars, Lovers, and Heroes.

I'll agree that life is common to everyone but so is death, and that is very important - people want to be remembered well. That is really what it comes down to: Legacy. Perpetuation of the species.

RE: Super-Duper-Nice - You make a great point that if either of them were alone there might have been less chance that they waited for the owner of the car, but we'll never know. I'd like to think that either of them, if alone, would have.

Chuck, I don't know why we tend to talk about bad things... I wish that were not the case. I wish we only talked about good stuff.. hey, while I'm doing all this wishing, I think I'll wish for no more bad stuff to happen!!

It's funny, without going on some political rant here - I hear a lot of people talking about how bad Bush is for this country and how important it is to vote for Kerry so that we can get Bush out of office (all I'll say is that I'm unlikely to vote for Bush a second time). However, I hear very little about what is good about Kerry. Personally I don't like negativity, I hate attack ads. I don't care for the whole swift boat thing, Farenhiet 9/11, etc.

fouro

Wow, the Metaphysics of Nice. I love it.

So much fodder, but this one stuck out for me:Consider this: when two people break up there is always pain. Why? Because we can not live alone, we would die and the human race would cease to exist.Pain. Why? Alone doesn't explain it. I can always find another mate. No, the the pain comes from a failed attempt at finding a psychological complementary,a a deep seated need to be validated, mirrored.

IMHO, the pain of divorce, death or separation springs from this mental amputation, not from fear of solitude or worry over perpetuating the species.

Which brings up "quality of affiliation." Affinity for an individual, or to a group, is tied to a whole mess of psychological markers and unmet urges. That couple, Chuck, could very well have simply been compelled to do the right thing because in their group, it was the only thing to do. Theirs could have been an effort and impulse redoubled by the wish to make a statement, to themselves and to the owner of the car--that is: Goodness exsists, by and for itself. If they're lucky, their love is true and unconditional. Their act of waiting was the same: may cost us, may not, but we stay. To those people, their shared affinity or bond is affirmed by the action: They've tested it out in the lab. Their petri dish just happened to be the parking lot of a Walmart.

But it doesn't matter.

The point I got from Jon's post and the follow-on comments is revalatory, and akin to the non-burning house. The imagined negative outcome is the one that we perfect in our understanding, not because "shit happens" or because "good" is rare. We talk about bad because it can be done while revealing the bare minimum of our "selves" and our softer places and expecations. LIfe is kabuki in this way. It is why people are said to speak their minds when "in their cups." The guard is down. So, we get phrases like: "I'm so glad you spoke up, because I felt that way too." Fear. Of feeling.

Eric jensen says "America is a feeling-phobic society." He's too right, and it's much to our detriment. Jon's example of Han Solo is a great one, and specific to America, a perfect one. Solo was always on the run, one step ahead of "accountability." America also is a Hero in a hurry.

We know Solo's story. The question is, what is America running from, and to?

fouro

Errr. The above was sposed to be blockquoted:

So much fodder, but this one stuck out for me:

[BQ]
Consider this: when two people break up there is always pain. Why? Because we can not live alone, we would die and the human race would cease to exist.
[BC]

Pain. Why? Alone doesn't explain it. I can always find another mate. No, the the pain comes from a failed attempt at finding a psychological complementary, a deep seated need to be validated, mirrored.


[Is html all off, Jon?]

Jon Strande

Fouro,

Wow - great stuff, I love it.

"Fear. Of Feeling"

What a perfect way of looking at it; do I have permission to feel or act a certain way? Will I look foolish for doing or saying this? What is socially acceptable? What if more people held the door open for a stranger? What if more people let strangers into traffic? What if more people smiled and said hello to strangers? What if more people came to the aid of a stranger in trouble? Could it be a domino effect of "nice"? Hmm, I think they made a movie about this: 'Pay It Forward' - oh, well, I don't think it has to be as grand an act as giving up your turn in the emergency room, small things.. that is what it is all about. There is a great quote that I love: "Everyone is trying to accomplish something great, not realizing that life is made up of little things." And that is what it really is all about.

Let me give you an example: Once a month my boss goes out and buys donuts for the team. If you wan to partake in the donuts, you are asked contribute, you don't have to, but all the contributions go to charity, a different one each month. He probably spends about $20 on the donuts and probably raises about $50. Nothing big. Nothing about being required to contribute, but everyone does. This is something little that will never get any attention on any level, but it has been going on for many years (I understand). This is another example of the house that didn't burn down as well.

Julian

There are definitely a lot of cool ideas being stated here. An after much thought and several erased replies, I have arrived at an answer that I think may be somewhat sufficient.
Jon, I will agree people are self-serving, but I think that is a survival instinct if you will. We are self-serving in order to sustain our own happiness, which ultimately can and will lead to our survival.
Though I personally think that humans are generally good. I can give all the examples in the world to illustrate this idea. Though one thought comes to mind, that gift that someone gave you "just because". Because they were out and saw something that reminded them of you. Therefore the first thought in their mind was not that this is going to make me happy because it will make them happy. No, rather it was simply you were their first thought. Its a trivial idea that paints a somewhat clearer picture of how we are truely good. Though keep in mind that these concepts of good an evil/bad are still man's attempts to explain his actions. I think that this idea of "just because" also demonstrates that we do not need to be placed in an engaging position for the good inside of us to be demonstrated. This idea also sort of jumps on the band wagon of Jon's last post.
I am a strong supporter of reason and logic, but I will admit that it is very hard to only be able to reason and logic life, without feelings/emotions. To be human in my definition is to include these ideas of feelings an emotions. Fear of feeling, fouro is definitely right with the idea of validation. Its much more comfortable to know someone else has similar feelings. Perhaps this is why most do not rise to a greater status, because they need validation. Though there are those who become brave and will wear there hearts on their sleeve so to speak, whether it means the beginning or the end for themselves.
Though interestingly enough these ideas maybe more American than universal. I have started reading Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America which was written many many years ago. He seem to find these ideas of "feeling" are more prone to the America's than to Europe. Though I have only started reading this book so it may change or be explained at a greater depth.
I would also like to bring up Socrate's Law of Opposites. If there is negative news or media attention, it somehow came or manifested itself from something positive. We often get caught up in the negative attention that we forget that somewhere along the chain of events something positive occured. It just simply needs to be found.
I have so much more to say on these very topics yet I have found myself stumbling over my words and going in circles for the proper response. I hope this is an adequate response, though I am sure it needs more depth. So much more to say...

fouro

"Everyone is trying to accomplish something great, not realizing that life is made up of little things."

Perfect!

Excellent thread, Jon. Good brain food!

Julian, you might like this interesting New Yorker essay on Tocqueville and his meaning today, somewhat relative to the meaning/materialism conundrum of Uncle Sam:
http://www.newyorker.com/PRINTABLE/?THE_CRITICS/BOOKS/011015crbo_books

fouro

"Everyone is trying to accomplish something great, not realizing that life is made up of little things."

Perfect!

Excellent thread, Jon. Good brain food!

Julian, you might like this interesting New Yorker essay on Tocqueville and his meaning today, somewhat relative to the meaning/materialism conundrum of Uncle Sam:
http://www.newyorker.com/PRINTABLE/?THE_CRITICS/BOOKS/011015crbo_books

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