All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ~ Edmund Burke
Intuitively I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with the popular quote above. In fact, the deeper I’ve ventured into exploring myself the more I’ve come to dislike the concepts of “good” and “bad”.
In my life I have come across countless thieves, a few psychopaths and rapists, and a murderer, but in my conversations with them I concluded that none of these people had ever actually set themselves out to do “evil” for the sake of evil. Instead, they were all acting out of what they felt and could justify as goodness, whether that was as self-preservation, pleasure, or something else.
Morality As A Collective Guideline
Little evil would be done in the world if evil never could be done in the name of good. ~ Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Morality is a collective attempt to create a ‘system’ or structure of what is “good” and what is “bad” – it’s a way we can rationalize arguing with life itself. Morality makes it easier for us to look at reality and say, “this shouldn’t be!” and believe that we are right.
However, the truth is that there is no general morality, but rather, morality is relative from culture to culture.
For example, what is moral in an Italian restaurant is immoral in a vegan one. What is moral in Australia is immoral in some Arabic countries. Not only that, but what we call “bad” now can also become “good” at any point in time. For example, killing other people is normally immoral. But when wartime begins, we suddenly rationalize that killing is not only OK, but the more “enemies” you kill, the more respectable you become.
Morality serves to justify whatever we collectively consider an ideal: in this case self-preservation and protection of our “ideals”. What we fail to realize is that on the other side of war, the enemies also consider themselves to be the ‘good’ guys protecting their ideals, beliefs and ways of life.
Most of the people around us will agree with us on what’s moral and what is not, but the people around us can change as easily as a trip to the “ghetto” area’s of our city. In that case, good and bad is simply what is popular at the time.
You may be wondering “Surely there are some acts that are unquestionably immoral? Crimes against children perhaps?” Our emotions and personal values are always the determiners of our moral assessments, and these two factors are entirely different from person to person. In fact, within the same person ideas of morality can change throughout our lives. For instance, what I thought of as “bad” many years ago now I consider to be “good”. So although there are some acts that are unquestionably immoral for the majority of us in this moment in time, it still comes down to popularity and cannot serve as an “absolute” rule.
How can there be a sturdy moral “base line” from which we all make the same measurements, when man himself is so volatile in his perceptions of reality? A static idea of good and evil can only be accepted by a man who is static, stagnant in self-growth, and has a static permanent aim and a permanent understanding.
For such an unchanging person, belief systems are created.
Religion As A Morality
For many people in the world there is a very absolute and definite baseline for morality and that is Religion.
The same morality as the one mentioned above applies here as well: what the most popular opinion around you is, is generally what you consider to be moral, and anyone who believes in a different faith or has other ideas is considered to be wrong, or along a “bad” path and is in need of saving (think of The Great Inquisition for example). There are roughly 4,200 religions in the world so you better choose carefully!