Wednesday 26 April 2023

Evil is incremental, but Good is qualitative

People have a false idea about the nature of Good: a false understanding which itself often leads to evil. 

I think part of the problem, is the tendency among intellectuals to seek symmetry in concepts, as if symmetry was to be expected. Whereas (it seems to me) that, aside from structures, genuine symmetry is rare and exceptional in this world. 

So the usual assumption is that Good and evil are two sides of a coin, or a continuum. (Or even that pernicious idea that Good is a happy medium between two extremes of evil.) 

We all know from observation, and experience, that evil is incremental; and that people can be corrupted gradually, step-by-step - by pushing them further and further into doing (and not repenting) evil acts until the person joins-with the side of evil. 

We can observe this gradual, insensible corruption among our acquaintances, in society-at-large - and perhaps we have seen the same in ourselves.

There seems to be a general idea that affiliation to The Good can be accomplished likewise. The idea that we can increase faith, reach towards a Godly (or Christ-like) state, can "become better Christians", by incremental steps of doing more and more Good acts. 

That seems to be a covert assumption under which many churches operate - the assumption that if churches can get people doing more and more "good things" - they will gradually become stronger and more secure in faith. 

Furthermore, there is an assumption that a partial Good has the tendency to lead-onto affiliation to overall Good. So that if a person is dedicated to some Good like the beauty of music, or the truth of science; or has adopted some partially-valid spirituality (such as Western Buddhism, or Jungian psychology) - then all such things are "steps in the right direction" and will tend to develop Christian affiliations. 

Well, these are empirical claims. That is they are not self-evident; but are claims about the nature of human beings and how the world works. I do not agree that this is how the world works!  

In contrast with evil; I regard Good as a qualitative, not quantitative, thing - and therefore not capable of being adopted by increments. 

While it is true that evil acts tend to lead to corruption, desensitization, and towards an affiliation with the side of Satan - I believe the situation is utterly different with Good. 

Good works do Not lead to strong faith - as can easily be observed in the mainstream Christian churches - especially in in relation to the birdemic and peck...

In early 2020, mainstream Western churches (including those known for exceptionally good behaviour and acts of charity) - all, and without any apparent soul searching or crisis of conscience, quickly and comfortably made strong affirmations of their affiliation with the side of global totalitarian bureaucratic materialism.

That is - they adopted the materialist healthism behind the birdemic scam - while many have since adopted one or more of the Litmus Test issues by which totalitarianism is pursuing its goals: antiracism, climate change, the sexual revolution and transagenda, and the rest of them.      

From this gross failure of the true spiritual mission of the churches; it ought-to-be evident that partial Goods do not reliably tend to lead towards the affirmations of Christianity - or at least not on a detectable timescale. 

What instead happens is that most people get 'stuck' on partial Goods; convinced of their Goodness but unable to perceive or unwilling to acknowledge the limitations of their perspective; and thereby blocked from making the necessary deep and existential commitment to God's agenda which their behaviour contradicts. 

For instance; Jungian psychology is a partial Good if compared with the gross reductionism of mainstream materialism. Yet it is a very partial, radically-incomplete, perspective that accepts many of the errors and distortions of positivistic scientism; and which tries to be agnostic about the reality of a personal God - when agnosticism is de facto equivalent to atheism.

Consequently; most Jungians have taken the side of evil, and are deeply committed to aspects of the agenda of evil.  

Yet, despite its innate contradictions and metaphysical gaps and blockages, people get stuck in Jungianism; and (in effect) try to solve its deep incoherence by a lifetime of superficial tinkering.   

This happens frequently, because the problems of Good and evil are often metaphysical - that is, they are due to primary assumptions concerning the nature of reality. 

To become a Christian entails believing that there is a personal God who is creator, who is Good, and of whom we are children - and then making an inner commitment to live our lives eternally in harmony with the purposes of such a God. 

Such fundamental assumptions and decisions are Not a conclusion of incremental life experiences. Accomplishing acts of charity, devotion, worship, learning... these do not lead people by step towards adopting such an overall world view and affiliation. Nor does dedication to the partial and this-worldly Goods of creating aesthetic beauty, pursuing the truths of scholarship, or healing of the sick. 

Good is thus qualitative, because God is qualitative - and because our choice to work with - or against - God is qualitative. 

Either we adopt such an affiliation, or we do not. 

Someone who affiliates to Good is 'Good' in spiritual terms - even when he does not do many 'Good acts'. Conversely; someone who leads a life of 'service' and does many Good works, may be and often is on the side of spiritual evil. The Good works have not prevented him from serving the agenda of Satan. 

In sum: Good and evil are not symmetrical - they are different in their nature. Men can be corrupted incrementally towards evil, by inducing them to perform evil acts and not repenting - or indeed celebrating - them. 

But, contrary to centuries of church practice and belief: Good cannot be pursued in an analogous fashion.  

As a result; partial Goods may not be 'better than nothing'; but may, in practice, be worse than nothing; since partial Goods may sufficiently gratify individuals that they fail to seek a full and coherent answer to life's problem; and instead get-stuck on something that helps them feel better, but without providing a sufficient solution to the core problems of this mortal life - and without providing the love, faith and courage to resist the temptations of the world. 


Days of Lot said...

Glad you mention the problems with Jungian psychology. In the past I was very interested in personality archetypes, but something felt "off" about classifying people in that way. When I looked deeper into Jung's theories and background, I found out why: he was deeply into the occult, especially astrology, which the archetypes originate from.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I think this is a very important insight but perhaps needs to worded with a little more clarity. I think good and evil are being used in more than one sense here, which makes your point seem more paradoxical than it actually is. As expressed, it seems incoherent. If good and evil are opposites, then the difference between them is either qualitative or quantitative; it can't be qualitative going one way and quantitative going the other!

I would say that the difference between good and evil (what side you're on) is qualitative, but that the difference between virtue and vice (how well you behave) is quantitative. Expressed in this terminology, I think your point is something like this: If you're on the side of good, succumbing to vice will greatly increase the chance that you will switch to the side of evil; but if you're on the side of evil, becoming incrementally more virtuous will not greatly increase your chance of switching to the side of good.

But that doesn't capture everything you're saying, because you're also including metaphysical beliefs (materialism vs. Jungianism vs. theism) in the mix. These are basically qualitative in nature, but at the same time some false beliefs can be quantitatively "closer to the truth" than others. Here, perhaps the point to be made is that someone with a highly functional but false belief system may be less likely to discover the truth than someone with an "inferior" (less functional) false belief system.

Daniel said...

Rudolf Steiner references the question of 'good' and 'evil' in 'The Incarnation Of Arhiman'. How disastrous policies of the church led us to mistake 'good' with the luciferian.
The world can be understood only in terms of a triad: lucifer on one side, arhiman on the other, and at the center, Christ, the balance between the two, human life being the beam of the scales.
The center, the point of balance, having been suppressed, or hidden, the world «is permeated by luciferic and arhimanic beings, and as we have described it there is a tremendous contrast between the emancipating tendency of the luciferic beings and the power-seeking tendency of the arhimanic beings.» *

This civilisation, i believe, is much more christian than it would like to admit. We see it in the functioning of its institutions (e.g. the charitable role of the welfare state) and public discourse, every day.
Modernity has, specially for the last two hundred or so years, denyed its tradition, history and heritage, but that didn't make them disappear. They have been buried in the unconscious, and they have emerged, has they always do, and manifested has individual and collective neurosis: ubiquitous mental and cultural confusion, violence, resentment, corruption, etc...

We believe we have built a (post-christian) secular society. Because we can cannot escape the consequences of our actions, and the longer these impulses remain buried, the greater the consequences will be. Remaining unrecognised long enough can become fatal.

*in Rudolf Steiner, 'The Incarnation of Ahriman'

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - I regard Steiner as having been wrong about conceptualizing good (Christ) as intermediate between the extremes of Luciferic and Ahrimanic evil.

This makes Good merely moderate evil, evil merely an excess of partial Good - and by doing so is a cover type of oneness spirituality - which is an incoherent element of metaphysics behind Steiner's philosophy in general.

Why he made this mistake, I don't know - perhaps because he was evasive or unclear about the ultimate goals of reality in relation to God. But his followers have continued this mistake - apparently not realizing how it confuses and demotivates our resistance to evil.

For instance, Ahriman's incarnation and the totalitarian bureaucratic materialism of his 'reign' is said by Steiner to be both necessary and 'good' (overall and in the end) - yet also, because extreme, an evil that we are supposed to see-through, oppose and learn-from... This is a ridiculous conceptualization from a common sense perspective, and is not properly justified by any final goal.

I regard Good as God's motivations as expressed in the harmony of divine creation - evil is that which opposes God and creation. Good is primary and creative - evil is secondary, negative, oppositional. Evil is always evil. (Despite that God may turn it good.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - I agree with some of your summary of what I am trying to say, but not all aspects. One core point is simply that Good and evil are sides in a spiritual war, and that whether a person is Good or evil is a matter of taking sides, and the Good or evil of behaviours are a matter of motivation.

This contrasts with the whole prevalent idea (among Christian churches, as well as in secular-mainstream society) that a Good person is some combination of a person who does a lots of 'good acts' (being kind, sensitive, altruistic, charitable etc) and someone who avoids a lot of 'bad acts' (murder, rape, arson, racist micro-aggressions etc) by some kind of quantitative calculus; and that people are made more Good (less evil) by doing more Good and fewer evil acts.

I would like to emphasize that the realities of Good and evil are deep, metaphysical, motivational - matters of commitment. They are defined and grounded in terms of eternal post-mortal life, and as manifested in mortal earthly life they are bound to be constrained by the limitations of this life.

But also that - spiritually and behaviorally - corruption towards an affiliation to evil is quantitative... more and more commitment to greater and greater evil; but building towards a commitment to Good is qualitative... nothing at all - and then everything.

William Wildblood said...

A person on the side of Good, meaning God and Creation, can be a morally worse person than one on the side of Evil, i.e. who rejects God and Creation. He has to improve, of course, but he is considerably nearer God. The churches have allowed themselves to be deceived by worldly good such as you mention in the second paragraph of your comment. They are putting themselves against true Good.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - The most that I feel can be achieved, as a first step, is to get people to notice the difference between being on the side of good, and what you call worldly-good; and that - as of here-and-now, worldly good only very seldom leads to the side of good; and often leads in the other direction.

I felt this strongly myself in the university workplace. To stay honest with respect to science, teaching, scholarship (and thus on the side of good); increasingly meant behaving in a distinctly anti-social manner (i.e. against worldly-good).

Ranger said...

Interesting. If I remember correctly Pascal's Pensées, doing "good deeds", and specially what would be sometimes meaningless deeds from a material perspective (like lighting candles, crossing with holy water, and so on) is exactly what he prescribes to the person that has agreed with the point of his famous wager, but is as yet uncapable of believing in God (and thus in affiliating with the side of Good).

Do you think that was already not a good prescription back in the 17th Century, or does the fact that this is not working anymore also a part of the general change in human consciousness that you talk about in this blog?

Bruce Charlton said...

@R - I think it was a reasonable prescription, at least for some people, in the 17th century; and indeed even into the early 20th century (e.g. this was what CS Lewis recommended in his writings, and Tolkien privately) among a much smaller and dwindling percentage.

But not now. Just look at the vast majority of devout and obedient church members/ goers... Consider how they behaved in 2020...

Clearly going-through-the-motions does nothing sufficiently effective enough to induce people to choose God and reject Satan nowadays.