Wednesday 14 June 2023

To "Make the world a better place"?

You didn't want to make things perfect. You just hated things the way they are.

Rocket the Raccoon - from the 2023 movie Guardians of the Galaxy 3


I grew-up (didn't we all?) with the idea that the best kind of people wanted and worked "to make the world a better place".

This ideal has knocked around in the west for more than two centuries, and by-now is almost mainstream: a platitude of innumerable uplifting speeches in politics, the mass media, education, law, medicine, science, the military and the police - as well as churches...

Yet, see where this ideal has led us? 

It turns out that abstractions such as The World and "better" are - in practice - subject to colossal disagreement of definition, and are capable of infinite distortion. The worst, most evil, most destructive people are exactly those who most use the rhetoric of making The World a Better Place. 

Modern Men can certainly make The World a Worse place, but I see not a shred of evidence that it (whatever 'it' is) can be bettered by such ideals. 

Such is reality: methods that work well for evil cannot be used to attain Good: the side of God and of Good cannot use the One Ring to fight Sauron, because then they would become as bad as Sauron. 

If the side of Good takes up the ideal of making the world a better place - as happened in all the major Christian churches of The West - then it is adopting exactly this Boromir Strategy - which can only end by making the world a worse place. 

So, real Christians cannot allow themselves to desire to "make the world a better place". And Christians should eschew such rhetoric. 

Indeed, what "the world" and "better" ought to mean, is precisely the major point at issue between God and Satan. 

The world is a calculatedly evil loaded-abstraction, and better is a weasel word.

If asked: "Don't you want to make the world a better place?" The proper response is No! Not what you mean by the world and not what you mean by better. 

I want, instead, to live in accordance with God's purposes and methods. Which are (very briefly) To love God (first) and my "neighbour"- i.e. actual individual persons; and to follow Jesus Christ. 

What happens to "the world" in some vast and overall sense, and the evaluation of what is best for it; is not my business, nor am I capable of bettering such vague abstractions: 

"The world" is God's concern.  

I may resist those who are trying to destroy The World - i.e. God's creation; but not by having my own alternative ideals of making a "better" world. 


The Anti-Gnostic said...

"Make the world a better place," utopia, tikkun olam -- probably responsible for more human suffering than any other concept.

The Leftist mindset is frankly pathological. Leftists do not love other humans; they only love abstract "humanity." They'll donate money to a fake-refugee shelter or environmental NGO/money-launderer to "make the world a better place" but won't hire a housecleaner for an elderly relative.

There seems to be some psychopathology which keeps such people doing all these useless, macro-level things as opposed to working for human thriving among family and neighbors.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G " probably responsible for more human suffering than any other concept"

Agreed - at least for the past 150 years or so. And a very pervasive evil - since few of us have not fallen for the lie, at some point in our lives.

Francis Berger said...

I suspect this "make the world a better place" business may be a direct consequence of the wrong turn man made when he reached the limits of what we could call autonomous consciousness, for lack of better way of putting it.

We increased his individual freedom and agency when we turned away from the rigid social and religious norms and structures of the previous era, but the journey toward self-determination led us further and further away from God and our divine selves and closer to the love of man and our "natural" selves.

We became more temporally free, but increasingly spiritually enslaved. The greater the distance from the spiritual, the more we buried the spirit within us, the more the temporal and natural restricted and congealed our self-determination. Eventually, we lost all semblance of spiritual freedom, which is what autonomy consciousness should have been aiming for in the first place.

Unable to find a way forward without the spiritual, unable to determine ourselves any further, we began to lose our grip on temporal freedom and agency. In response, we turned away from ourselves completely, plowed headlong into the "world", and set our sights on "determining" this "world" for the better -- first loosely draped in supposed Christian morals and values like selflessness and altruism, then in the most mundane, secular, materialistic manner possible, and currently, in blatant evil advertised as "good".

At some level, I think this abstract make the world better attitude is a direct and intentional assault against God, perhaps stemming from some deep feeling of resentment or the desire to lose oneself/forget oneself. A sort of faux, virtue signal-filled martyrdom for the greater good, if you will.

Whenever, I think about those who strive to make the world better, I am always reminded of Dickens' great philanthropist Mrs. Jellyby working tirelessly to establish her mission in Africa while utterly neglecting the downtrodden and needy in her own family and immediate surroundings.

Final point, Jesus did make the world better, but He did it without making the world better. And He probably couldn't have made the world better if his primary focus had been to make the world better.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank "Jesus did make the world better, but... "

I agree. But it seems important not to claim that Jesus had an 'objective' transformative effect on making the world qualitatively better - which is something I have often seen said, or else simply assumed. Just as people assume that a "Christian Society" is better than any other.

All I can say, is that this betterment is not (and never has been) obvious to those who aren't already a Christian - there are so many counter-examples, and swings-and-roundabouts aspects.

It is rather like the question of whether "the world" has got better, or worse, or stayed - on balance - the same; throughout history. I don't see how this can be answered or settled without assuming almost everything first.

Francis Berger said...

@ Bruce - "But it seems important not to claim that Jesus had an 'objective' transformative effect on making the world qualitatively better"

Of course. I couldn't agree more. That's what the contradictory nature of my wordplay aimed at communicating (rather ineffectively it seems).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I understood that - I was simply amplifying the point, making it more explicit.

Francis Berger said...

@ Bruce - It's good that you made it more explicit. The belief that Jesus made the "world" better in a qualitative sense or that a Christian's mission in life should be to dedicate his energy to improving or bettering the quality of abstractions like "the world" needs to be addressed and sorted out.

cecil1 said...

This is an interesting perspective.

I have always had bad feeling whenever I hear people say they want to 'make the world better', even though ostensibly that should be a good thing.

This is a valuable way of answering that statement. One which gets left out far too often.

All of the liberal churches I have attended (which BTW don't think they are liberal at all), have this 'make the world a better place' at the head of their theology and religious action.

Its always felt fake underneath even though the words seem good. I think this subject should be dealt with more by everyone. Expecially of course, Christians in their encounters with pseudoChristians and the Churchianity pathology.