Food for Thought: What Separates Good from Evil?

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In the past few days, I’ve been watching a lot of TV Shows and reading a lot of books and essays; and I noticed that something has repeatedly shown up in those books and TV shows: a debate on good and evil. It happened when Pope Urban II started the first crusade to capture Palestine from the Islamic Empire, when Sultan Mehmet II. conquered the great Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantium Empire, and also when Hitler and the Nationalsozialismus (Nazi) became the Chancellor of Germany and began the genocide towards Jewish, members of LGBTQ+, etc.; and last but not least, the genocide towards the member of Partai Komunis Indonesia in 1965.

For some of us, the bad guys and the good guys are clear: Those who killed the innocents. Those who killed the Muslims in Rohingya, those who killed the innocents in the incident of 9/11, and last but not least, those who commit genocide towards the Herero in Namibia. But are we seeing this through the same lens as those who commit immoral things? What separates good from virtue?

What is Virtue?

Is there in the purest form of reality „virtue“? How would you describe goodness? The act of kindness? But what is kindness? Is it the act of service? Is it when women give birth to a new human being? Or is it when we give money, food, and clothes to charity? But how could we define such acts as „good“?

Is it because we are helping those in need of clothes, food, and money to sustain their life? But why is that a good thing to do? We only believe what we believe right now just because we were taught to believe what we believe. Our ancestors told us that helping people in need is a good thing to do. Well, of course, they think that because either they „learned“ that sharing is a selfless thing to do. For example, I think giving to charity is good because it’s making me feel joy, and I believe those who receive it would be thankful and happy for what they receive from me. But then again, this mindset was cultivated; I was shaped as a person to believe that the act of service would make the world a better place.

Now, if I were born in England in the 15 century and the nobles raised me or even became a King, I would strongly believe that the Africans or the Asians are barbaric and needed me to „save“ them by colonizing them; or if I were born before the 18 Century in France and the first-class raised me, I would think that the king himself is a medium to God, God speaks through him, and last but not least, put me in anywhere between the 11 and the 13 century, I will believe that I’m doing a good thing for God of Christians by killing the Muslims and converting those who surrender to Christian.

If that is the case, what is evil? What is immoral? How does one determine the action of others or oneself as good or bad?

What is Evil?

Evil is, on the other hand, all of the things that are against our ideology, faiths, knowledge, and ideology. If you’re a Muslim serving ISIS, then the Westerns are the bad guys, the criminals, the unorthodox. But, if you’re a Christian serving the Papacy between the 11 and 13 centuries, the Muslims are the enemies. In 2019, Disney released one of the most anticipated movies in the decade in May: Avengers: Endgame. Marvel portrayed the Avengers as the righteous group of superheroes fighting the bad guy: Thanos. Iron man, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye, Natasha Romanoff, Thor, and the rest of the Avengers are fighting against a madman to prevent him commit a mass-genocide to the universe by erasing 50% of the universe’s population with a snap of his fingers.

However, let’s turn back a little bit and see the world through Thanos‘ lens. He was trying to save the universe by erasing the 50% of ist population. There were too much sorrow and sadness all across the galaxy. His kind, the Titans, had to suffer from poverty and hunger, and its planet and its kind had to face extinction because they rejected his proposal of doing genocide.

              „Titan was like most planets. Too many mounts, not enough to go around, and we faced extinction, I offered a solution.“ „Genocide?“ asked Doctor Strange. „But random, dispassionate, fair and poor like. They called me a madman.“

– From a scene of Avengers: Infinity War

Without the presence of human, virtue wouldn’t exist. In other words, virtue is not an sich[1] man can’t educate himself without the help of another being, what would be the parameter? We only say what we do is good because our ancestors raised and educated us that way; Our ancestors fed us the information that doing particular action is good and our current state of mind is only a product of our ancestors. Our beliefs and knowledge.

Humans made the concept of good and evil on the attempt of trying to understand the world. Our actions itself don’t have meaning, we only put meaning to them just to measure, to analyze, to grasp the infinite possibilities in the universe.

The only thing separating good and evil is one’s ideology. What one believes, determines how one perceive the world. We might thing mass genocide is in any way unjustifiable, put the culprit’s lenses, will you stand on the exact spot as you were?

Footnote:

  1. The term „an sich“ comes from a German phrase and it is a term usually used in Phenomenology. „Ding an sich“ means a thing can, without any other agreement upon itself, be itself. Unlike ideologies, virtues, and evil that were socially constructed, meaning they must first go through measures and analysis before they get to be decided as good or evil. „An sich“ means it has its own values without being determined by humans.  
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