Musings

As “dark” or “light” as something may appear, if everything is formed/comprised from an all-powerful, all-loving benevolence (which, to be honest, I’m not sure is the case), then “darkness” and “lightness” become completely irrelevant in the ultimate sense.

All that matters is whether it’s the most useful option within any given moment.

Ironically, I believe this simplistic stance allows one to navigate complexity and cut past dogma by judging each moment and person context by context, allowing one to criticize “good” people for their mistakes, and letting “bad” people rise to the occasion.  This parlays into story, where the hero might have to do something questionable in order to serve a worthy aim, or when a villain can buck off their image and do something good.

I suspect it’s a harmonious way of existing throughout eons and cultures.

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20 thoughts on “Musings

  1. Pondering your muse, I recall a passage I read not long ago, that heroes or leaders, are born or made, or rise to the occasion. If you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, then your most useful option takes you to that goal. The rule “All that matters, is whether it’s the most useful option within any given moment”, will make you a hero, if that is what you want to be. The rule without a goal would be living by the roll of the dice, with an unpredictable end. In my opinion.

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      • I guess it would be subjective. Healthy competition to me is harmonious. If I had to define it, it would be net fulfillment over time, allowing for immediate discomfort which opens the door to future peace. Discipline exemplifies this for me, and in more primitive cultures, the idea of ritual sacrifice (I don’t agree with sacrifice, but I like the idea of giving something up in the immediate sense—my comfort—in order to bargain for a positive outcome).

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  2. The difficulty inherent in judging by context is that we can never know the widest context. As Oscar Wilde said : “It is well for our vanity that we slay the criminal, for if we suffered him to live he might show us what we had gained by his crime. It is well for his peace that the saint goes to his martyrdom. He is spared the sight of the horror of his harvest.”

    I think there are basic principles which can guide us, but which need not form a dogma. For instance, it is always risky to lie. It may seem to be the best thing to do in some contexts, and maybe it is, but we can never be sure, because a lie fractures the structure of social reality. When we have shared access to the truth, to that extent we live within the same reality and have the possibility for love to exist. When we lie we sow very dangerous seeds which may sprout into any number of evils – conflict, isolation, mental illness… So to judge by the immediate context, and not be aware of what we sow for future contexts, can be very dangerous.

    Having said that, I think you are right about allowing for the possibility that people may deviate from our current assessment of their character. In cases where that assessment is negative, it would be naive to count on it, but if we discount the possibility we may contribute to locking the door to something better.

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    • I actually think lying is essential and ethical in a lot of situations. I’d definitely lie to hide Anne Frank in my attic. Varying degrees of deception are par for the course depending on the type of conflict, from fake troop movements in war to physical feints in martial arts. I think self-knowledge—what one considers ethical and what one feels is an appropriate compromise—allows one to navigate these kind of situations. But I’d say in general you’re right; lying induces a dopamine feedback within the brain that rewards deception and encourages someone to divorce their perception from reality.

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      • Yeah, I’m not suggesting giving away Anne Frank. (Everyone picks the same example.) As for fake troop movements in war, I would say that war is one of the main evils which lying contributes to. If countries would be scrupulous in confessing their sins to the whole world then it would do a great deal to undercut the drift to armed conflict. More often national pride and expediency leads to lies which lead to understandable feelings of hostility between nations. This is an example of what I mean that lying fractures reality. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson (in his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind) expresses the opinion that the Second World War (and maybe some later wars) might never have happened if the formulators of the Treaty of Versailles had not played dirty – lying blatantly about what the conditions would be. He points out that lying in wartime is par for the course, but lying in the making of the peace sent the message that no nation can be trusted in peace time either. And the punitive damages imposed on Germany (after they had been promised that the damages would not be punitive) contributed to the economic conditions and sense of national shame that gave Hitler his supporters. Which brings us back to Anne Frank.

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      • Interesting. Well I’m still a proponent of white lies and the employment of falsehoods or omissions in relationships and leadership. A functional premise of modern-day psychology is that humans don’t say what they really mean, even to themselves, so a good leader will perceive the true meaning behind someone’s sentiment and address it accordingly. It may mean lying in the outward sense. If for example someone doesn’t want to be seen as weak or unhelpful, but they keep saying they can handle more work, even when they’re on the verge of burn-out. A good leader will perceive their stress and be willing to lie in order to prop up the idea that they’re still contributing in some vital way. They’ll make up a reason for their subordinate to “go back to the rear” and tone the stress down like “hey I need you to handle this admin stuff, and since you’ve got experience with it, it’ll save time if you do it rather than someone else,” when in fact someone else could do it just as fast. If the leader just straight up says “I’m sending you back because you’re falling apart,” then he’s now just run the danger of implying the subordinate is weak. In my opinion, the absolutist idea that lies in and of themselves invite disaster is an invitation to disaster in and of itself. Rather than demonizing them, I think it’s more useful to understand when they promote a long-term positive outcome, and when they don’t.

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      • Well, that just leads us back to the problem of ego-embattlement, which is the reason someone tries to deny their limitations. I think the health of any relationship and society as a whole depends on finding a way to cut through all that crap, which means cultivating unconditional self-acceptance and encouraging it in others. As long as our ego and the ego of others is fragile we will need to bullshit our way around it, and our true potential will be hampered by that. I agree with you that we have to feel our way and not be unforgiving in our adherence to truth, but it should be our goal, because the world has been mired in bullshit for way too long.

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      • Definitely a worthy goal. I really think doing what I can—working with what’s in front of me—and helping people when possible is the way to go. And that’s not to say settle or be cynical; I always keep in mind what Nelson Mandela did when he was locked up in prison with seemingly no hope. The little ways he conducted himself and led by example weren’t meant to propel him to freedom or presidency, so I try and keep in mind what’s possible when we deal with the small stuff and keep climbing.

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  3. Then She said, “Dad, I am not scared when you cry, nor disoriented or lost. Simply, I love that you cry and want to see more of your tears in life. I want to know you in all the ways you are light and dark. I love you, and that is why I cry with you, “Dad..””

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  4. Good and evil are constructs that help us tribalize – in churches and synagogues, races, political ideologies. That type of binary thinking is what keeps us from ever seeing into the “other side” and perhaps finding common ground or even changing our own perceptions. While there are incontrovertably “evil” deeds done in this world, it’s such a small perentage of the human experience. We need to see each other not as good or bad, right or wrong, but at a different place along a common universal path in order to ever reach true human understanding and empathy.

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      • Oh, yeah. I don’t see it as a one-step direct process, but something gradual and with different manifestations. Our inability to live up to ideals which we tend to agree with can gradually undermine our self-acceptance and make us resentful. But at the other end of the process, our insecurity of ego can give rise to collective forms of idealism which go very dark. An ideal is any concept of perfection. It may be one that most people don’t share. The Nazis had an ideal of racial purity. The Communists had an ideal of equality of outcome, which may seem less unreasonable at first glance. But both forms of idealism led to systematic mass slaughter. So the problem begins with an idealism which only brings a very slow erosion of self-acceptance, and with it generosity of spirit – and tribalism and blindness come in there, because the less generosity of spirit we have the more we save it for our own kind and the less willing we are to look outside the world of our own immediate needs – but it ends with new forms of idealism which are especially virulent and rapidly drive extremely destructive behaviour.

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    • Even where we see something as incontrovertibly “evil” it is a product, as all human behaviour is, of the interconnected human system, so often seeds that we view as “good” may flower into “evil”. I see idealism as the root of all evil. The unforgiving insistence on goodness creates a natural resentment and hostility towards that goodness. If we simply see malevolence as a symptom isolated in particular people, then we miss the underlying cause and deprive ourselves of agency in changing the culture which led to it.

      When it comes to empathy, I just watched this video recently which puts it into a different light. We certainly want more understanding, but maybe actually less empathy : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVCwjjT_CVY

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      • I think I agree with you on idealism, but I’m not sure that it’s the direct precursor to evil behavior. I’d structure it more as idealism tends to lead to blindness and tribalism, which tends to lead to evil and dysfunctional behavior, because at that point people are emotionally invested in a chosen ideal, and forgo fundamentally ethical behavior in order to worship their obsolete ideal.

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