At the bar, on good and evil

“Hell is filled with good desires.” -St. Bernard

Sitting across the table, she told me that Hitler had good intentions for protecting the welfare of the state in bid to restore her former glory. That good here may be subjective, because in the eyes of most Germans then, he was doing a good thing despite the death toll of the Jewish people.

I think it is worth noting that the both of us here have very little insight into the history of World War II (WWII). All I knew was that the Germans of that period of space and time had suffered since World War I, and they are looking for a quick escape from their dire situation.

Hitler was their escape.

But here, we are not discussing on an event of the war, but rather, we are exploring how are actions deemed and defined as right.

She argues that Hitler, in his own little world, had managed to persuade the majority of Germans to believe that Jews are pest of the society and thus must be eliminated to protect the overall welfare of Germany. In his mind, this extermination, however brutal was needed.

In other words, the question “would you have shown pity to cockroaches that infest your house” comes to mind. It was a valid point under this context. But according to Jeremy Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism, the question on whether Hitler’s action result in an overall increase in happiness began to surface.

It would be hard to measure happiness, but I’m doubtful that it did. Even though the Germans outnumbered the Jews who were murdered, I don’t think that happiness is maximised by the Germans simply because there is no direct link of joy, but only a perception of that link.

An eastern philosopher once said that a person’s perception of reality and reality itself are both reality, I’m inclined to feel that whatever happiness that was then, was short-term in nature.

But beyond utilitarianism, many people who never studied moral conduct, much less heard of all the confusing terms, did not consider it to be right to murder people. In fact, whether an individual is religious or not, seem to have the innate ability to judge on a basic level of what is right or wrong.

According to Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, there are in total six stages, and he had stated that each of these stages is progressive in nature. This depicts a picture of non-regression. Thus explains Germany today, who condemned Hitler’s action in the world war.

However, much of these frameworks are retrospect in nature, and beyond the entire framework that helped define morality and what is right or wrong, which do we rely on? How do we know that we are morally correct? Is it subjected to scientific method or do we know because we know? Is it subjective or objective, contextual or absolute?

These are questions that bore no answer; Phaedrus went down that road before I did.

What I do see is that the bulk of the problem today is instilled with this good versus evil debate.  World War II was propagated to be good versus evil, with the allied forces as the good forces that went against the axis who were spreading fascism and communism. Thus, there is a need to defeat these evil individuals.

A lot of wars were started that way, such as the civil war in America, Korean war, Vietnam war, etc. There will be a lot of different reasons for why it had started, but it seems to me that it always revolves around the same issue.

But since most human being have a moral compass even without being subjected to logical reasoning, it would seem defining and quantifying how we know what is good or evil isn’t as important as many would think. At some point, everybody ask the same question:

“What if I am in his/her position?”

Thus I feel it’s best to leave the scientific reasoning of good and bad to those in the field research. What is more pressing, I said, after sipping my glass of Tiger, is how we constantly draw lines between good and evil.

The death of Amy Winehouse came at July 23, 2011, at which point, Russell Brand wrote an article on his thoughts of her death a day later. He said: “We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care.”

And that gave me a thought.

In Christian mythology lies the story of how Lucifer was banished from heaven, and how demons were once fallen angels and are now treated with disdain because of their wickedness.

I said to my friend, after ordering another bottle of Tiger, that all these teachings had educated people out from compassion and kindness. Which subsequently had led to much of society’s problems today.

To draw lines between the front of good and evils to say that people are innately evil and can never be good. It is saying that drug addicts, liars, murderers, thief, bullies, etc can never change from their sinful ways. And if they did, it would only be a short term change. It is saying that their capacity for kindness is impaired, that they are broken.

And if we never gave them the opportunity or the education to be good, how are we to say that we are better ourselves?

Even demons were once angels in heaven.

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