First posted here.My view of the world, I know, baffles some people. I'm trying to formulate one of my core beliefs here, to try to explain it better.
Goodness is evil. This will startle some, I know. It sounds like a troll out of 1984.
The cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, held that human culture is a defensive mechanism: human beings seek to invest their lives with heroic meaning because they are aware of, but reject, their own mortality. "Man seeks his own heroism or meaning in the world. To find and sustain an immortality project that transcends one’s own life and lives on forever. In this light, Becker saw all of civilization, family, and religion as vehicles for man’s immortality projects. Yet, all things in the world are conditional, arise, and vanish. We seek to become Gods, to be unconditional…or at least seek someone or something that can be God. Whether it’s science, a lover, a skill, or a religion."
There is a second, a religious dimension for me. Jesus said "judge not, lest ye be judged." This has tended not to work out well, and seems to be one of his least obeyed teachings. Our judgment is corrupted by sin. Our moral judgments are not immune to this corruption, no matter to what extent we imagine that they are founded on holy doctrine. As Bob Dylan says:
The preacher was talking, there's a sermon he gave
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved.
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it's you who must keep it satisfied. ("Man in the Long Black Coat")
One vehicle by which people seek to lend a heroic dimension to their lives is by causes and moralities. By uniting with causes, they seek to give a heroic dimension to their lives that will transcend the fact of their certain death. By affirming the goodness of their chosen cause, they allow themselves to believe that their devotion to it makes up for the wrongs they know they've done. It's all about maintaining the illusion of a virtuous self, one that actively engages the world with great projects that transcend individual lives. By maintaining the illusion of this virtuous self, they deny their own questionable past.
Am I making any sense so far? Probably not.
The problem is, this heroic self based on an illusion of virtue can only be maintained at the expense of our neighbors. Virtue cannot exist in a vacuum; it requires a corresponding vice. And since the illusory heroic self, by definition, manifests virtue instead of vice, vice must exist in some other person. It's a game of pin the tail on the donkey where there is no donkey, only your fellow players.
This is why goodness is evil. I'm better than my neighbor because I recycle. I'm better than my neighbor because I repress my homosexual urges. I've enlisted in a heroic cause by going vegan, and not polluting my body with the unhealthy products of cruelty like my neighbor does. I used to smoke but quit; therefore I have achieved mightily, but those who continue to smoke are weak and self-indulgent.
All this moral bullshit is dangerous and evil. It contributes to human misery. We pin the evil we deny but know is still inside on our neighbor, and cry for his punishment. All the causes that people kill and die for are ultimately about constructing the illusion of a virtuous heroic self.
I say instead: be easy on yourself. Be easy on your neighbor. Stop pretending to be better than you are. This is why the gospel that all men are sinners in need of a redemption they cannot earn by the cultivation of their own virtues is indeed good news.
If you are confused, there is, as the I Ching says, "no blame".