My last couple of posts have been about objective good, what it means, and if it even exists. I seem to be stuck on these sort of theological themed things, so if you’re following along, sorry. It’s just what my mind is barfing up lately. It’s my barf though. You don’t have to lap it up.
I was recently asked if I’m only good because Yahweh (that is, God) demands it. That’s a good question. At first it seems tricky, but in the end, for me at least, it’s actually quite easy to answer. The answer is, no. I’m not good because God demands it. Moreover, I’m not even good. I’m actually quite messed up. I try to be good, but in the end, I really fail pretty miserably in comparison to what true objective goodness really looks like.
If I try, I can convince myself that I’m good as long as I don’t think about it too much. The honest fact is though, that I’m constantly fighting my own evil nature. I’m really an angry, greedy, self-centered, jealous, manipulative, controlling, lustful, violent, merciless piece of work. I constantly have to keep myself from snapping at my kids, berating my co-workers, hoarding my resources, exalting my own accomplishments, lying, cheating, stealing, objectifying women, climbing over you to get my own way, cursing you to hell, or punching you in the face. These are all things the natural part of me would like to do. This is the reality of nature. This is me. This is not good. I am not good.
Here’s the thing though, I don’t have to follow my natural instinct. I’m different from other animals. While nature attempts to act like it is an attractive choice, I have this weird ability that other animals don’t have. I have free will and the ability to recognize that much of that natural part of me is not good. I have the option to defy it, and there is something built into me that compels me to do so. Blindly accepting the call of the wild might work in the animal kingdom, but it doesn’t work with people. Some people give in to nature and chase power, resources, and physical pleasure. The more we do it, the more we seem to be able to block out actual good and follow nature. The ones I’ve known that do, do not end up being very happy. The reverse seems to be true too. The more I defy nature and choose good, the easier it is and the happier I become. In the end most of us, at least to some degree, end up defying nature, recognizing good and choosing it. Sometimes nature directed choices aren’t all bad, as long as they aren’t in conflict with good choices.
However, being completely natural beings would be bad. Here’s what a guy that seemed to be just following his natural instinct said about it…
“If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger, she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such cases all her efforts throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile.
But such a preservation goes hand-in-hand with inexorable law that it is the strongest and the best who must triumph and that they have the right to endure. He who would live must fight. He who does not wish to fight in this world, where permanent struggle is the law of life, has not the right to exist.” ~Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
In the absence of objective moral standards, I’m compelled to admit this sort of thinking is completely valid. Personally, I cannot accept this is reality because I recognize I have the ability to differentiate what are natural impulses vs what is objectively good. Objective good seems to tell me people shouldn’t have to fight to exist. I see no reason to think that in any time, any place, or with any people, that the unjust taking of life is acceptable. Please note though, that I do believe good and proper justice involves the taking of life at times. Morals are objective, but not absolute. The difference is the motivation behind the extinguishing of life. For instance, intentionally taking a human life for personal gain is bad. Intentionally taking a human life that is bent on destroying other human life for their own gain is just.
Now, on more than one occasion various people who challenge me on my assertion that in a purely naturalistic worldview I’d be entitled to do any number of seemingly evil things will ask, “why do you want to rape, murder, and pillage?” Those people are missing the point. I don’t want to. I’m an inherently bad person, but something about me tells me very often that I should ignore nature, seek out the objective good, and elect it over the natural choice. I, for one, do not want to be a slave to nature, and so I choose not to. However, in the absense of a moral law giver who also provides freedom to choose, I’m just a natural robot.
However, in the context of the actual point, the real question is, why should I think ill of oppressive regimes like Nazi Germany, the former USSR, or modern-day Rwanda, North Korea, Iran, Syria, or China? If one of these regimes were to dominate the world, would that make it good since it was the outcome of nature? Over time, would our minds come to accept it as a natural fact, and our feeling of something being wrong would dissipate? We’d be okay in our various forced roles in the colony, similar to honey bees or ants? We’d cease longing for societal and individual liberty? I don’t think so, and so I have to go searching outside of nature for the source of these objective moral truths that I believe are true for all people, at all times, in all places. Once I think I’ve found the source, I’d be stupid not to conform to that source’s way of thinking if I really believe it to be the source. Especially if I think it is for my own good.
And that is why I try to wisely choose what is intrinsically good, over following my own intrinsic natural selfishness. Frankly, it isn’t easy. Yoda was wrong. When it comes to morality at least, there is a try. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t. If I quit trying though, it is then that nature rules me, rather than me ruling it.