This is something of a world-view I’ve been cooking up for the better part of the last 24 years, but only just discovered last semester – in the throes of Hoeffding-instigated agony and insomnia-induced delium – how to adequately and succinctly describe said worldview. Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the bell curve.
Aka: the normal distribution, the gaussian distribution, the bane of newly-minted high school graduates attending their first semesters of college.
First, notice the properties of the curve. It has a mean, or average, where the singular majority of the data falls. It may not even be a real data point (for example: the average of 4 and 8 is 6, but 6 is neither 4 nor 8), but it indicates the most likely individual point where a random occurrence might most likely fall. The other property is a bit more subtle but no less important: the standard deviation. Simply put, this describes how “spread out” from the average the data is. If the standard deviation is small, the data will be tightly clustered around the average. If the standard deviation is large, the data will be very spread out.
With me so far? Good.
Your next question, then, is probably something along the lines of: what the hell does this have to do with good and evil?
My answer: everything.
The more I participate in political debates, the more I absorb the media, the more I engage in simple quotidian affair, the more apparent it becomes just how polarized we’ve all become. We’re either liberal, or conservative. We’re Catholic, or Protestant (or Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, Nonbeliever…etc). And there’s absolutely no overlap, no common ground, behind the two camps.
Here’s my main point: this supposed “dichotomy” doesn’t exist. It’s a bullshit fabrication of our innate tendency for exclusion and elitist self-preservation.
The growing tendency of our society to wholeheartedly embrace one ideology and completely reject another is sickening. The black-and-white divisions of good and evil as portrayed in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and other such works of fiction simply don’t exist in the real world. Nothing in this world can be simplified to such archetypal levels, and the sheer quantity of people who continue to do exactly that is horrifying.
- In one of my recent online political debates regarding waterboarding and its justification, the person with whom I was discoursing declared in no uncertain language that the ends do indeed justify the means.
- Catholic archbishop Raymond L. Burke called Notre Dame’s bestowing of an honorary degree to President Obama “the source of the greatest scandal”, and questioned Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. He also called upon the country to be “clear an uncompromising” in a mission of eliminating the “great evils of contraception…and so-called same-sex marriage.”
- Ever seen the movie Jesus Camp? As cool as it would be to believe it, those kids weren’t experiencing divine intervention; they were experiencing brainwashing at the hands of singleminded overly-influential adults.
- Rush Limbaugh. ‘Nuff said.
- One of the major reasons I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton during the primaries was because of how much dirty laundry she seemed to be knocking out. It seemed as if she wasn’t running for President so much as Not-George-W-Bush.
- On a recent visit to my former high school (a predominantly white, upper-middle class, private Catholic school), I sat in a US Government course and was rather amazed at some of the singlemindedly liberal or (mostly) conservative viewpoints. Everyone had an opinion, but nobody could explain why; the reasoning was always “because I’m right and everyone else is wrong.”
It’s all so appalling. President Obama is being likened to Satan and the Anti-Christ (can’t be both at once, folks…go back and read Revelation) simply for operating on the other end of the political spectrum.
Radicalism begets radicalism; violence births violence; hatred spawns hatred. The people of the world don’t seem to grasp that, the more they demonize and exclude and find fault with the other side for the sake of being the “other side”, the more they in turn will be cast out. And the cycle will continue endlessly.
The saddest part of all is that I am firmly convinced that the true answer lies at neither pole, and so in continuing our process of polarization, everyone is in fact driving one another further from where we should be.
Life is a spectrum. There is no one answer; there can’t be.
I mentioned Star Wars previously as an example of unrealistic division of pure good from pure evil. I’d like to use an example from the Extended Universe (the books that depict their adventures following episode 6) which illustrates how even this series reflects a bit of reality.
The series of books is called the “New Jedi Order.” It consists of several books (10-15, I believe) all taking place 20+ years after episode 6. The Empire is long defeated, but a new enemy – the Yuuzhan Vong – have invaded the galaxy. They are unlike any previous enemy, utilizing purely biological ships and weapons to wage war. They bring with them a religious fervor more passionate than even the Jedi, and their most dangerous attribute is their utter absence in the Force, making them completely undetectable to Jedi.
It is known as the costliest struggle in the history of the Star Wars galaxy, claiming over 365 trillion lives. The New Republic was toppled, its capital world of Coruscant devastated (along with dozens of others). Jedi in particular were hunted, as the Vong were skilled enough warriors to recognize threats, and as such offered to spare any world which turned in Jedi (of course the offers were reneged).
Curiosly enough, it was Luke’s nephew, Han Solo’s son Anakin, who stumbled upon a solution.
I don’t know if anyone else thought this strange, but ever notice how stoic and boring and…less powerful…the light Jedi always seem in comparison to dark Jedi? Seriously! In Episode 3, it took four Jedi MASTERS to stalemate a single dark Sith Lord. WTF?
As I was saying, Han’s son Anakin discovered something interesting, something which is prominently displayed on the final book of the series: the Unifying Force. It is neither dark nor light, but has properties of both. It is a passionate and emotional usage of power, but for good or evil is the final decision left up to the wielder. By suppressing their emotions and stifling their passions, the light Jedi were sealing themselves off from a great deal of strength. Strength which needed to be channeled properly!…but strength nonetheless.
This is precisely why I argued against waterboarding, in all forms. If we have resigned ourselves to ends justifying the means, then we have resigned ourselves a singular mission to save ourselves at any and all costs. It will breed further violence, further fanaticism, and further repercussions, and will effectively destroy the very thing we initially set out to protect.
I refuse to compromise the very foundations of my beliefs in order to preserve them.
Everything in this world is an amalgamation of good and evil; both are within all of us to varying degrees. It is a problem for which the solutions are few and often insufficient, but it is not a problem that can be reduced to one of its two components for the sake of a simple answer. It is cheap, it is hypocritical, and it is one of the few things in this world that I can unequivocally label as wrong.