Tuesday 30 November 2010

“Good” vs “Bad”

Last judgement
The adjectives “good” or “bad” used frequently in our Café often sound rather puerile to start with. We remember how our parents used to lecture us on how to be “good”: “Be a good girl/boy. Do what your teacher says. Stay with the group. Don’t talk to strangers...” What does it mean to “be good”? When our parents taught us to be good, it often implies that we ought to follow the rules, to be obedient to authority.  If the object of “being good” is to maintain social order, then perhaps a communist society, or a police state would be a good place to live because there no rebellious behaviour or criticism of the government would be tolerated. A totalitarian society is built upon conformism where individualism and original ideas are not encouraged.

Perhaps religion (no matter which faith or belief) is a more effective disciplinary tool than state policing, as religion under the guise of spiritual teaching, often uses the promises and punishment in the afterlife to regulate the behaviour of its followers. Can we say that religious doctrine is our yardstick of “goodness”?

How do you judge who is good who is bad? To be “good” do we have to be a saint? A person who sacrifices all earthly desires and devotes his life to helping others is generally praised as a “good person”. How do you describe a person who steals a loaf of bread in order to save some starving children? Or a person that kills an aggressor to help a victim? How do you qualify a "good thing" or a "bad thing"? If we define that an action that benefits majority of people but only harms a minority of people is a “good thing”; can we also classify an act of gang rape which satisfies a group of rapists but damages only one woman as a “good thing”?

If we say that all killing, rape, theft are “bad things” because they are morally wrong, why then there are such distinctions as “just war”, or “unjust war” where in both instances great numbers of innocent people were killed, raped, plundered? Why some historical instances were described as “crime against humanity”, “genocide”, but some others were described as “war on terror”, “war against tyranny”? The flip side of “bad” thing is considered a “good” thing depending on which side you are on.  If what Nazi did in the WWII was an act of genocide, why then the bombing of Dresden and dropping Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not also acts of genocide? Does it mean that punitive action, no matter how barbaric, can be justified as “good thing”? This proves the point that history is only written by the winners. 

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