I don’t believe in “Good and Evil”. I also don’t believe in Free Will. The two are related, IMO.
I believe in the illusion of free will, i.e. given enough information the outcome of a given situation is predictable. I think that this principle is at work with psychics. I don’t mean the dude who sits on the corner with his Palm Reading sign, or the folks you call at 1-800-pyschics. Hidden among the frauds and the misguided souls who believe they can channel your Aunt Martha are a few gems. People who seem to have a gift. I’ve encountered such a person once in my life. Things that make you go “Hmmmm”.
Now, you might think it strange that a skeptical scientist such as myself believes in something as cheesy and dubious as “psychic abilities”. But actually, it’s my very scientific nature that allows me to consider such a thing without being afraid of it, or treating it as proof of the Paranormal World. In fact, I believe that if such things as psychics and ghosts exist, that they can be explained within the normal workings of our Universe. I understand that, at any given point in human existence, there have been, are, and will be things we just don’t get. Thousands of years ago they thought the sun was a golden chariot being pulled across the sky. Sounds paranormal when you put it that way, but in reality there was a rational explanation for a phenomenon that must have seemed incomprehensible to folks way back when. Similarly, I believe there are things today that we don’t understand, but that doesn’t mean they are not understandable. We just haven’t got there yet. It isn’t too farfetched to assume that real “psychics” are folks who possess a certain sensitivity, a certain “sixth sense”, and can better approach the “given outcome” than the rest of us. I mean, when you look at the range of difference between the tone-deaf and the musical virtuoso, is it really so crazy to suggest that some folks out there just have a better sense of all the variables, and can better predict the outcome of a given situation?
But back to my main focus today: Good and Evil. I find the concept annoyingly simplistic. As if people can just be slotted into these two categories. Mother Teresa = Good, Hitler = Evil. And for the record no, I don’t think Hitler was “evil”. To describe him as such grants him too much power and credit. He was just another fucked-up individual with some warped ideas who happened to also possess the leadership qualities necessary, and be in the right time and place, to assume power and be in a position to put his whacked ideas into play. I’m sure he had his good qualities, too. I’m sure he loved his mother, and ol’ Eva Braun. And I don’t think it fair to suggest that his version of Love is any less valid or valuable than someone else’s. Again, people are not that simplistic as to peg their entire character into the black hole or the white one.
Similarly, if you were stuck in a small room with M. Teresa for a suitably lengthy period of time, I’m sure you’d discover some really annoying or unappealing aspects of her personality too. We all have them, of course.
And describing acts as Good or Evil also irritates me. Our whole justice system is predicated on a system of Punishment. This presupposes that we all have Free Will, and that every time a criminal commits a crime he performed a risk-benefit analysis first and decided that the consequences of being caught were outweighed by the perceived benefits of committing said crime. This is the sort of baloney that right-wing parties like to spread around, as it also appeals to another relevant aspect of human nature – our desire for revenge. Justice is really just “revenge”. Witness the cries of outrage when a person gets sentenced to life with no parole, versus death row. Or when a person already perceived to be guilty gets off on a technicality. Now we do allude to “crimes of passion”, suggesting that in certain moments of extreme emotion, a person will do something that he would not normally do. I say bullshit again. How can human nature be considered outside of so-called “premeditated” crimes? Crimes are part of human nature, premeditated or not.
Allow me to forward my own theory: we are creatures of our biology. Read Francis Crick‘s “The Astonishing Hypothesis” (which, IMO, should have been called “The Bloody Obvious Hypothesis”, but then I was already way on board with his theory before I read it). Genes are like the course tuning knobs on your stereo, and environment/experience are the fine-tuning knobs. I honestly believe that many criminals, due to an unfortunate combination of genes and experience, were pretty much doomed to follow the path they ended up on. I don’t think child molesters wake up one day and say to themselves “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if I got my rocks off by watching naked 6 year olds dancing to club tunes?”. As with homosexuality, I believe sexual attraction starts in the genes, and it isn’t a stretch to assume that some individuals find nubile, childlike youthful beauty attractive, the same way my high school friend found muscle-headed jocks attractive. Go figure. So you take a person who is this way inclined, then you give him a neglectful, or better, an abusive childhood. You throw in some molestations or funny touches from Uncle Al, toss in a whole lot of emotional dysfunction (which brings us back to upbringing) and you have a potential for trouble. I think it must be a horrible curse to find oneself on this earth in the body of a guy who gets a hard-on at the playground. Better to be born in a body without arms, I say.
Now before you think I’m abdicating all responsibility, read on. I do think that locking someone up for life just may be the most effective way to protect society at large. Until we have “cures” for things like Pedophelia (which I think lies centuries away for us, unless we start down the slippery slope of forced sterilizations), making sure that these folks can’t harm anybody when they fall off the wagon is of primary importance. I can think of better ways to contain them than in a jail cell, but I agree that protecting the innocent masses comes before the freedoms of a single individual. I truly *wish* we lived in a world where we viewed violent criminals with pity and sympathy, all the while maintaining a healthy respect for their potential for violence, just as we would a grizzly bear or shark. I wish we lived in a world where the first course of action was trying to help these people, while keeping them safely contained (though gainfully employed). In the meantime, though, I do what I can to protect my kids and try not to demonize other human beings, in whose shoes I have never walked and probably couldn’t even imagine fitting into.