Coming to Terms with Bad

Posted: April 14, 2016 in Page 8: Coming to Terms with Bad

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Corrugated Tin PresidentThis attempt at intelligence is about ‘bad,’ bad in the spiritual or ethical sense, not bad like a bad song cover, a bad cold, a bad day, or as in some heavyweight weight-watcher wanting ice cream in a bad way. And as pathetic as it may seem to some of us, the subject persists, does indeed remain relevant—look at us, the Google company even has “Don’t be evil.” as its motto.

But can some concept of bad really exist in this traditional religious sense, stand up to scrutiny, in the godless world so many of us like to champion today? Hard to say, but with all the bombs going off to make what’s right wrong, and all yesterday’s mental disorders becoming today’s new form of enlightenment, it makes you wonder. It makes you wonder about the need for some rethinking of the subject, for some deeper understanding of the subject; and this, for our peace of mind—for our self preservation for god’s sake!

However necessary keeping this idea of bad in mind may be, the idea doesn’t seem to represent more than that, that is to say, more than an idea. I mean, what educated person today truly believes that Jesus was, literally, the son of God or that Muhammad really heard god’s voice and by divine right should serve as his official spokesman?, and likewise for the rest of the prophets and gurus. But, to the extent that some spiritual sense of bad can still be said to be real, valid, in this world, I hope to catch, at least, a glimpse of it. Note that I’m not worried about ‘good’ here; good things tend to be taken for granted, to take care of themselves if you will. No, for man, it is the ‘bad’ that seems to incite particular concern and a concerted call for action. On the other hand, if good only exists in opposition to bad…perhaps I’m paranoid.

Without believing in god one would seem to be nothing more than a hypocrite or an ill-informed simpleton for believing in bad—or good for that matter. Indeed, if you don’t believe in any superior, higher force, some being or entity of some sort to hold you accountable for your actions, is there any reason—that can be defended with reason—to behave in one way as opposed to another, according to some moral code as opposed to none at all? Robbing a bank is not good? Who says? If you don’t believe in god, then there is nothing obviously wrong with it in a spiritual, religiously moral, absolute sense. There may be something obviously wrong with getting caught, but nothing wrong with the act itself, in and of itself. Perhaps if we considered other factors such as the fact that if everyone did that, robbed banks, then everyone’s savings would be in jeopardy; maybe that would change our opinion. Indeed, everyone’s savings, everyone’s money—that means yours too, and if the hurt impacts you personally, you reconsider…don’t you?

“The Opera’s over here creep.”

Wherever I’m coming from, here’s where I’m at, where my thoughts on the subject have led me: that hurt on some personal level, in some personal way, may be wrong, wrong in ‘human’ terms, and this human element seems to mean something. In effect, the opposite—inhuman—may just be the bad we want to put a finger on, point a finger at, a bad that is bad in some spiritual sense, or “evil” sense if Google hasn’t yet bought the rights to this term. But in the above example, a personal hurt due to the loss of your personal bank savings, this still is only bad in some practical, numbskull sense. I think personal, human, remain the key words here, but, without further reflection on the subject, the question remains: what’s really bad in all this? Yourself getting hurt, hurting your own person due to a lack of foresight or common sense, is obviously bad but only bad in the practical, numbskull sense. I think to get at what is ‘bad’ in some deeper sense we have to think transcendence, have to transcend ourselves (you heard it here first). We have to consider ‘personal’ (and the external catalyst, or bridge, of the transcendence), in the sense of another person, in the sense where hurt is inflicted on another person, and yet, still affects the person responsible for the act, the perpetrator, to whom the concept of bad obviously applies.¹ After all, it wouldn’t be logical to associate the bad we are talking about with the victim, the person who is anything but responsible for the act. In the end, what we want answered is this: how is the act of hurting another person ‘bad’, even killing someone? If you don’t believe in god, believing that it is would seem to be—and most ironically so—nothing less than an act of faith on your part.

Where did i GO?

Indeed, if you believe that there is no reference point exterior to this world, to this life of ours, to draw absolute conclusions about our world or life from, if you believe there is no exterior being or force to answer to, that is to say god, then no, it wouldn’t seem to be bad in any absolute sense, in any spiritual-religious sense. In hurting someone, you are just doing something period, one thing like any other thing in this meaningless life, you are just ‘hurting’ someone, as if this someone were a thing, a pile of atoms so to speak—without any of the traditional religious stigmas and/or consequences to go along with it. And if you can’t make out any correlation between your actions and some wider social disorder, whereby you personally would come to suffer along with the others, then what’s bad about it at all, in any sense? Many of us are righteous enough, pretentious enough to claim some noble system of ethics, a profound sense of civility in the face of the largely godless world we live in, but we most probably are only trying to show how clever we are in the face of some religious bumpkin and the religious notions of his that we are trying to debunk. In effect, if it were not for the existence of religion—that we are so cleverly trying to demean—we would not be the ethical minded person we so proudly claim to be. In effect, were such a god forsaken vacuum to exist, a culture of morality would be anything but certain, and you now might very well be the savage beast preying upon the weak, taking advantage of the law of the jungle as it were. You are what you are because they are what they are, or more pretentiously put, you’re so smart because they’re so dumb.

Wait till we tackle Stephen Hawking

Which brings me to this, the closest I can come to a concept of bad in the spiritual or ethical sense is the following: hurting someone who you perceive to be weaker than you. Here, we just may be at the lowest, most foundational level of the subject at hand. The idea I have in mind deals directly with the very psychological being, psyche, the very psycho-biological makeup of a person. It is important to note here that a person’s psyche, and the ‘identity’ of the self that is produced by it to create the person, is as real to a person as an arm, leg, or his blood pumping heart—we have to take it into consideration in a way every bit as real.

This type of behavior—hurting someone who you perceive to be weaker than you—presumably would not make one feel strong, which is the primary and ‘normal’ goal of one’s psyche: to allow for and further that behavior that strengthens the identity of the person. Instead, such behavior should rattle the psyche, and in a way such that the identity of the person is weakened, the person lessened. I express certain reservations using the word ‘should’—as obvious as it would seem, it still depends. It depends on how developed, or rather, undeveloped one’s consciousness is.

Listen to this

The normal, desired condition for an adult is to be fully conscious, consciousness being the essence of our psyche, our very being. We are what our consciousness is. And a large part of consciousness, one of its defining traits, is empathy, the ability to feel that which others feel, to have an awareness of and to be sensitive to other people’s feelings. And empathy in turn is the natural, psycho-biological root of a ‘conscience’—our definitively human conscience, personal as well as social conscience—before anyone, any prophet or disciple put it into words, invented a ‘bible’ to go along with it. So, the normal, desired condition for an adult is to be fully conscious and with this comes empathy, upon which, a conscience is founded. Left undeveloped, we are nothing more, nothing better, than children, small children, who are commonly accused of being cruel in a ‘totally’ consciousless, conscienceless way. Indeed, when speaking of adults, a stronger person hurting a weaker person can only reasonably take place if the stronger person has an undeveloped consciousness, or conscience, which obviously implies an inhuman quality, which in turn, might be likened to bad in some extra human sense—a ‘bad’ beyond bad in a strictly worldly sense. In some ‘evil’ sense? If we can not establish some truth to this ‘evil,’ this bad in the traditionally religious sense, that it truly exists and must be taken into account—to some extent—at least, then truly anything goes as far as ethics or the notion of good and bad go. Indeed, in a godless world, one without any such truth, hurting a person, causing another to suffer, to feel pain, would not be a problem, be bad, wrong, what have you, if you can get away with it.

I’m really trying here

To help us consider whether all things are being considered here, maybe one reservation merits mentioning: perhaps this aforementioned case is somewhat different in the case of a strong person when dealing with another strong person—perhaps one’s capacity for empathy, his sense of sympathy, is called less into question. In effect, hurting someone else who is on the same level as you is one thing, may even be a good thing according to your psyche, for your ego/identity; but hurting someone who is weaker than you would produce self doubt, would make you ask yourself if you yourself are not weak for having to stoop to this lower level—and the projection of this negative image of yourself onto the self would hurt. Along with self doubt comes ‘guilt,’ whereby you question yourself, your ‘self,’ to the point of feeling the actual pain inflicted on your victim. The issue here, should it come to this, may have very profound repercussions, depending on how bad the transgression is. If bad enough, the acute pain felt by the perpetrator persists, is relentless, ‘obsessional’; it is such that it requires him to carry out some very real, concrete act of ‘redemption’ in order to relieve it.² A person in such a situation—no longer being himself—desperately feels the need to refind himself and is compelled to the point of action, is compelled to undertake ‘concrete’ actions to do so, to re-establish his identity, his true and coherent identity, the one and only identity he can live with, literally, technically, clinically. Such are the mechanics of the mind. In conclusion: feeling the hurt you inflict upon an unqualified competitor, or adversary, and certainly that which you inflict upon a weaker person for no good reason, would seem to be categorically—all considerations considered—negative.

Who would do such a thing?

For any number of terribly unfortunate reasons, a person, his mind, may feel helplessly compelled by his “ego” in a direction despite the fact that his “super-ego” is telling him—is relentlessly insisting—that it is unacceptable. A person finds himself in a situation beyond his control, no longer in control of his own mind, and experiencing the horrifying mental pain and suffering that goes along with it. His mind assumes two roles, acting—at the same time—on the self: the role of the reprehensible perpetrator responsible for getting himself into the situation of pain and suffering and the role of the calloused executioner, the one responsible for inflicting the punishment—the latter inflicting a pain and suffering onto the self, to the mind, as real as any pain and suffering brought on by a broken bone or hemorrhaging wound to the body. In such a desperate situation, one that is beyond your control, if the transgressions are grave enough, with feelings of guilt equally grave, this is a living hell. And this is beginning to sound a lot like ‘bad,’ as bad as the proverbial wrath of god and what we imagine an eternal hereafter of hell to be.

Rush to publish

So, hurting someone who you perceive to be weaker than you, this would be bad—this point of fact is the lowest level, the root level—as best I can figure—upon which one can build an argument for the existence of ‘bad’ in this seemingly godless world of ours because, even devoid of god, we remain what we are, whatever remains of us, let’s say a human, let’s hope ‘human’. And our feelings towards another, for our fellow man, is what, more than any other feeling, thing, makes us ‘human,’ makes us what we are, whatever we are, and this, regardless of whether or not there is a god to account for our existence in any deeper sense.

But if none of this still sounds convincing for establishing the existence of some ‘evil’ sort of bad, this concept that has obsessed everyone from Delilah, of Sampson and Delilah holy-bible fame, to Michael, of Michael Joseph Jackson king of the pops fame, then maybe that’s just because it can’t be established without some possibility of an exterior reference point, some notion of some thing, or being, something, beyond this life that would make bad real, really real—an exterior reference point that would qualify, and certify, certain behavior in this life here on Earth as bad, behavior to be avoided for fear of the consequences after death. If this exterior reference point is indeed necessary for this, then we better damn well start believing in it, at least as a possibility, for otherwise, all ‘hell’ will certainly break loose, or for non believers, let’s say: a veritable shit storm will certainly hit home. And the weak will be the first ones blown away. As usual.

Check to see what the markets are doing

“At least as a possibility” I said. As a fact though, as far as fact goes, this afterlife, afterexperience, whatever you want to call it, is impossible to know before death, one way or another. It’s like that. And you can forget the likes of Stephen Hawking and other awe-inspiring, stupefying scientists who would try to make you believe in things that man just can’t understand.

For Hawking, our existence, life, all that is, will, and can ever be; all that is, will, and can ever be known, is all wrapped up in an all inclusive way into what we commonly call the universe. (Note that we are not using the more reasonable, or modest term ‘known universe’. For Hawking, everything is known.) And the all-inclusive nature of the universe described by Hawking shows, according to Hawking, that the universe, and our lives within it, can exist without an exterior cause or reference point, that is to say, without some god or some kind of afterlife or experience of whatever kind after death. However believable his scheme of things may seem using our formidable means of understanding, the mathematics and the science at our disposal, it still remains nothing more than ideas or impressions experienced by our consciousness in this what we call life. In effect, this ‘reality’ of his, however complete and absolute Hawking can make it seem, is limited to this consciousness of ours in this so called life we live. But as many a philosopher has said, using simple logic, it may all be an illusion—or if not an illusion, one should not, at the least, be drawing absolute conclusions about what we can or can not know—about anything, in any life or time—without having an exterior reference point to know/validate it from. And as logic would have it, one exterior reference point—should it exist for you to benefit from—would need another in which to judge it from in turn, ad infinitum. So just drop it. You can’t use physics, science, mathematics, no matter how complete your scientific scheme or theory seems to be, to speak about something outside of or beyond our consciousness. However ingenious Stephen Hawking may be as a scientist-mathematician and, once again, however all-encompassing his scheme depicting our universe (the extent of our reality), may appear to be, he is mistaken on this point. He is not a genius about everything, and everything would seem to be a minimum prerequisite when questioning whether or not our mind is capable of drawing absolute conclusions about all that can be known and all that can be, particularly given the fact that death³, the unknown, must be factored into the equation, no pun intended.

At this point it is appropriate to question the emotional quirks, or cracks, in Hawking’s intellectual ‘omnipotence’, his ‘omniscience’ on the subject of existence, his denouncing of a possible part to be played by death, the death of our consciousness in this life experience, his renouncing of any possibility for any post-life existence, experience, phenomena of whatever sort, and of course his renouncing of any form of ‘god’ along the way. As I said, the more normal position to take on the subject would be one where we admitted, given the limits of our psycho-biological makeup—which is responsible for our capabilities in respect to consciousness and awareness—that either position is absurd: that there being a god or some explanation for our existence after death or there not being a god or some explanation for our existence after death. Both situations are absurd: our existence, being—anything—without a cause is absurd (and this includes Hawking’s self contained universe) or, equally as absurd, is a god, an ultimate being as a cause or explanation for our existence, for if there was this god, then where did this god come from?, who created him?, and so on, ad infinitum. Given this impossibility to make sense on such a matter why would someone as intelligent as Stephen Hawking take such an absolute position on the subject?

Well obviously he is coming from a world of science where one tries to explain what is happening around him but more than this—much more than this—he is coming from a life dedicated to the “theory of everything”, whereby you try to explain, in one theory, in even one equation…well, everything. This leads to, at least in his case, one trying to explain the limits of our knowledge and existence in an absolute way, to an absolute extent. In so doing, it almost naturally follows that he would play God and try to explain things which just can’t be understood, that is to say, explain not just those things we perceive while alive with the consciousness that goes with being alive, but also potential phenomena or existence beyond death, those things outside of or beyond our consciousness, which is diametrically in opposition to logic, or in plain language, totally absurd.

Also, to the extent that Hawking is challenging the traditional conception of a traditionally conceived god, whose punitive measures for non believers are legendary, he would appear to be throwing caution to the wind—to say the least. But in his personal case this is easy to understand. It is not hard to imagine that a man who has been stricken by a crippling disease and confined to a wheelchair for the greater part of his adult life feels that he has every right to challenge god, especially a god who is typically conceived of as being so great, so ‘big’, so understanding. Could such a god be so small as to smite one of his humble creations to the point that he not only cripples him in his life on Earth, as he has done with Stephen Hawking, but would also condemn him to ‘hell’ after death—all because the poor guy refused to believe in his questionable existence? I think it perfectly understandable that Stephen Hawking, given the pathetic physical condition he’s in in such worldly respects, pushes his science to its improbable conclusion and tells god to “take that”, his best shot. He knows god’s big enough to take it. And, and, it all makes him look so ‘provocative’ to us.

…if we can’t master bad? I leave you with the following response: the “Coming to Terms with Bad” art works, my dead-end statement on, expression of, if not contribution to, the subject.

Essential Footnotes:

¹ The transcendence in question here is somewhat of a novel concept: it does not result in an extension or completion of the self which is normally the case, but to the contrary, in a regression or diminution of the self. The transcendence is in the form of a primal reaction taken by the mind to regain a cohesive self, or at least, a manageable impression of it. In effect, to the extent that cohesion is maintained, its only interest (positive quality) is base self preservation. It is to the extent that the bridging effect of this reaction equates with relief, or a liberating sensation, albeit, only from something far worse, that it equates with transcendence. The experience has for final result, has for its bottom line, a ‘negative transcendence.’  The individual is a new person indeed, but one catalyzed into a lesser self, one lacking the qualities and/or constituents of a normal well balanced person, who can grow, explore, go where it wants to go without fear and the mental suffering resulting from fear. In the pathological case at hand he takes on a form that can be qualified as less than ‘human’, one which may best be described as bestial, given the opprobrious nature of the transformation.

² On matters of self identity, the ‘self’ (your being in the most absolute sense), committing an idea to action—going beyond an idea of oneself to actually acting on the idea—is decisive, definitive, conclusive in its realization, its ‘concretization’. I think, by the way, as a nice little poetic afterthought, that this is what Melville was referring to in Moby Dick when Ahab exclaimed: “Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!”

³ Psychologists and other human-science scholars recognize death—man’s awareness of his own end—as being one of the principal ‘realities’ that conscious man realizes, and this realization is fundamental in the formation of his identity, his ‘self’,  in the formation of his very being—to the extent that any being, as opposed to thing, can exist and be understood. Extent, to the ‘extent’ that any being can exist and be understood, is the key—because death prevents us from knowing ourselves and from understanding our existence entirely. In effect, the limitations and/or unknown facet of the ‘self’ inherent in the concept of death is at the base of all that is essentially man: his sophistication, his complexity, but also his mystery and/or problematic existence due to the unknown.

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