Beyond Good and Evil

21 Apr

At Quaker Meeting some weeks ago there was some interesting discussion of good and evil. When you’re a pacifist, what is the best way to confront evil? When does inaction become an active stance? Can you slay a monster without becoming a monster yourself?

On that last query, our modern myths seem to tell us that only evil can destroy evil, because destruction is itself an evil act.

They tell us that if you are good and you slay a monster, even with pure intentions, you will lose part of yourself in the process. You will be forever altered, injured, damaged, different…

Harry Potter can’t destroy Voldemort without dying himself. Anakin can’t destroy Darth Vader and Palpatine without destroying himself. Luke can’t help him without losing his hand. Gollum can’t destroy the ring without destroying himself. Frodo can’t help him without losing his finger.

If good and evil/dark and light/yin and yang are simply two sides of the same thing, then one cannot exist without the other. We cannot eliminate the Dark Side, or evil, because without them we would know not The Light, or the good. This is mythological wisdom.

But can we move past mythological wisdom? Can you imagine a world where it wasn’t true? Can you imagine a reality where good, in a vast continuum of degrees and complexities, is all there is? Where there are challenges and disagreements, but never violence, and never evil?

If you can’t imagine it, will it ever come to pass?

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4 Responses to “Beyond Good and Evil”

  1. motherofjedi April 22, 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    I’m not sure all mythological wisdom says we can’t eliminate evil, and while I see your point that modern myths suggest the hero who destroys evil destroys himself, I also don’t think that idea is necessarily a part of mythological wisdom overall; the flawed or tragic hero is a sort of modern neurosis. I was always taught that mythology represents human attempts to explain natural order, i.e., helping us to understand what happens in nature, in an external sense–why the sun rises and sets, why the seasons change, why a plant grows and bears fruit and dies and then is reborn. The cyclical nature of nature. In that respect, from the point of view of nature, is “destruction” evil? Jung, I think, then transferred the representative purpose of mythology to the inner life of humans, i.e., mythology as a means of helping us to understand what happens in our minds/emotions/etc. Inwardly, we can become aware of patterns that, like nature, are similarly cyclical. Destruction may be a part of an individual’s pattern (e.g., the way some folks over and over again experience loss of relationships, money, whatever), but if we can become the hero who destroys a destructive pattern, have we not acted in a way that is positive and not negative?

    • junorhane April 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

      I actually tried to come up with ancient myths that backed me up and had difficulty, so I agree that it’s not an idea espoused by overall mythological wisdom.
      The more cyclical philosophy of creation and destruction and creation again -death, rebirth, death – etc. seems to lie outside the dichotomy of good/light and evil/dark. While destruction is often associated with evil/dark, in the cyclical view I don’t think it is. Yet rebirth can’t happen without death, creation not without destruction. (I guess the modern scientific explanation is that matter can’t be created nor destroyed just transformed).
      If we become a hero who destroys the destructive pattern, what have we actually done? If we escape destruction are we also escaping the process that includes birth and creation?
      Can we imagine a world where creation and birth happen without dependence on destruction?

      • Anonymous April 26, 2009 at 2:28 am #

        Sacrifice and Change
        I think that dying and merely losing a finger are two very different things. The minor losses that heros experience in modern stories are there to show us that doing good is worth it, even if you must sacrifice something important in the process. A story about a hero who does good deeds with nothing at stake, and risks nothing himself, would be a boring story indeed.
        Also, you don’t need to look towards cyclical philosophies to find destruction as separate from morality. All change is fundamentally destructive, but change can be for either the better or the worse. (These stories always end with net change for the better — good wins out over evil — but within that there are many changes, for both the better and the worse, as there are every day within life.)
        On a related subject: In “The City and the Stars,” Arthur C. Clarke paints a compelling and quite disturbing picture of a society that has totally conquered destruction. Technology has developed to the point where anything you can imagine is possible. All causes of death have been rendered obsolete. Everyone is “born” at age 20 and lives 1000 years — enough to tire out even the best of us — before looking back on their life and choosing a set of favorite memories to save for their next reincarnation. There is only one inhabited city on Earth, in which the same one million people — carefully selected for their lack of strong ambition — are born over and over again in rotating shifts. At the time the story takes place, the city has remained essentially unchanged for more than 6 million years.
        — Josh

  2. youngjedi April 28, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    Okay, so LJ told me my comment was 585 character too long. Evidently, there is a limit. So I have posted my response on my own journal.

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