The Good

We are here. We don't know where Here came from or why it is here, if we are honest. We have charted a biological and planetary history back billions of years, but why and how remain as big a mystery as they ever were.

What we do know is that there is good. In all the ambiguity and the horror of our experience, there is also much which causes us to flourish. There is displayed within people a beauty which is inspiring and worthy of the name Good, even Love.

There is also evil, or at least, a great poverty of goodness. Good seems to struggle to survive non-good, and is often overwhelmed.

We can hope that Here is not some inscrutable cosmic accident. We can hope that good, if not the design of the place, or the desire of the place, might still become our defining characteristic. Heaven, The Eschaton, Nirvana— all these witness to our human hope that good will prevail, and witness to our recognition that we are far from such a situation.

We might hope that there will be a time when The Good is the norm for this place where we are, and even a time when The Good has completely overcome evil. But we know that when things rule, there is usually imposition, and the beginning of not good. Humans flourish when they aspire to the good, and to loving, of their own accord, not when they are forced to behave. Forced behaviour does not lead to true good. Imposed power is the beginning of empire, and imposed power inevitably corrodes and undermines the good which incipient empire may envisage. Empire is inimical to the good. Evil is unrestrained empire, even if it be only the very local empire of the violent man's house.

So if goodness has some active component, if goodness is more than an idea, if there is something which is good, some power in the world that we are trying to describe when we use the word "God," for example, then it is not a power which imposes itself. It cannot be so, for such a power not only corrupts, it is already corrupt. We know that imposition and enforcement are already not good; they damage us.

The power of goodness, the power of this God-thing, must be of a different order altogether. It must inspire, encourage, attract, heal, and embrace. These things "make us good." They lead us to "being good." In these things we flourish as people.

And these things are all characteristics of service and of sacrifice. They do not give more enforcing power to their agent. In our normal understanding of the word power, these behaviours involve the giving away of power. They involve becoming vulnerable, not more powerful. And yet our human experience is that these things— this love— are what cause us to flourish.

It could be an attractive idea until one considers the cost of vulnerability. The cost of vulnerability is to lose one's security in this place. It is to say that death, my death, is of little concern, incidental. It needs to say this, this needs to be real, because to abandon coercive power will not only ensure less material success in our life, but likely hasten our death.

People who practice the good with the kind of intensity implied by the God-thing— people we might call Saints— tend to have very poor self-preservation skills. Saintliness—deep goodness— does not have self-preservation as one of its concerns or characteristics.

So one might begin to think that the establishment of goodness involves overcoming some very deep and basic instincts implanted during our biological evolution, where survival at any cost has until now been advantageous. Now we are saying that survival— well, survival at any cost, anyway— is not advantageous to the good. Survival at any cost means that I will impose my will, my personal power, physical force even, to ensure my advantage over you in a way which we know is not good. The things I will do to survive over you are the things that, elsewhere, we call bad, and evil.

Andrew Prior (2014/2019)


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