How to be good

This blog is about evil, though it strays off topic sometimes, but the flip side of evil is good.  And by understanding one, we may better understand the other.

To be good, you first have to want to be good.  It has to be a high priority.  One book that helped me in this direction was titled Willpower by Roy Baumeister.  He says that research shows that willpower can be exercised, just like a muscle.   So I have tried doing that.  Whenever I feel like taking short-cuts, either ethical or otherwise, I make a point of using what willpower I have to do things correctly, ethically and otherwise.  This helps in being considerate of others, for example.

To be good, we have to realize that man is an imperfect creature.

And we have to pursue truth.

Imagine if a docudrama of your life comes out, and you take your family to see it. To your horror, you are portrayed as a villain. The other actors in the movie are all real people, with real names, and some basic facts are correct, but the biographer, whether out of malice or some other reason, has gotten the fundamentals wrong. The good guys are the bad guys, the bad guys are the good guys, and the motives are wrong. You look around you at the enthusiastic audience, and want to shake each of them by the collar and yell – this is not true!
That audience is all of us.

I am bored with the various Middle-East conflicts – with religions that I do not believe in, and the people who follow them.
However:

The young men and women who flock to ISIS may think they are being good.  They are re-creating Mohammad’s dream, or at least his historical environment, on earth, which presumably is what Allah wants them to do.  This dream includes killing infidels, taking captive women for slavery etc. and carrying out every Koranic command to the utmost.   Their religion and ideology, in my view, corrupt whatever is good about them, but there obviously is courage and idealism in some British Pakistani who purposely goes to a war zone to fight for Allah.  Likewise, there was courage in the 19 men who flew the airplanes into our Pentagon and World Trade center.

George W Bush described those 19 men as being “evil and deluded”.

They certainly were deluded.  More than a billion people revere the words of a man who told them that he was a prophet, who ordered his followers to kill non-believers or make them pay tribute, who had multiple wives captured from victimized tribes (including Jews), who had sex with a nine year old girl (Aisha), etc.

Because of this belief, vast numbers of people, including Muslims, have met a premature end.

This is an extreme case – but even those of us who say they prize rationality are often very wrong.

Tuvia's book
Tuvia’s book

I started reading a book by a Jew (Tuvia Tenenborn) who pretended to be a German to Palestinians he spoke with, and they told him that ‘you Germans are good people, for killing all those Jews’, and he also talked to Germans who told him that Jews control the world financial system. Its news to me (being Jewish) that I control the world financial system. In fact, I’m allergic to anything involving gambling, stocks, etc.

There are a substantial number of Muslims who believe, even today, that the Jews killed non-Jewish children for their blood, which they supposedly drank on Passover.  More sophisticated Muslims may believe the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, which supposedly reveals the Jewish plot to control the world.

Brendan O’Neill says this about Britain (in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal)

Everywhere, from the spittle-flecked newspaper commentary to angry street protests, the old view of Jews as infanticidal masterminds of global affairs has been cut-and-pasted onto Israel.

I believe that these British protestors would not care at all about Palestinians if Palestinians were murdered by other Muslims, as is shown by the fact that they did not march when Jordan killed a substantial number of Palestinians, or when Palestinians were kept from being normal citizens with equal rights in Lebanon. Marchers against racism did not march when millions of blacks were killed by other blacks in the Congo. Perhaps people have a herd mentality, and follow the fashionable causes of the moment.

So we need to have a “double-standard detector”.  And we need to expose ourselves to political (and other types of) debate.  If we are able to use logic in buying a car, or persuading our friend not to text and drink while driving on a cliffside highway, then we have to not abandon that ability to use logic when dealing with other types of belief etc.

And we should question even those people who we respect.

We should also understand that what people call compassion often has perverse effects.  To take one example, several countries have found that if you feel sorry for single women with children, and give them free housing, that other single women will deliberately have children to get themselves free housing away from Mom and Dad.

Part of the human condition is that you can be only a few feet away from another person, and look into his eyes, and not know what goes on behind them.  Probably in my life I have walked by murderers, assassins, spies, call girls, Jihadists, crooks, bullies, psychopaths, saints, and heroes, and not had a clue.  Sometimes I do have a clue, as when I walked by a young black man in Harlem who was promising on his cell phone that he could get “bitches” for whoever was on the other side of the line. But one belief I have, that has been partly formed by experience, is that people really do vary tremendously in their ethical makeup, their motives, their moral logic, their temperament, and that we do not understand evil people as much as we think we do.

So to recap – a desire to be good, a desire for truth, a willingness to question even those you revere, and willpower – these all help in living a life that at least you won’t be ashamed of.

Sources:
It’s Britain, So the Anti-Semitism Is More Refined:
http://online.wsj.com/articles/brendan-oneill-modern-major-jew-haters-1408042650
Perverse incentives to have fatherless children: http://townhall.com/columnists/phyllisschlafly/2005/05/09/federal_incentives_exist_to_make_children_fatherless
Willpower by Roy Baumeister
I Sleep in Hitler’s Room – Tuvia Tenenborn

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4 thoughts on “How to be good

  1. well. I enjoyed your post and agree about the muslim faith and how deluded these people are, but regarding the single mother comments, let me assure that I am watching right down my street a woman who is on baby number 4 from daddy number 4 and she and her mother and her sister ALL have never been married, with tons of kids with different fathers, all have been on assistance their entire lives and this woman said POINT BLANK that she got pregnant with number 3 to avoid having work. They are the trainwreck family of the neighborhood and drive everyone crazy as they sell their foodstamps for money and send the kids running around begging. They keep their home looking like trash and fight on the front lawn. They have no clue except that the kids are their money ticket. I see through their false verbal devotions. The kids tell me what it is really like.
    I am along with my husband loving and nurturing the kids from her (there are others from the other daughter) and basically we are the parents, providing support and discipline and taking them to church. Don’t count on social services to fix this problem. They have been called yet have never interviewed a neighbor. They are worthless just like the Veterans administration and every other run government program.
    WElfare is EVIL. It destroys people’s integrity, independence and desire to work. Yes, I believe after 20 years as a nurse that most people on welfare are lazy and selfish. The government has recreated slavery in another form. THe goal of leftism is to destroy America like it has destroyed Europe. We are well on our way.

  2. I think people need to remember some teachings like these:

    –All of creation is the family of God, and the most beloved of God is whoever does good to his family
    –Whoever has no kindness has no faith
    –Good thoughts are a part of worship
    –Humility and courtesy are themselves a part of piety

    These are some of the oral traditions of the prophet Mohammed. If an evil minority of so-called Muslims commit violent actions this is no reason to condemn someone whose teachings totally reject such behaviour. Maybe Jesus was evil because of the Inquisition or because of the actions of Irish terrorists?

    As for welfare being evil because some people take advantage of it, when the majority do not, this is ludicrous. And as for Europe having been “destroyed” — can’t say that I’ve noticed.

  3. Carl,
    I wasn’t aware of the quotes you mentioned, but I was aware of the Koran quote “there is no compulsion in religion”. In fact, there is even a statement in the Koran that Israel is the land of the Jews, a statement that would make Hamas very unhappy if it was brought up.
    However, there are truly ferocious statements in the Koran too.
    My religion, Judaism, has had some ferocious moments in history too (like stoning Sabbath-breakers). However, there is no command to wage Jihad (and Jihad does NOT mean a inner struggle, like apologists sometimes say).
    A prosecutor here in New York, Andrew McCarthy, tried to convince a terrorist defendant that the defendant did not understand Islam, and that Islam was a religion of peace.
    So Andrew McCarthy read the Koran, and came across one ferocious verse after another, and he realized that this defendant knew his religion a lot better than him, a naive New York prosecutor who just assumed in advance that all religions are peaceful.
    There is a reason why a British soldier was hacked to death in the town of Woolwich, United Kingdom, by a Muslim convert, but not by a Hindu convert. Its not that the Muslim convert was evil, because he could be evil without attacking a British soldier. After all, what did it gain him? Money?

    As for welfare, I can understand wanting to help people. I used to walk in the New Haven library and see homeless types trying to sleep on desks, and the librarians of course did not like this, but I felt for these ragged men. I know what it is like not to sleep. I knew it would compound any problems they had getting out of their situation.
    But if you look at the previous poster that you replied to, she takes care of children of irresponsible parents. She cares. And she does something about her caring, which is more than I do.
    But she also says she has a much experience, as a nurse, with people who are selfish and milk the system. In fact, she goes beyond that, and says that wefare is bad for its recipients in general.

    Perhaps the basic question is – when is something just an exception to the rule, and when is it an outgrowth of a basic problem. For instance, you say bad behavior by Muslims is an exception to the general behavior of Muslims. You can say that the Inquisition was an exception to the golden rule that Christianity preaches.
    From my observation of my tribe, I would say that “stoning” is not characteristic of modern Jewish thought or behavior.

    There are a substantial amount of black attacks on whites which seem to be racially motivated, in the US, but we could argue that this is an exception to the rule. Certainly some black people are just as well-behaved as anyone else.

    We could argue that though some people abuse government aid, most do not.

    So how does one know the answer to the question I just raised about rules vs exceptions? Life is somewhat ambiguous.

    However, lets take a more neutral example, the example of organized crime. The Mafia is very entrenched in Sicily, Calabria, etc. It has many members. It commits murders, in Italy and abroad. So if I said “All southern Italians are mafiosi”, I of course would be wrong. However, if I said something like “we all have crime problems, and southern Italy is no different”, then I would be avoiding a fundamental reality.

    I think the same is true of Islam, that the adherents to that faith that are doing these terrible things in the name of that faith, are indeed responding to some of the teachings of that faith. Perhaps a good-natured Muslim would somehow avoid those parts of his religion – but those parts are there.

    As for welfare (government aid), at its best, in theory, it is a temporary safety net that lets people get on their feet if they are down and have no family or friends to help them. But we have found in the US that it creates many perverse incentives. Just to the south of our border is a country that does not have (government) welfare. That country is Mexico, and it is getting more prosperous, it does not have 17 trillion dollars of debt and a hundred trillion of dollars of promised obligations, like we have, and it doesn’t have the family breakdown that we have here (about 50% of latino families in the US are headed by a single mother, 30% of white children and 75% of black children live with a single mother). So it raises the question – we have spent truly vast amounts of taxpayer money to help the poor – and have we made things worse?
    — GM
    P.S. this man, a Christian who is the son of an Imam and used to pray 5 times a day to Allah, and was steeped in Islam, in his soft-spoken rational way makes an argument that ISIL (Islamic State) does understand Islam and that Obama is wrong to say they do not. He also says that even in the moderate country of Morocco, he was brainwashed to hate Christians.

    1. Thanks for the long reply. The issues you are discussing raise a number of extremely complex issues about (1) religion, and (2) political systems. Here are a few points that occur to me at random:
      A. I think you would accept that religions have an an inner and an outer aspect. In Judaism and Christianity this has been a contentious issue, but in Islam it is widely understood, as per the statement that the Koran has seven levels of meaning. The overt message is just level 1, e.g. that jihad is a literal war against the enemies of Islam (ie, those who are set on its destruction, as was the case during Mohammed’s lifetime). But at level 2, you have another oral tradition, “The holy warrior is he who struggles with himself.” So both interpretations can be true within their own contexts. Obviously the kind of person who enjoys inflicting violence on others would be able to find quotes that appear to support his twisted viewpoint–this is not unique to the present situation.No doubt the Inquisition had plenty of Biblical quotes to back up their evil actions.
      B. I also find the use of violence repugnant but it seems there are times when it seems to be the only option to avoid one’s own destruction. If you have read about the history of Islam (the best recent book is Karen Armstrong’s Muhammed–A Biography of the Prophet) it does seem that the pagans of the day were persecuting the prophet and his followers. Even so, battles were on the whole conducted on the battlefield, and not by blowing up innocent people without warning, as the terrorists do today. Chivalry came originally from the Moslem world, as you might know. Again, the terrorists have none of the basic ideas of fairness, chivalry, and decency that are all elements of Islam. Certainly brainwashing people to hate Christianity is totally contrary to the basis and history of Islam. Mohammed’s uncle was a Christian and was his first declared supporter. Mohammed saw Islam as an extension of the monotheism of Jews and Christians (although he rejected the silly trinitarian doctrine of the latter).
      C. As a product of the UK welfare state I have to admit that when I suffered a total physical breakdown 18 years ago I was effectively unemployable for 3 years (although I still made about 350 job applications in that period!), and without State aid I simply couldn’t have survived. In that period I was sent to a State run Job Club, which proved eventually to be my way back into work, and I was able to observe other people who were also classed as long-term unemployed. None of the people that I met there were spongers or lazy. Many of them were in a state of constant anxiety and shame. One man confessed to me that he would kill himself, but for concern about what would happen to his cat. Yes, there are idlers and crooks, but it is not difficult to spot them, and the present government has brought in some stringent rules to weed them out. Evil is not, I think, quite the right description for them — lazy, empty-headed, selfish, yes. But these people are everywhere, they are not products of a particular system.

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