Heart of Darkness

My older brother and I had a discussion one night during Winter Break. Granted, I was ready to go to sleep and I was not ready to have a long discussion on philosophical matters. And what he said does not represent what we both thought at all. It was something that he thought was interesting and worth talking about, even though the topic itself was a little taboo.

My brother wondered what determined something was “good” and why it was considered “good.” I listed off some common virtues (wow, this sounds a lot like Protagoras and Meno) and how they contributed to the improvement of society. After all, we would rather live in a world where people help each other. We don’t want a world filled with murder and violence.

However, my brother said that’s only because those ideas of “good” is only a perception that was influenced by what I was taught when I was young. In fact, there is no true reason why these are good. Yes, they don’t cause us to die and they keep society in check, but is that really what we want?

The automatic response should be “yes.” I totally agree with this and keeping a positive mind on living and helping society. But who said helping people was good? In fact, if you want to go even deeper and more scary, who said living and the idea of being good is good? Good and Bad are such subjective terms that in fact, one can argue that maybe being “bad” could have been considered to be “good” and things like murder, rape, and chaos are supposed to be natural. After all, that’s what other biological organisms do. Of course, humans have the capacity for compassion and moral reasoning, but why do we decide those are “good?” Isn’t more like things we want them to be? In that case, isn’t the whole idea of “good” not absolute, but biased desires of humans? Isn’t that slightly hypocritical to judge something to be good or bad?

For example, the idea of cannibalism and incest? Both are taboo subjects. If you think about it though, a lot of things that are taboo are now legalized and supported. Gay marriage for example. Now you can’t really compare gay marriage to cannibalism and incest, but if they’re not harming anyone and it’s their own perception of “good,” isn’t it just depending on the majority’s perception of good? That means that if the majority doesn’t think these taboo ideas fall under what they think is good, then it’s automatically bad. Cannibalism and incest are slightly inappropriate, and people veer away from that subject, but I think it’s only because the idea of “good” is so subjective and ingrained in our minds by social terms. But these taboo things are just “bad” for the sake of being “bad.” There is nothing that makes these things bad; its just bad, and if you ask this in society, you’re seen as a leper and a freak and a psychopath or a sociopath. People think thinking these taboo things as taboo is a given, and if you don’t think that, it’s automatically wrong and you’re a sick individual. But if cannibalism is just eating (wow, I sound disturbing but bear with me) meat and incest comes down to love between two individuals, is that really bad?

Maybe from the beginning of history, we’re inclined for things that help us and our society to function and survive and that’s how we determine something to be good or bad. Maybe we determine solely by our moral judgement. But there’s also the possibility that there’s good is bad and bad is good, and we’re just choosing them for no actual good reason. There is no reason why something is bad or messed up other than the fact that it seems bad or messed up.

(Please don’t think of me as a weirdo. When I talked about this with my brother, I was a little freaked out, but it was kind of interesting so I thought I would share.)


2 responses to “Heart of Darkness

  1. I actually have thought about the influence of society and education on our perceptions of good and bad, and thinking about them in the openminded way in which you discussed them is not weird or disturbing but very impressive. You were able to successfully articulate alternate viewpoints without compromising or misrepresenting your own values. These types of discussions are exactly the types of topics that come up in sociology class.

    One of our classes was devoted to a discussion about how society dictates certain unspoken rules that we learn to abide by. In our culture, for example, violence is frowned upon in almost every situation. We consider it bad. In other cultures, however, it is considered good. An anthropologist named Napoleon Chagnon went to do fieldwork among a tribe called the Yanomamo and quickly discovered that violence was part of a life that those belonging to the tribe took for granted. Threats and violence were a way to win respect from those in the community. (His article was called Doing Fieldwork among the Yanomamo)

    We also discussed the social taboo of cannibalism, and a situation in which people had to amend the rules and meanings they had lived by in order to justify cannibalism. This focused around the story of the survivors of a plane crash in the Andes Mountains. The survivors resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves alive. They began to think of dead bodies not as people, but as meat, and created rules about what parts could be eaten, who could eat which bodies, etc. (This article was called Eating your Friends is the Hardest:The Survivors of the F-227 by James M. Henslin)

    Just so you know, you are definitely not the only one considering the question of why people do things and why they believe what they believe. You should look into taking a sociology class!

  2. I agree with Orli — you are definitely not the only one thinking about this, and it is very interesting! I want to add to her list of articles by adding one of my favorite philosophical books, which deals with this very subject: Totem and Taboo, by Freud.

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