Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tale of Two Worlds.

(Caption: Will Smith and Jeff Goldbloom portray heroic suicide bombers who commit a noble genocide in "Independence Day.")

We live in one of two worlds, but I can't be sure which.

Both of these worlds have people who suck ass and who screw everything up. Both worlds have their BPs. Their Hitlers. Their Crocks....

But one world is oh sooooo exciting, for it's filled with EVIL!!! And the bad things that happen in this world are done by bad people. People who WANT to do evil. They want to wreak havoc and destroy things. Their BP was the work of a criminal master-mind, some source of evil which WANTED to be evil. And the gulf coast was a consequence of this evil.

On the other world there are no evil people. What a boring world! Nobody wants to live here. On this world, MOST sane, competent people actually try to do good in their lives. Somehow or another, they look around, create some kind of rubric for themselves about what a good life is, and then they try to live it. Of course, this world DOES have religious fanatics who believe silly things are EVIL--things like consensually touching a few certain parts of the human anatomy without wearing the proper jewelry, or cooking a burger in the same kitchen you pour a glass of milk, or not wearing the correct underwear--stuff like that. They like to believe that stuff's evil, so they can be "evil" sometimes and make life on the boring planet more interesting and exciting. Mostly they do it so they can feel good when they stop doing it and become "good"again. It's really EXCITING to have that kind of arch to your life. But when it comes to the big stuff, stuff with real consequences and where real people get hurt, all the really sucky stuff on this world, even these people TRY to be "good."

So, all the really shitty stuff on this world is done by the "good" guys. You know, they TRY--how they try! But, because their rubric's screwed up, they just end up making stuff on the planet worse instead of better.

Now, everybody lives on one of these two worlds, or at least some mix, where one of these two options is more or less prevalent.

I'd like to live on the first world. Nice and exciting! And easy. Black and white! Everybody wants to live on this world, that's why most of our art, fiction and stories take place on worlds like this.

But I'm afraid that if I'm honest, I live in a world that's about 98% like world 2. Crap. This world's boring and hard and it takes a really sort of mature perspective to accept that.

But most importantly, if YOUR world is even 20% like world 2, that means a lot of the bad stuff is caused by good people. And if everybody's basically trying to do good, and to help people, (even if they're just helping themselves or their families, their towns, their countries...) but they're making things worse...

Then how can you and I tell the difference? How do I know that I'm not one of the jerks fucking everything up? I mean, OBVIOUSLY I'M NOT! Right? But, then, shouldn't that be obvious to those jerks who ARE screwing stuff up? But not only do those jerks think they're right, but some of them think I'm actually the one screwing stuff up!

Oy! What a confusing world to live on! No wonder we want to live on world 1.

Well, thinking like this can get YOU or ME so tied up that we don't try to help! That would be a problem, wouldn't it!?

Unless, or course, we're the people screwing stuff up....


Ok, ok, ok... here are my cards:

If you're the kind of person who thinks about this sort of thing, then you're probably less likely to be one of the screwer-uppers. Ayn Rand would say that the Invisible Hand of blind self-interest is the best way to help. But I wonder if BP did an outcome analysis of how their drilling would positively impact the people in the gulf region? Non-profits DO. So people really trying to help are more likely to not screw stuff up, because they; consider the ethics of their actions, establish rubrics for assessing their impact, they don't impose their will on others and they TRY to avoid conflict of interest. Isn't it illogical to think that a business model that does none of this is as likely to do good for everyone involved?

But still, there are non-profits that suck--people who do these things above and still generate bountiful suckiness...

So there's more here? Or do you live on world 1?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think that even in a decently-written summer popcorn flick there's really such a thing as evil done only for evil's sake. Seems like for any deed to be bad enough to be considered truly evil it's going to take a fair bit of effort. Short of insanity, there's just no reason to put in all that effort without some other, more specific, motivation.

That being said, your two worlds seem to boil down to:

1) Bad Guys who do like to do Bad Things
2) Good Guys Who Try Their Best But Fuck Up.

Of those two things, I'd say in my world there are certainly both (1, see the Third Reich, natch. For 2, see Haiti aid programs). The reality is probably a lot more of 2 than 1. But you're missing, to me, the largest component in any act of evil:

3)Arrogant Guys who just don't Give a Shit.

Using the spill as an example, I really cannot picture BP execs rubbing their hands together, petting their albino hairless cats, and twisting the ends of their wiry little moustaches, while they cackle in glee over their diabolical plan to destroy the Gulf ecosystem. I also feel like I'm not naive enough to imagine that BP was doing its best to make this world a shinier happier place and just wasn't up to the task.

I think there are simply a lot of people at BP concerned with running a reasonably efficient and safe business (as to remain profitable), getting a good return for the stockholders (to cover their own asses), and keeping a reasonably good public face (so as to continue to make as much money as with as little outside interference as possible).

Now, they clearly fall at least a little into your category 2, because they clearly screwed the pooch for themselves on all of the above and a whole lot more. But I'd have to disqualify them from that category, because I think it's pretty hard to imagine any philanthropic intent ever existed in their operation.

To me, this is a sad part of reality. Things like this don't happen because of some bad guy's evil plan, or because of some good guy's hubris. There's no nice, pat "reason" for us to assign in that way. They happen because nobody cares enough to make sure they don't happen. Nobody in a position to actually enact change, anyhow.

Anyway, to your thesis: I more or less agree. Hopefully most of us can avoid falling into category 1(Bad Guys doing Bad Things) without giving it much thought at all. And we can avoid being in category 3 (Arrogant Guys who just don't Give a Shit) simply by caring enough to think about effects our actions may have. But we do also have to consider that there will be some cases where we cannot avoid becoming part of category 2 (Good Guys Who Fuck Up) unless we put ourselves in category 4... Apathetic Guys Who Do Nothing At All.