In my upcoming psychology research book, I’m going to talk about good and evil, proving there’s not a wholly evil or good person, yet only shades of both. Here’s a brief writing in my first chapter:
Good and Evil
“This mountain’s of such sort
that climbing it is hardest at the start;
but as we rise, the slope seems to you so gentle
that climbing farther up will be as restful as traveling downstream by boat, you will
be where this pathway ends, and there you can
expect to put your weariness to rest.”
We, as humans, will constantly perceive ourselves in Dante’s situation, being pulled by the two sides of good and evil, virtue or sin. Tugging at our very existence. The angel and demon whispering in each ear. Our conscious mind struggling with our subconscious.
Is this right?
Am I evil or am I a good person?
Are people born good or evil?
Is there a Yin and Yang in every detail?
These questions are continuous, and the answers limitless.
We are agathokakological. Both good and evil.
The dichotomy of good and evil is as ancient as the story of the universe, and ageless in its purpose to just about all we deal with in life, from our political and spiritual views to our taste in music, art, and literature to how we think about our simple dietary choices. But while most of us realize that these views of good and bad are not always black and white categories, we never cease to amaze when someone or something we have made out as good does or be transformed into something we perceive as bad.
It depends on which part of the war line you are standing. Both parts have guns, are defeating their country, both killing and saving. So which one is the good and which evil?
For most of us, Hitler was the worst cause that happened to humankind, but none of us see it from Hitler’s eyes; by trying to make his country and the human race better. I am in no way justifying anyone in my writings, only to make us perceive it is where we stand that we can justify what is good or evil.
When people hear the name Gandhi, they automatically think saint. A great man with great teachings, whose values and actions positively influenced Eastern civilization, particularly in India, yet was his doings all good?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal confirms that Gandhi was not the saint Westerners have assumed. This image arose largely because of his martyrdom, followed by Martin Luther King Jr’s ignorant adoption of him as a role model- and fueled by the fact that Gandhi prohibited journalists from publishing anything about him that he had not first extensively vetted and edited. And I will not go into the articles written about Martin Luther king raping a woman. Again I am in no means advocating what is true or false, just stating both parts of the good and evil in people.
We all have that hero/villain spectrum inside of us. Researchers David DeSanto and Piercarlo Valdesolo explore this curious disconnect through the rigid lens of science. Drawing on their research at the Social Emotions Lab at Northeastern University, the authors present a compelling yet highly readable perspective on the psychology of the hero/villain spectrum of human nature, encouraging us to understand personality, both our own world and that of others, with a more balanced moral sense that echoes the fluidity of human psychology.
The origin of the term “character” takes place from an old Greek word relating to the permanent marks engraved on coins. Once character was compressed into your mind or soul, people assumed it was settled. But what modern science repeatedly shows is that this is not the cause. Everyone’s ethical behavior is much more changeable than any of us would have initially thought.
The metaphor of color is a fascinating aspect to examine character. Most of us assume that colors are distinct elements. Something is red, it has redness; something is blue, it has blueness. But we continue creating these classifications. We made the color blue into sadness, red for passion and love, they are not natural kinds, they are not produced in ways that represent fundamentally different qualities.
Ultimately, what controls what color we see are the frequencies of light waves entering our eyes, so it is along a continuity. It is the same with character. It fits. We believe that if one is good, that we have characterized them as good, that’s a distinct classification, they cannot be bad. And when they are, our categories shatter. That is because we have this imaginary, inconsistent conception of what vice and virtue mean.
I suggest reading Out of Character. It offers a fascinating case for viewing human character as a grayscale continuum, not a black and white dichotomy of good and bad, enlisting neuroscience and cognitive psychology to restore the age-old Aristotelian view of virtue and vice as fluid, interlaced existential limits.
I remember when I first started psychology in university, I was so positive and blind about the world and people. The first group research we had to do was “good vs bad” in human nature. We studied, tested, and researched millions of Iranians in Iran, of all ages and background. From the poor to the wealthy, from a clergy to a housewife. We had their background check, health and mental tests checked and proceeded with giving them a questionnaire consisting of many forms of would you do evil, and thereupon in other inquisitive ways that was transformed into a justified evil act. My heart was pounding with anticipation to find one person who would be a result of prevailing “good”, but all came out the same. If they justified an evil act, they would do it. Some people did not need the justification and would have continued with the evil deed.
I expressed to my professor I wanted to pursue this internationally, perhaps only Iranians are this way. We would undoubtedly find individuals who would be “good”. It was a long time after I tormented my dear professor, that he agreed and made it possible, that we could carry this experiment all around the globe. With the help of other prestigious universities and even clinics, the tests continued and again to my dismay not even one passed my “own” version of good.
You might be reading this, thinking that you certainly can, yet even I could not. That proved that there are not any solely “good” or “bad” individuals, only people who have grades of goodness and evil in them.
To see the light we need darkness, the stars and moon will always need the darkness to be seen.