Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Good and Evil without Metaphysics

This is the seductive beginning of a rather thoughtful article by Robert Anton Wilson:

The late Laurance Labadie once told me a parable about a king who decided that everytime he met somebody he would kick them in the butt, just to emphasize his power. My memory may have elaborated this yarn a bit over the years, but basically it continues as follows: since this maniac wore a crown and had an army, people soon learned to tolerate being kicked fairly often, and even began to accept it philosophically or stoically, as they accept taxation and other impositions of kings and governors. They even learned to bend over as soon as they saw the king coming.

Eventually, the king died and his successor naturally continued the tradition and kicked anybody *he* chanced to meet. Centuries passed, and, in the usual course of things, the nobility as a whole had demanded, and acquired, the same "right" as the king: any baron could kick anybody of lesser rank, and the knights could kick anybody except the barons or the royal family, etc. A large part of the population spent most of its waking hours facing a wall, crouched over, waiting for the next boot in the bottom.

The coming of democracy, in that amazing parallel universe, could only be understood according to the traditional thought-forms or acquired mental habits of the strange people there. Democracy therefore meant to those peculiar folks that *anybody* could kick *anybody else* as long as the kicker could prove that he (or she) had a bigger bank balance than the person receiving the boot in the rump. Within the context of the gloss or grid or reality-tunnel in that world, "democracy" could not have any other *thinkable* meaning. (See Berger and Luckman's The Social Creation of Reality if this sounds fantastic to you.)

He goes on to discuss the problems of a metaphysics of "Good" and "Evil" (as opposed to the more useful existential-phenomenological categories of "good for me or my group" and "bad for me or my group"). Much of it is quite good, but his criticism of Christianity and theologians needs qualification: he's talking about fundamentalism and fundamentalists (and, of course, these terms need to be further qualified, but the point is that they are subset of a much larger group). Thus, a sentence like the following seems naive and overextended: "The Christian theologian, historically, seems a person intent on terrorizing others into doing what he wants them to do and thinking what he wants them to think, or killing them if they will not submit." Still, he makes some nice points that many "real" theologians, i.e., the ones I would tend to agree with, have been making as well.


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