Monday, April 14, 2008

Can we remove evil from the world

I was a volunteer at the First GNU/Linux Install Fest in Kerala (first publicly held). The event was a lot of fun and we had a lot of technical discussions. One of my discussions with a volunteer diverted and ended up on a discussion about evil in the society. I am sharing the relevant parts and some of my related thoughts and questions here. We could not discuss much because of the busy schedule at the meet but it had set off a few trains of thought. This is still an idea in the works and this is probably going to be a lot of questions, if not all, than a lot of answers. Also this is probably going to be highly incoherent as some of the chains of ideas were widely separated.

I started Zyxware with a vision to build a business that itself will be able to drive the change I wished to see in the world and also to get me to a position where I would have the financial and operative base required to set off on my own towards this ideal. I am making a few assumptions as foundations for this vision. One is the existence of 'good' and 'bad' and the possibility of a positive change from good and bad. Two is that I would be able to distinguish between them and do what I think is good.

But is there something called an absolute good or an absolute evil? For example can killing a man be called an absolute evil? What if he himself was on a killing spree using a machine gun in a crowded street? Would it then become an absolute good?

For actions where the consequences are not directly evident, how do you know what is good and what is bad? For example, Is giving money to a poor man good? Wouldn't it have been better to invest the money for his children's education?

When you have alternative choices for an action, can we really classify the actions as good and bad? For example, Is distributing a given amount of money to build houses in a village better or worse than using the same amount of money to build a school in the same village? Is giving money for a charitable cause like an orphanage better or worse than giving money for a rural development program?

Can we really know whether the macro and micro consequence of our actions and decisions to be able to classify them or even attempt to classify them? Example - Have the invention of computers made human life better? Do we even know that our lives have become better? Is living longer better than living a shorter life?

What if something that is good for me is not good for others? Would it be good or bad? Say if we take democracy as a means to solve this problem and define that it would be good if it is good for the most number of people, then would it be good if it was good for me and not good for just one another person? What if it was very good for one person and slightly bad for another person?

Humans are not all rational and hence some of them will always do irrational things. So some of them will do evil things. But is evil always irrational? Can't evil be rational? Can it be? People are not all identical. They will perform different actions under identical situations. So there will be variabilities in life. Some of these variations would be what one could classify as 'not good' as there would be some variations that could be classifed as 'good' which have to be different from the 'not good' in some aspects. So there will always be evil.

Some people derive satisfaction in fighting the so called evil. If mankind comes to a stage where all the currently defined evils have been elimated what will happen to such people? What will these people do? They will probably then define something else as evil and then fight against that.


  1. By no means a conclusion, but a continutaion of the trains of thought...

    If one is doing what he/she believe is right, then he must be doing good. If you think about it, that is the best we can to as rational beings.

    But then, how does one make a choice between right and wrong? I believe there are two broad ways by which one can (and mostly does) make the choice.

    One is by pure logical reasoning: If I can tell whether what I am going to do harms someone directly or indirectly, then it is wrong. Luckily, most laws of the land are based on such reasoning. For example, the law tells me that it is wrong to throw rubbish on the road. It doesn't tell why, but when I think about it, it is clear why there is such a law. It is to avoid inconvenience to the public. But then, there are also laws that do not lend to such clear analysis. For example, why does the law want me to pay more tax if I earn more? If I think deeply enough, that has a reasoing too - if I am earning more, then that makes me more responsible to contribute to the system which helped me in the first place to earn more. So, on the whole, if I follow the laws of the land, then I can be reasonably sure that I am doing no wrong. (There are of course times when law conflicts with logical reasoning - that can be subject to another discussion:))

    Second, (this is touchy and complicated) is when one relies on belief systems rather than pure logic. Belief systems which needn't be always based on rational reasoning, but faith (religeous, political or philosophical). Moslty the subjects are those where laws haven't been clearly formulated, or are being constantly questioned. Questions like, whether gay marriage is wrong? Whether stem cell research is bad? and hundreds of others. One can arrange many logical arguments for these, and as many against..and still not be convinced about what is right and what is wrong. Faith presents an easy way out.

    All fine so far, but there are times when one may chose to apply a belief system, when there is a clear law (backed by logic) that can be applied to the same question. And what does one do when the results of the second method clashes with the first? Depends on person to person. For a terrorist about to blow up a plane, logical reasoning may tell him that he is doing wrong, but he may have a belief system that vehemently tells him that if he blows up the plane, he is doing good. He may push logic to the back seat, or even forget to be logical at all...

    Open to more thoughts.

  2. Hi Anoop,
    Waiting for a blog from you for quite some time. Good subject matter too.
    I think the logical extension that nithin rajan has clearly elaborated is very clear. More discussion on such clear lines is most welcome.
    Regards (to both of you)

  3. @nithin - your explanation was brilliant. It brought a lot of clarity to my train of thoughts and like Srikanth has mentioned it made the issue very clear. I will need more time to think about this now :).