“If men were born free, they would, so long as they remained free, form no conception of good and evil.” – Baruch Spinoza
What does it mean to be born free? For that matter, what must we be free from so that we may be free for something? Philosophers have been attempting to answer these questions since the dawn of human consciousness. One can argue that there has been progress, and yet we still find ourselves born unfree.
What does it mean to be born free? It means to be born into a state where the tyranny of culture (whether religious or political) does not confine or limit a person in either mind, body, or soul. What must we free ourselves from, that we may be free for something? Again, the answer is the tyranny of culture. It’s just a more proactive way of asking the same question.
So, what is the tyranny of culture? The tyranny of culture is the conditioned state, the indoctrinated state. It’s societal pre-programming and brainwashing, whether political or religious. It’s the prison of the status quo that most of us are unaware of.
Governing this precept, it stands to reason that if Spinoza’s opening quote is to become self-realized, we must first admit that we were not born free, second, find a way to get free (from tyranny of culture) and third, replace our conception (misconception) of good and evil with something more grounded. Something more in alignment with the nature of things. Something more conducive with universal laws and the way the cosmos actually work, as opposed to the way we’ve been indoctrinated to think it works.
Easier said than done, no doubt. But becoming free was never meant to be easy. As Epicurus said, “The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it.” So what is this more grounded “something” that we should replace the concept of good and evil with? The concept of healthy and unhealthy on a sliding scale of moderation. Let’s break it down…
Healthy & Unhealthy vs. Good & Evil
“In everything, there is a share of everything.” –Anaxagoras
When we peel away the layer upon layer of culture from the human condition, we discover an extremely insecure animal wrestling with the knowledge of its own mortality, who is forced to contemplate its own tiny existence within an ancient and dwarfing universe. What else is such a creature to do but balk and then create concepts of good and evil based upon fear of the unknown? Well, for one, such a creature could evolve and then create technologies that bring it more into alignment with the unknown. Rather than fear, rather than balking, such a creature could realize that things are not based upon good and evil at all, but upon healthy and unhealthy.
Here’s the thing: we are all going to die. There’s no way around that. It’s how we live our life that matters. And in a universe that dictates health rather than goodness, it behooves us to come into alignment with the universe’s healthy dictation. This way, goodness is health and the very concept of goodness itself is more conducive with the way the cosmos actually works rather than the way our fear-filled forefathers falsely imagined it works.
Focusing on health launches us beyond good and evil. It gets us out of our own way. Caught up in the concept of good and evil, we rely too much on the fallible opinion of mankind. Whereas, coming into alignment with healthy and unhealthy, we can rely on the infallible dictation of universal laws. For example: universal law dictates that you need oxygen to survive. If you breathe oxygen, you are healthy and you live. If you don’t breathe oxygen, you are unhealthy and you die. This isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s not up for debate. It’s dictated by the cosmos that evolved us into a creature that needs oxygen to survive and be healthy. Health then is about survival, and the healthier we are, the better we will be at surviving.
The problem with the concept of good and evil is that it muddies the waters of health by forcing the unnecessary middleman of culture’s opinion into the mix, and such opinions are usually unfounded and outdated, usually having nothing to do with universal laws or the way the universe actually works. For example: A priest could have the opinion that sex is a sin (evil), but his opinion would be unfounded since universal law dictates that sex is a healthy function of a human animal. Health trumps cultural opinion, across the board. Whether its sex (healthy) or cigarettes (unhealthy) cultural opinion is irrelevant under the almighty dictation of universal law.
Let’s say for example, murder (unhealthy) is evil (opinion). But even still, the two-sided unhealthiness of murder trumps the two-faced middleman of cultural opinion. So, you might as well just bypass the notion of evil altogether and get to the point: that someone is dead (unhealthy) by the hand of someone else (culturally unhealthy and threatening the survival of other people.) The opinion that murder is evil is irrelevant compared to the dictation that murder is unhealthy both for the murdered person and for the other people in the vicinity of a murderer. Again, healthy/unhealthy trumps good/evil. One can imagine a series of scenarios and almost always, they can be resolved by bypassing the muddying middleman of opinionated, good/evil and focusing instead on the dictation of healthy/unhealthy.
The Concept of Moderation:
“Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” – William of Ockham
Inevitably such ponderings will lead to the concept of moderation. This is where things get a little more complicated. This is because moderation works on a sliding scale. It’s situational. It’s applied differently, and in varying degrees, depending upon the particular scenario. For example: the moderation one would apply to the consumption of water is considerably different to that applied to alcohol, but both degrees of moderation we dictation by universal law, although applied differently to different people depending upon weight and body type. The consumption of alcohol is neither unhealthy nor evil, but it can become unhealthy if consumed beyond the dictated scale of moderation. Once again, the concept of evil is an irrelevant, outdated and parochial abstraction.
The sliding scale of moderation can be applied to all things, and when we use the concept of healthy and unhealthy to guide us, we leave the concept of good and evil on the parochial woodpile of outdated nonsense where it belongs. Moderation and the concept of healthy/unhealthy is all we need to evolve in a progressive way.
Too much of anything can be unhealthy. Even too much water can kill you. Although it takes much more water to kill you than alcohol, you can moderate alcohol and still remain healthy. Unlike certain things like crack cocaine: the sliding scale on this drug is so unhealthy even a “moderate” amount could kill you. And even if someone’s opinion was that crack cocaine is healthy, their opinion would be invalid according to the universal law of health and moderation, just as the opinion of a priest who believes alcohol or coffee is evil would be invalid according to the same law.
Validity of opinion is not based upon the tyranny of culture, no matter how many people believe it; it is based upon the dictation of health, no matter how many people don’t believe it. Universal law cares not about human inconvenience. And no matter how convenient it is to brainwash each other through the indoctrination of outdated notions of good and evil, it will stand that the concept of healthy and unhealthy makes notions of good and evil irrelevant. We might as well cut out the middleman-get rid of parochial good and evil and get better at using updated healthy and unhealthy with the sliding scale of moderation to determine right and wrong.
Indeed, the quicker path to Truth is not the pot-hole-riddled, muddy-watered, zig-zagging path of dogmatic good and evil which falls short of aligning itself with the way the universe actually works (invalid), but the open-ended, clear watered, bridge of updated consideration of healthy and unhealthy which falls into sacred alignment with the way the universe actually works (valid). See also Nietzsche’s concept of Perspectivism.
At the end of the day, the escape from good and evil is the adoption and practice of recognizing what is healthy and unhealthy while using moderation to navigate your way through the uncertainty and insecurity of being a fallible and mortal species.
Read more articles by Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.