Sunday, August 05, 2007

Men and the line between right and wrong

There is no dearth of opinions and discussions - both practical and philosophical - about the line between right and wrong, if there is such a line in the first instance. For a moment, let us assume that the line exists.

In some ways, of the many theories and ideas expounded in an attempt to traverse this line, the most popular ones seem to be the ones with the simplest all-encompassing definitions. Nevertheless, while stranger thoughts have led me to stranger places, one of these days I arrived on a small definition for myself, which I want to reexamine at a later point in time - hopefully, with a more experienced and dispassionate view on life's machinations - and perhaps validate or disapprove it. Based on an assumption that every man has a set of values that he perhaps ultimately answers to, not necessarily in his conscience, but even in the principles he supports vocally or otherwise. This clearly makes the definition relative and far from absolute.

The central idea is just this: if you do something once, and if your value system allows you to do it again, given that you have already done it once, it is right. Otherwise it is not.

I understand that this may not be useful in situations - and there are many such situations that arise - where we are considering the merits or demerits of a given action before doing it. But even so, it is possible to imagine a hypothetical situation where you have already performed the given action, and then are posed with the question of whether to repeat the action. While it is far from simple in such situations, I feel this would allow for the mind to juxtapose the value systems in light of the fact that you have already done this once, and then to ponder on whether to do it again, not about whether it was right or wrong in the first place. The right or wrong dilemma is inherently and indirectly answered as a result of these thoughts rather than the other way around - namely, that a presupposed notion of right or wrong dictating whether to repeat the action. There is a difference, and is perhaps not all sophism and subtlety.

Building on this foundation, I found that all the people in the world fall under four categories. The criminals, the disgraced, the depraved; and the others.

If a man thinks his actions are not wrong, but the law defines them to be wrong - justifiably or unjustifiably so - he is a criminal. The law is often, just a piece of paper that aims to guarantee the contination of civilisation at the expense of freedom, and no more. And so, it is likely that the laws change more often than people's value systems and to this extent, I think criminals are the best of the worst.

If a man thinks his actions are not wrong, but the society - his family, friends, and everyone else who feels a connection with him, again, whether justifiably or not - believes him to be at fault, he is disgraced. In claiming that these type of people are at some level worse than criminals, it is to be borne in mind that the law often is more impersonal and arbitrary than the values espoused by a society, with whom the subject is assumed to have some sort of connection at some level. If the man finds the society mostly alien to him, then the beliefs of the society become as irrelevant to his value systems as are laws, only in this case, without the punishment.

And lastly to the worst of the lot: the depraved. If a man performs an action that he believes is wrong, then he is depraved. And this is because it is his most personal values and beliefs that he has betrayed. A man is depraved when he does not stand up for his own ideals. And a true reflection and test of what those ideals actually are will surely occur after he has done it the first time, if he has not dwelt on it before. These are the ones who forgive themselves easily, casually even.It is this very depraved repeat offenders - in their own eyes - that are the most dangerous and the most wicked.

The others, then are, just everybody else, who are not one of the above, and thus more righteous than the rest. More righteous in law and in their society, in technical terms, but most importantly, in their own eyes and hearts.