Friday, June 22, 2012

Good Not Good Enough

"Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining 'It's not fair' before you can say Jack Robinson" - C.S. Lewis

     I met a teen yesterday who will be attending my online high school this coming academic year. He was really fun to talk to and he's absolutely brilliant. He took the SAT in eighth grade and thought it was too easy. As he put it, it was 'poorly written.' I want to think that was encouraging.
     Ice cream cones in hand, we strolled down to the local marina, cutting out the small talk and getting right to the epistemology and the ontological thought experiments. Not ten minutes after meeting this guy, and we were deep in discussion on the possibility of algorithmically comparing different forms of society. I was scrambling to keep up with this kid, and enjoying every second of it.
    As is common with me, generating solid arguments takes time, so I listened most of the time and took mental notes on his points that I could more formally rip apart once I had time to do some further cogitation. I had originally written a piece for today's post on a topic similar to this theme of mathematical use in society, but I've shelved that one for the moment.
    Regarding the algorithmic comparison of societal forms, my new acquaintance told me that he had concluded that it was fundamentally impossible to do so. I wholeheartedly agreed with him on this conclusion, but for a slightly different reason. He held that, using math, one could never determine the 'best' society because one could only compare 'absolutes' like stability and longevity. 'Goodness' of society was relative in his mind. To the communists, democracy is bad and communism is good. To the democrats, communism is bad and democracy is good. Therefore, he reasoned, there was no good. It is this argument on the subjectivity of 'goodness' that I hope to rebuff.
    C.S. Lewis, in his tour de force, Mere Christianity, wrote a chapter in which he addresses this very question. "If we ask:" writes Lewis, "'Why ought I to be unselfish' and you reply 'Because it is good for society,' we may then ask, 'Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?' and then you will have to say, 'Because you ought to be unselfish'--which simply brings us back to where we started."In so many words, Lewis states that we are innately built to recognize good and evil. When we try to justify why something is beneficial for society, we create a cycle that ends up as something of a positive "virtus dormitiva." Lewis's argument for why we ought to be unselfish has no other reason than that we ought to be unselfish. It's a simple way to show yourself that you can actually, objectively discern good from bad. This method can be extended to other, basic and fundamental questions about society. Indeed, by performing this little experiment, you can form a limited picture of the 'best' society. 'Goodness' is far from subjective. It exists as a very real and tangible thing. However, things begin to get messy when you try to judge between communism and democracy using only our own discernment. That's where we can look for help in that little book called the Bible. It's an instruction manual to help us judge between good and bad where our own discernment cannot. And when we look close enough, we see that the 'best' society is neither communism nor democracy. It's monarchy.

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