Good vs. Evil: A Question of Survival

The idea that good and bad are cultural constructs has almost become a cliche.  While I may support abortion I can understand the arguments of others for keeping it illegal.  Far more interesting, I believe, are the causes of our staunch moral codes.  The bottom line is that we as a species look to survive and multiply before all else.  At their cores, good and bad come down to breaking or adhering to and exemplifying our cultural standards.  While a polygamist may be heralded as successful for having 5 wives, we in America find this to abhorrent and create laws to prevent such a practice.  These norms and laws exist because we as a society and culture have decided collectively that we do not want to live in an environment where these things happen regularly.

This social contract exists until the system collapses.  If people need to break cultural norms to survive they will.  I would argue that this is the root cause of theft, murder and looting during times of crisis.  Consider the 1972 Andes flight disaster.  In this gruesome tale a plane carrying 45 people crashes in the Andes.  During their struggle to survive and subsequent trek to freedom they resorted to cannibalism when their food supplies ran out.  None of them would have done that if it could have been avoided, but because their lives depended on it they did (Goodenough).

While researching for this topic I thought it would be very interesting to look up research that pertains to children, especially babies.  Infants have the least exposure to culture and I figured that this could yield a definitive answer to the good vs evil question.  In a study at Yale university, researchers showed babies a puppet show where one shaped tried to “climb the hill, struggling up and falling back down again. Next, the other two shapes got involved, with either one helping the climber up the hill, by pushing up from behind, or the other hindering the climber, by pushing back from above.”  They found that babies tended to gravitate towards the helper shape following this show.  This was not the end of the testing.  “Infants saw a second scene in which the climber shape made a choice to move towards either the helper shape or the hinderer shape. The time infants spent looking in each of the two cases revealed what they thought of the outcome. If the climber moved towards the hinderer the infants looked significantly longer than if the climber moved towards the helper.”(Stafford)  I think it is clear that the babies are not thinking that one is good while the other is bad, both of which are defined by culture.  The baby instead is seeing helpful action vs detrimental.  I think this makes it clear that good and bad are products to upbringing, and that people are not inherently evil as some may say.

So can we say that someone or some culture is evil or not?  I think that the key is to first understand that it is all culturally relative.  One we move past this I think that you can pass moral judgement on a person.  So are there truly evil people in the world?  I would say that of course there are, one simply needs to turn on the news to find them.  That said, I can’t help but feel sorry for people that commit heinous acts.  These are likely people that were brought up in such a traumatic or twisted environment that they either think what they are doing is ok, or that they feel that they need to do it to ensure their survival.  Had they been brought up differently who knows what they could be doing.  Major Top, the genocidaires in Rwanda, are all a product of their upbringing.  That said, I wish Andrew, Ken and I could have been up in that bell tower with with a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and boxes of ammunition. We could have cut those machete-wielding, blood-crazed drunken killers to pieces from here one by one. With insane joy” (Cain, Postlewait and Thomson 243).

Works Cited

Cain, Kenneth, Heidi Postlewait, and Andrew Thompson. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Goodenough, Tom. “I Had to East a Piece of My Friend to Survive. It Was Repugnent.” Http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/4587280/Plane-crash-survivor-who-ate-the-flesh-of-dead-passengers-to-stay-alive-has-defended-his-actions-40-years-to-the-day-since-Andes-disaster.html. N.p., 13 Oct. 2012. Web. 23 June 2013.

Stafford, Tom. “Are We Naturally Good or Bad?” BBC. N.p., 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 June 2013.

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