Good and evil, black and white, light and shadow: the classic dichotomy of our society.
We're so obsessed with characterizing ourselves as either one or the other. So much so, in fact, that we disregard people who aren't of our alignment. A virtuous person doesn't make a habit of fraternizing with criminals, and vice versa (assuming for ease of argument that everyone fits into D&D's 9 personality alignments).
We preoccupy ourselves with what other people think of us. We capitalize on social outlets so that everyone else can know how virtuous we are. If we do bad things, we (usually) don't broadcast it. We operate under the assumption that if we're more staunchly nice or mean, we'll get more rewards appropriate with such a station (be they wealth, power, respect, whatever floats your boat).
The funny thing is, each action isn't valued the same way, even if it's the same intensity on opposite sides of the spectrum. Saving a woman from getting hit by a car and hitting her yourself aren't valued the same by society. Value is a funny thing, really.
Think for a moment- what's the difference between a $1 bill and $5? Only the pattern of the ink on the note, yet one is five times as valuable. Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan phrases it intriguingly: "A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts.", We as a (n American) culture place arbitrary value to all sorts of things from cotton rectangles to the actions of strangers.
Like I said, the values of actions are far from equal. For whatever reason, a bad action is seen as far more influential than a good one. This plays out in one of my favorite movies, Pirates of the Caribbean:
Elizabeth Swann: Commodore, I really must protest! Pirate or not, this man saved my life.
James Norrington: One good deed is not enough to save a man from a lifetime of wickedness.
Captain Jack Sparrow: Though it seems enough to condemn him.
It's funny the way our society works. Each action is subject to the perspective of whomever sees it. Whose action is more immoral, the mother stealing food for her starving children or the banker who legally evicts people from their homes? Good and evil are always seen as staunch opposites, but more often than not, they're both treading water in the gray pool of in-betweens.
The perspective on Good vs Evil is one that's always fascinated me. It's something that I've written about before and is the inspiration for the title of this blog. 1 Hopefully I've given you a bit to think about and welcome any comments (which you should be able to leave without any signups or anything below) or discussion.
- 2016 Note: The blog this was originally posted on was called "The Light and the Shadow" but has since been rebranded to the much more boring name of "David's blog". Also there's no comment section anymore, so that next statement won't make sense. It's fine.↩