I see a lot of judging going around lately. And I notice that people often invent their own standards of right and wrong just before passing sentence. What this world needs is some sort of universal standard so we'd always know for sure who is good and who is bad.

The Ten Commandments was a start. That list covers some of the basics. But it's a bit dated, and it doesn't cover the important questions of our day, such as who is arrogant, who doesn't work hard enough, who should come out of the closet, who is a hypocrite, who is an Internet troll, and so on. Society is inventing new ways of being bad more quickly than we can evolve the rules to cover the new situations. We need some sort of standard that can keep up.

I'm unqualified for the task of creating this new standard of good and bad because I believe free will is an illusion. By my view, we're born, our molecules bump around then we die. No one is good or bad if we're all just bumping around according to physical laws. Any standard for good and bad behavior that I suggest would be inconsistent with my own point of view.

But for some reason I'm going to suggest just such a standard anyway. Apparently I can't help myself. And my standard goes like this: You're a good person if you work hard at something that is useful to society and you try to avoid hurting other people when it's practical.

I'm big on overlooking victimless crime. I'd go further and suggest that anyone who is putting effort into punishing people who commit victimless crimes is bad.

One big problem with my standard is that we live in a world with limited resources. The simple act of getting a job creates a victim if you consider the next best applicant who lost out. If I stand in line to buy something, I make the line longer for the people behind me. Most of what we do has some sort of impact on others. But let's agree that you can display a certain degree of self-interest and still be a good person. Without some degree of selfish behavior, society would fall apart.

I've been thinking about this because a new breed of media has popped up that takes evil to a new level. Today, for example, spewed across the Internet is the report that Rachel Maddow believes some members of the broadcast media who are closeted gays should come out, as she has. Gawker - ironically named after a vigorous form of self-satisfaction - helpfully lists some broadcasters that they believe should come out.

The thin cover for this evil is the notion that when a public figure reveals his or her sexual orientation it is a form of honesty that helps others by example. By Gawker's view, keeping your private life private can't be a legitimate personal decision, and it can't be the sort of image management that every human with a paying job engages in. We humans are always spring-loaded to judge most harshly any form of information concealment, no matter how victimless. How dare our public figures not disclose what sort of genitalia they prefer! Those lying bastards! How can I trust the news about Libya now?!

By my standard, the allegedly gay broadcasters in question presumably work hard and they don't hurt anyone by reporting the news, unless you count dictators and other scoundrels who try to avoid direct questions.

Gawker, on the other hand, is pure evil. The writers are clearly lazy, based on their output and their lack of research, and their clear goal is to profit by hurting other people. In this case, they're preying on real or alleged members of the gay community for personal gain. That's entry level behavior on the Hitler meter.

I should note that when Rachel Maddow states her opinion that broadcasters should come out, she's not naming names, and she's not trying to profit from it. Her view is legitimate even if you disagree. The problem comes from the Nazi wannabes at Gawker who turned her opinion into a witch hunt for profit.

On a related topic, I'd like to give a little shout out to TMZ. When my recent dust-up with Men's Rights advocates and Feminists hit the blog-o-cesspool, only TMZ contacted me to find out the facts. And upon hearing the facts in proper context, apparently they decided there was no legitimate story there. Or at least I didn't notice one via Google Alert. TMZ put in the work and turned down the chance to take a quote out of context and profit by hurting another human being. I can't defend any other choices they might make, but they met my standard of good behavior in this situation. Gawker and a number of other sites, including Yahoo, had the same opportunity and chose evil.

What's your own definition of good and bad? And how does victimless crime fit into your view?

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+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
The best definition of evil I've come across is...

Evil is treating another human being as a thing.
Apr 26, 2011
My proposed moral standard is :
Good is to function harmoniously with the society around you.

Morals are simply a formalized way of describing your social instincts, as a social animal, and your conscience can be defined as the seat of your social instincts.

Bad moral sets lead to social failure or inferiority. The people whose morality can support a larger and more sophisticated community become dominant by sheer success and numbers. Eventually, the successful community dominates or absorbs the inferior one, and the dominant, successful morality becomes their communal standard in that assimilation. The end result is the "universal" morals we see today, simply because all the societies of kleptomaniac serial-killing baby-eating cannibal rapists could not cooperate well enough to thrive. They destroyed themselves or were subjugated or obliterated by us: the morally successful, and thus better organized, and more powerful, communities.

If you are a moral enough person, you function harmoniously within society. There is no soul, no god, no heaven or hell or nirvana which decides what is right or wrong, it is your human-born social instincts, bred into you through generation after generation of a sufficiently harmonious social existence. If you behave "immorally", you are effectively a deviant who is harmful to society and are likely bound for prison, a mental institution, or some other distasteful fate. This is caused by genetic problems, or by consequence of corruption or damage. The "genius" serial killers or other criminally insane people are actually living failures, to be studied, hopefully fixed (because our successful morals demand it; we help our weak) and given another chance, and if they can't be fixed, they are either exiled to a small cement room called a prison cell, or they are executed.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
my view of good people is the same as yours. whoever helps me is good.
Apr 26, 2011
I would agree with your theory on victimless crimes - but we probably have different definition of "victimless." Some crimes like drugs or prostitution that are sometimes called victimless do have victims - society at large.
Apr 26, 2011
"You're a good person if you work hard at something that is useful to society and you try to avoid hurting other people when it's practical."

I fully agree with the second part, but how do you define "useful"? Should the "useful" thing improve the quality of life for everybody, and if not, for whom? Or is it enough to make sure that the society you live in prevails, no matter what the cost for some individuals inside and outside of that society? And finally, is the society you live in more important than humanity as a whole?
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
A friend came up with something he called the "Evil Index" while we were in college. He gave a score to every student in our batch (about 110) on how evil they were.

But the way the index was structured - you would be evil on a score of 1 - 8 only if you score higher than 6.5.

There were 3 parameters in the index:

1. To save a $1 of your own, how much damage are you willing to do another?: If you steal an assignment to save 30 mins of hard work, but risk getting both parties an F (it was difficult to prove who wrote the original) you were willing to do a lot more damage to another than the perceived benefit was for you, and this act will give you a score of 6 or so.

On the other hand buying the last pack of cigarettes knowing fully well that you aren't going to smoke the whole pack and others will have to drive 3 !$%*! will give you a score of 3 or 3.5 max.

2. Cunning: After determining how much damage you're willing to do to another, he scored them on whether they are cunning enough to devise schemes that can cause such damage.

3. Nerve / Courage: If you're able to come up with such a scheme - do you have the nerve to carry it out and actually cause the damage.

He gave everyone a score and used some sort of a weighted mean to come up with the final index. Being a small group - the scores pretty much matched with the general perception!

This was supposed to be a secret but soon leaked out, and much to the chagrin of my buddy only a few people in the middle didn't hate him for it.

The people with high scores were obviously pissed of as being branded evil, but people with lower scores got pissed off since they felt they were dumb or sissy or both!

I thought the first parameter was quite brilliant, and have used it regularly since then when thinking about who to keep distance from and who can be a real friend.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
Another approach to the same topic: (Obviously, I have a deadline looming and am avoiding real work...)

Successful societies organize themselves to ensure survival. In evolutionary terms, societies with poor problem solving skills (the ones who took the kill-strangers-on-sight-because-they-might-be-a-threat approach) did not last. Those that learned to cooperate did.

Concepts of "crime" and "justice" "good" and "evil" are tools that allow us to advance the good of the group. Cultures that are rife with corruption and that lack a functioning justice system get bogged down on the road to advancement. You can only get so far with brute force. There are plenty of smart, entrepreneurial people in the middle east, for example, but they can't drive economic growth and social stability as long as some corrupt official is always standing by to demand every last hint of profit in bribes.

It turns out that empowering individuals and providing a structure that is reasonably predictable and supportive of individual initiative ultimately results in a more powerful and successful society.

Crime, "victimless" or otherwise - is something we define in order to function effectively. Social values like strong families, etc. are a survival benefit - and so behaviors that threaten that are addressed through shaming, etc.

Figuring out who is "evil" and who is "good" is an inborn, evolutionary skill. We wouldn't be here if our ancestors hadn't put quite a lot of energy into the job.

That said, the blog-o-sphere tends to showcase a lot of the more absurd consequences of that inheritance....
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
So. Little. Interest. In. Gossip.

It's typically not all that enlightening. Whether in person or in blog, 99% of the time, if you dig a bit deeper the wisdom of the chattering crowd is revealed to be deeply flawed.

The other word for gleefully trashing another person's character and reputation for personal pleasure or status is bullying. It isn't just a schoolyard phenomenon. The Internet has managed to demonstrate how few us really grew up....
Apr 26, 2011
Can you give examples of victimless crimes?

[I'm using "crime" loosely here. When I used an alias to wittily correct some inaccurate and damaging rumors on Metafilter it was seen by some as evil behavior. The actual impact was some entertainment value and a decrease in inaccurate information. The damage came from the outing of it. -- Scott]
Apr 26, 2011
I put my views/definition of right and wrong into video form: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLUSWhtPOEo

Victimless "crimes" are not crime at all.
Apr 26, 2011
The church of me says you are evil if you do not give me money. Of course, I'm regularly mistaken for any number of the other organized religions.
Apr 26, 2011
Hard to fathom that TMZ actually showed some real journalism and restraint. Normally they appear to be leeches that live off of freely videoing and photographing celebrities in public, profiting off of advertising for their TV show while giving nothing to the celebrities that bring in their ratings.

[TMZs cameramen usually ask celebrities wacky questions designed to give the celebrity a chance to act witty and human. That's a clear mutual benefit. -- Scott]
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
"Thou shalt always be honest and faithful to the provider of thy nookie, and Thou shalt try real hard not to kill anyone, unless of course they pray to a different invisible man than you. "

-George Carlin
-4 Rank Up Rank Down
Apr 26, 2011
Everyone is selfish and/or greedy to some extent. The difference between good and evil is competence.
Apr 26, 2011
I just want to point out that Gawker own Gizmodo, the tech blog that was notorious last year for purchasing the stolen prototype of the iPhone 4 and publishing not only the pictures of the iPhone, but all the personal details about the Apple employee who was responsible for losing the iPhone in a restaurant.

You might also recall an incident in 2008 where Gizmodo bloggers were running around CES with a "TV B Gone" device, randomly shutting off TV screens, even while those TV screens were being used in the middle of live press events.

I don't get the impression that Gawker is evil, but they are certainly have a track record of extremely immature, juvenile, childish and unprofessional behaviour.

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