On Good

      In 1938, Gyatso Tenzin, the second child of 10 in a poor family in Northeast Tibet, was chosen as the 14th Dalai Lama. He was three years old. Most of the rest of us had not yet gone to school. We had lived our little lives in the small intimate society of our families. There is no doubt that Gyatso Tenzin is one of the most impressive members of my group of cohorts. He is a good man. Was this because he was born special? He was chosen because he identified certain objects belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama and thus was considered as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama who had recently died. The Dalai Lama describes this traditional process of discovery himself [DALAI LAMA]. Or was it simply because he was treated as special and thus became special? He is good because he was taught to be good? Is he a self-fulfilling prophet? Are we all, to various extents, self-fulfilling prophets?

      Jayendra Saraswathi, a Hindu religious leader, is less known. He is no doubt a good man too. However, he preaches a religion which has political importance. There is no way that a vast population will continue in poverty unless there was some promise of a better life, if not here then in the hereafter. If you "behave" in this life, then you will be reincarnated in a better life. Another religious leader within my karass - George Carey, who was the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury from 1991-2002 - had a very different story. He was "chosen" not at 3 but at 56. He had come up through the ranks in a hierarchical system. He seems to be a decent fellow, although homosexuals may disagree, since he supported a resolution that their practices were "incompatible with Scripture". He goes by the book.

      The goodness of two other religious leaders in my group - Jimmy Lee Schwaggart and Reverend Ike - is questionable. Swaggart is a tele-evangelist who preaches capitalist Christianity in which God is the senior partner. Reverend Ike is a more blatant advocate of the same "religion". He boasts openly about his immense wealth gathered from his congregation. The following quotes attributed to him give a flavour of his attitude:

  • The lack of money is the root of all evil.
  • The Bible says that Jesus rode on a borrowed ass. But I would rather ride in a Rolls Royce than to ride somebody's ass!
  • Be proud of the way I look, because you spend $1,000 a week to buy my clothes.
  • The best thing you can do for the poor is not be one of them.
      Perhaps we should inhibit this tendency to turn to religious leaders when we consider good and evil. Perhaps we do not need to be bribed to be good. Belief in Santa Claus is an early training. It gets you toys. Children eventually stop believing in Santa Claus but adults continue to believe in an all-year-round Santa Claus who brings you not only toys but everlasting life. The assumption that we need to be controlled from the outside in is a carry-over from the behaviouristic concept of the person.

      The humanistic concept of the person holds out the possibility that goodness can come from the inside out. Is it possible that goodness is part of human nature? Mother Nature loads us with a powerful motivation to create children. Like most mothers, she aspires to be a grandmother. Because of the long period of infant dependency, it is important that we get together for that delightful process nature uses to bribe us to procreate but we also have to stay together to look after the resultant children. Nature is obsessed not just with sex but with love. This empathy for other people is acquired during our childhood so that we will, in turn, care for our children during their childhood. The question is how widely does this love extend beyond the immediate family. The Dalai Lama extends it to the human family; the Archbishop of Canterbury excludes gays; many other religious leaders exclude all those who do not accept their faith.

      If the person is responsible for behavior, then the person has intrinsic worth. We must accept blame for our bad behavior but can take credit for our good behavior. The words 'bad' and 'good' tend to scare scientists into scurrying off in search of philosophers. There seems no place for values in a world of facts. Western philosophers offer us a choice between pragmatic values (doing well) and ethical values (doing good). Some thinkers have, however, been evolving an alternative set of values based on natural laws rather than on cultural rules - that is, based on the propositions we have devised to describe ourselves and our planet rather than on propositions we have devised to prescribe our conduct on the planet. Here is a summary of that system of values, as expounded by such diverse thinkers as Teilhard de Chardin, Kenneth Boulding, and R. Buckminster Fuller.

      Our species on our planet is confronted not so much with an energy crisis as with an entropy crisis. Since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, we have as much energy today as we ever had or ever will have. It is entropy - the natural tendency of a system toward disorder - that is increasing. Any process that destroys structure or breaks complex systems down into simpler systems contributes toward this spontaneous tendency of the universe toward chaos. Biological systems, within their limited space and for a limited time, defy this law of entropy. During the period of growth, they become more rather than less structured. Our species, the most complex biological system, is the greatest anti-entropic force in the universe. Each of us is a defiant little package of anti-entropy fighting our brave battle against the forces of chaos. Consciousness emerges as a function of complexity and serves as the ultimate weapon against entropy. It enables us to assimilate and accommodate information to create a microcosm of the universe within us. The more accurate this subjective map of the objective world, the better we fight the good fight.

      It is a futile battle, because eventually we must submit to the forces of chaos. However, though it is futile for each of us as individuals, it is not futile for all of us as a species. Each of us spawns other little packets of anti-entropy in our books or our movies or our children or in the memories of our friends, before we are recycled in the air our survivors breathe and in the water they drink. People who have this system of values recognize that they are a part of nature and not apart from nature. Since they are an important element in the complex system of the universe (and since the continuing functioning of the universe according to its natural laws is presumed to be a Good Thing), they have intrinsic worth. Their criteria of success is not wealth but health. They are healthy insofar as they realize their function in the universe - to satisfy their biological, sociological, and psychological needs - in other words, to be as fully human as possible.

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