Making It Easy To Be Good

@11 July 1998

A successful society - meaning one which offers the greatest fulfillment to the greatest number - is likely to be one in which virtue is made easy. That is, if virtue is conceived of as that kind of intention and behaviour which offers fulfillment to the individual and benefit to others, then its pursuit would seem to be a natural tendency in all people.

However there are countervailing tendencies to virtue, mostly associated with short term gratification. For example those with their roots in mating display and aggression, which in their myriad distortions lead to behaviours bent on the destruction of self and others.

In unstable social environments, short term gratification becomes a greater driving force than virtue. Indeed, in the turbulent vortex that has become post-industrial society of the late 20th century, short term gratification has become ingrained as a pseudo virtue itself, even enshrined in law, and relentlessly promoted by what we call "consumerism". The environmental movement is perhaps the Newtonian opposing force to consumerism.

So where does the greatest fulfillment lie for most of us? For me it is a matter of doing whatever I do well. And for me that has been the rub, for doing a thing well is often at odds with somebody else's idea of obtaining short term benefit, generally for themselves. The managerialism that has undermined professional teaching and much else is a potent symbol of expediency interfering with the proper exercise of a craft. We will reap a whirlwind from that.

The forces of destruction are made easier and easier for citizens to exercise. Most cinema, media, the airport novel, the tides of fashion, are now largely a projection of violent fantasies where life to often imitates art. Workplaces run on slogans, and betrayal is endemic.

There may have been a time (though I have my doubts) when organized religions offered a rationale for the discipline needed to germinate long term fulfillment, and to resist that short term gratification which could abort more lasting satisfaction. It is certain that such religious pivots no longer anchor most people. They are adrift, in incoherent search of a rudder, grasping at this cult or that without understanding what the Buddha expressed so well 2.5 millennia ago: that unhappiness comes from wanting, wanting, wanting.

The truth is that when cultural paradigms start to fall apart, a few heroic souls will hold out against the tide, but most will bend. If we want virtue, then there must be incentives to virtue. It must be made advantageous and easy for your average timid soul to act professionally, honestly and humanely in his daily life.


All opinions expressed in Thor's Unwise Ideas and The Passionate Skeptic are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.

"Making It Easy To Be Good" copyrighted to Thor May; all rights reserved 2000

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