The Wasp & the Bee – How to Survive an Unfair World

Yesterday, as I was doing my morning stretches outside, a wasp came to land on my arm. What attracted her to my wooly jumper, I don’t know. But it was clear she had no intention of stinging me. And after a while, it seemed she had little intention to leave either.

In any case, she got me thinking grand ideas…


Violent Nature

My relation to wasps has been tenuous lately. I find them fascinating, frequently annoying, and occasionally horrifying.

Last week, minding my own business on the hammock, an insect pair plummeted onto the hammock fabric next to my face. Only, it wasn’t actually a mating pair, as I first thought.

On top was a wasp, yes. But underneath — up-turned and twisted in upon herself — was a bee lying on her back in utter submission. Perhaps the bee was already dead. Perhaps paralysed and dying. She seemed to offer no resistance.

The other side of me, placid bees continued busying about their bee-business, dropping into flowers and buzzing around the pot plants. They showed no discernible concern for the bizarre violence befalling their counterpart, a mere 20cm away.

Why is a wasp flying around with a bee in her clutches anyway?


Outrage! Or…not?

Yesterday’s morning wasp was decidedly more peaceful. But, I don’t speak waspish, so who knows.

Yesterday’s lesson was about fairness and justice.

My relation to human society has also been tenuous. I get highly attuned to any act of injustice that I witness, and it affects me at a deep, visceral level. Others seem to be able to brush it of with a jaded stoicism, sometimes even with a bleak sardonic light-heartedness. Me, I get fixated on counteracting the act of injustice, to the point of putting myself in harm’s way. I cannot live in a world where the perpetrator goes unpunished.

At least, that’s what I hear and feel from within me. But, does it need to be so?


Justice, and the Psychology of Personality

The “sense of injustice” has been conceptualised as a sub-trait resulting from one’s personality type[1], and at times as something of a personality trait in itself[2] — some people naturally seem to be highly sensitive to injustice, some people aren’t.

The other end of this, is not just how attentive one is to perceiving injustice, but also how one reacts to injustice. Some people tend to be more forgiving, some seek retribution[3].

Unfortunately for me, it seems I tend to be both attentive and vindictive.

Whilst personality is normally regarded as a fixture of one’s life, it’s merely a standard pattern of behaviour to a standard pattern of situations[5] — personality changes when the situation changes. Also, you can work with your strengths and weaknesses, to adapt one’s personality to what life is giving you.

In short, if I can’t make the world fair and just, I can at least adjust my way of thinking so that the world doesn’t crush me.

Time for a philosophical excursion; this one with practical application!


The Difference? Indifference!

Life isn’t fair. Nor is it unfair.

When do you get stung by the wasp?

Sometimes without any ill intention of yours at all. Just by being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sometimes you are stung only due to where where you innocently put your foot. From your perspective, there is no malice, no nefarious design, no hostility.

Nonetheless, from the wasp’s point of view, you are a threat, and the reasonable response (or, as humans like to call it these days, “rational” response*) is to punish, inflict pain.

But so, too, will you get stung if you intentions are threatening—if you are trying to swat the wasp away, or to knock down their nest from the rafter.

As such, we need to accept we will get stung in life even with the best of intentions. Don’t take it personally—it’s part of life. Just ask that bee.


What you Can Do About it

But, you will get stung a whole lot more if you have ill-willed designs.

Getting stung or not, as an all-or-nothing concept, is beyond your control. To try stop it entirely is an exercise in futile vanity — as sure a route to anxiety & nervous breakdown as any.

What you can do is ensure you don’t increase the risk. By minimising how many nasty things you think and do will mitigate how many people come to sting you later.

Justice can be sought out. Indeed, we as beings of moral responsibility, it must be pursued. At the same time, do not allow a random injustice to existentially destroy you.


To live as part of nature, we must see it for what is is — occasionally flawed, occasionally unfair, but at the end of the day it’s not out to get me. It’s not all about me. To continue as a member of society, as a member Earth’s web of life, I have that responsibility to pursue the ideal of fairness, but also to gracefully and humbly accept that some of this is beyond me.


  1. Törnroos, Maria & Elovainio, Marko & Hintsa, Taina & Hintsanen, Mirka & Pulkki-Råback, Laura & Jokela, Markus & Lehtimäki, Terho & Raitakari, Olli & Keltikangas-Jarvinen, Liisa. (2018). Personality traits and perceptions of organisational justice. International Journal of Psychology. 54. 10.1002/ijop.12472
  2. Lovas, Ladislav & Wolt, Richard. (2002). Sensitivity to injustice in the context of some personality traits. Studia Psychologica. 44. 125-131.
  3. John J. Ray (1985) The Punitive Personality, The Journal of Social Psychology, 125:3, 329-333, DOI: 10.1080/00224545.1985.9922894
  4. Roberts SC, Vakirtzis A, Kristjánsdóttir L, Havlíček J. Who punishes? Personality traits predict individual variation in punitive sentiment. Evol Psychol. 2013 Feb 18;11(1):186-200. PMID: 23531805.
  5. see e.g. Ross, L., & Nisbett, R. E. (1991). The person and the situation: Perspectives of social psychology. Mcgraw-Hill Book Company.
  • *note those definitions. Is a wasp rational? Or is what we call “rational” really just action in accordance with natural law?

Rumi, on patience versus anxiety.

When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety; if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without pain.

From this I understand that what I want also wants me, is looking for me and attracting me. There is a great secret here for anyone who can grasp it.

—Rumi

If I could whisper one thing to make you happy…

On Quora someone asked: “If you could whisper one thing into everybody’s ear to make them happier, what would you say to them?”

Some of the answers seemed to make false promises (“I will zap all pain away”) or offered perky reassurance (“you’re doing great”). But, is happiness just about raising a smile for a second? Is it only about feeling less pain for a moment?

I’m getting a bit predictable perhaps — I of course went deeper with my answer to this question. With my whisper, I sought to turn over the machines of evaluation, so that the person I whispered to would find their own happiness long after the whisper fell silent.


The immediate effect wouldn’t be happiness for most, but I’d tell them “You have more control over your experience than you think. Way more!”

If happiness is about the journey, rather than any particular destination, then it’s critical that you’re able to find your own path—to be able to take your own action, and steer your own way.

As we age through childhood and further through adulthood, we tend to conform more and more to society in its various shapes and forms. This is a natural and necessary part of us being social creatures. It is so ingrained in us, because it carries many benefits to us as individuals.

But there are downsides to conformity. When we allow social norms to dictate what we think and how to respond to the world, we are surrendering our ability to make up our our own minds. At some point you’re no longer walking your own path, are no longer the originator of your own creative thoughts, you are just following “herd mentality” or the “hive mind”.
When that happens, it is no longer me choosing when and how to seek happiness, but someone else (most likely a guy in a suit pocketing a gazillion dollars a second) who is feeding it to me…with a price-tag.

Until social media came along, ads and marketing was perhaps the most glaring example of a mechanism designed to build dependency—consumers steered to begin depending on a brand or product to decide if they’re happy or not, and when and how they’re allowed to feel happy. But similar phenomona is found in education systems, politics, family units, sports teams and social media. (Zuckerberg admitted in court some months ago that Facebook’s business goal is make users’ sense of happiness dependent on Facebook feeds).

To take away the power away from news media, social media, politicians, and corporations in deciding your fate, you need to start remembering that you’re a fully-fleshed living idendity that doesn’t NEED them; connected, but singular; individual, but collective.

The workshop we ran for this took a whole weekend, because the full impact of this realisation takes a bit to sink in. But you can begin re-appraising your position in the world right now. Sure, reading about federal politics in the morning paper might ruin your morning for a while, but don’t let that fool you into thinking you don’t have the last say in what motivates you.

So, what could you whisper to yourself to find happiness, not just for the moment, but for life?

Re-Engineer your Beliefs to Fly

Information that isn’t continuously useful gets forgotten” said the neuroscientist.

This got me thinking, in my typical fashion of pondering ways to apply neuroscientific understanding to our real life.

Whilst the neuroscientist’s statement is nothing new to me, in terms of cellar atrophy and neuroplasticity, nor even novel in terms of behaviour (“use it or lose it”), it somehow never occurred to me that this concept applies equally, of course, to our pattern of thoughts—our belief systems. And then, knowing this, we can use it to improve belief systems.

Beliefs, helping and hindering

To clarify for those new to my blog, “beliefs” here are thoughts that unconsciously steer both our perception of situations, and our decision makings, but which are not wholly premised on logic and fact. They are the mindset version of a habit, a repeated pattern of thinking about yourself and the world, that continue through your life.

Some beliefs are very useful:
—”I can probably get pretty good at tennis if I don’t give up on training today”
—”I can reduce my impact on the environment, I just need to making ethical choices in what and where I buy”
—”I’m still a good person even after breaking up with my abusive ex”

Some beliefs are not-useful, or even damaging:
—”I’m not worthy of my colleague’s respect unless this impossible project is flawless completed”
—”I will never get good at clarinet, so I’ll just give up now, on day 3″
—”Yes I smoke. I smoke 2 packs a day”

These latter sort of beliefs should be addressed. They can and, as I’ve shown, regularly are changed, and replacing crummy belief systems with useful ones has absolutely enormous impact on one’s life and general well-being.

Waiting for islands to sink into the sea… but almost no belief is an island?

Beliefs and mindsets that no longer hold their ground against the facts, or at least against a better alternative, will disappear with time. A belief that no longer serves a purpose, that gives you nothing, is destined to decay and be lost to history. There is no need to actively eradicate it, or stamp it out. In fact, such efforts are probably in vain. To let-go of a damaging or un-useful belief, you simply have to supply yourself with a better alternative.

An un-ignorable flip-side is that beliefs rarely lose their relevance in isolation. When I mention “belief”, a lot of people first think of religion. Very rarely to do people lose their religion with no other alternative influence involved, be it another religion, a “Dark Night of the Soul”, or an extremely challenging and ostensibly meaningless personal event. Almost always, it is one belief (or mindset) that shunts another to the side.

Replacement. Just like in habits—stopping one habit and leaving a gaping void is just an invitation to begin something else instead, and the most likely candidate to fill that void is the one most familiar, most habituated and automated—the old habit steps back in.

How to expensively (not) change your beliefs

You defeat a consciously-undesired habit with offering a better alternative. And this is the same with our purely internal operations—belief systems, self-statements, mindsets, prejudices. A lot of other mindsets coaches follow a very passive, hands-off approach, toward belief-shifting. The idea goes that you:

  1. first complain about something crap in your life, you then
  2. look at a few other things peripheral to that crap, then
  3. “introspect”, i.e. look in on yourself, ‘search your mind’
  4. you then observe and label the non-useful self-belief, sometimes creatively (“my inner Darth Vader”), sometimes pragmatically (“my inner critic keeps saying ‘I can’t do this’).
  5. Done! Give me $2500 and go out and promote my service.

The thing is, step 4 is just a starting point, albeit invaluable starting point. Being able to shift out from the self statement, from thinking and believing “I can’t do this”, and then into another set of eye and ears that notices a voice saying “I can’t do this” and wondering what that’s about, this step is in itself can be very useful.

But, if that belief is complex, if it’s embedded in your life since forever, if it’s permeated with thousands of little tendrils seething into the pores of multiple aspects of your life
—if it’s so entrenched that it’s part of your identity, then the solution will not spontaneously precipitate by merely by observing and labelling it.

Don’t stop flying; start engineering

Simulations, prototypes, and hypotheses. Although murky internal things like self-statements, mindsets, and beliefs seem to be resigned to an ethereal other-world that we cannot reach, they are in fact entirely steerable and open to manipulation. If a long-running belief is holding you down, pull it out of the clouds and get tinkering!

I suppose it was because I was cloud-gazing when I wrote this, and saw a plane way up high (there seems more of them, now that lock-down is easing), that I use this analogy. Let’s think of our beliefs—powerful, complex things that propel us through life’s decision—think of it as an airplane’s engine.

Aircraft engine technology is constantly evolving. But noticing that your plane’s engine is old, inefficient, not so good at getting you from A to B, this is no reason to stop flying, nor is it any reason to fear suddenly crashing and burning. Emirates or Qantas won’t ground its entire fleet of aircraft just because engines are obsolete, nor should you stay stuck because of a belief system. You cannot ground it anyway—beliefs fly not at your command, nor to your schedule.

Don’t just look; go touch it

You won’t get a new engine just by looking at and contemplating an old one. Instead, you need to out and test a new, improved engine. Find one that is faster, better, happier, stronger, productiver, generouser, effortlesser.

Brainstorm an improved engine in the “lab” of your creative imagination. Run it through the simulations to see any glaring failures or risks.

Take the blueprint of the most promising replacement out of your simulations runs, and try it out with the test-pilot, first under ideal flying conditions, then putting it through more rigorous spins and stalls of more challenging real-world contexts in which this belief (err, I mean, engine) would still be used. You want your tests to constantly close in on how you’d use it in your normal everyday life—the intended application.

If necessary, you may need to scrap the test-model. That’s all part of the testing lifecycle. Either take blueprint number two through simulations, go back to the drawing room to develop a whole new engine, or perhaps find a hybrid design that takes on useful features from the first test model, and expands on it.

The goal of shifting belief-states is not to eradicate a belief. You do not stamp it out. Working on beliefs involves prototyping a new one, and allowing the old to fall away in obsolescence.

Engineering expertise

If you have a long-standing belief that’s holding you down, a self-sabotaging streak, a self-defeating outlook, you maybe could benefit from an experienced mindset engineer. This is something I offer in my online coaching business. You can contact me for more information, or go to https://DeepVictory.xyz

Forming Identity — Beliefs & Biology

We take on aspects of identity at varying levels. You likely include things like your race and gender as part of the “who” that you are, but also perhaps your math ability, your dried flower collection, your preference for yellow sneakers…

[This is a politics-free article]

Belief Systems — keep it real

The identity comes from belief systems, which in turn come from reality.

The closer that belief is to reality, the more robust and advantageous it is to the person. To see why, imagine the opposite — someone who truly believes that they can fly is bound to hurt themself. As well as being dangerous, then, this belief — far removed from the reality — is not robust because each fall and each failed attempt to fly challenges the beliefs, shakes one’s belief in flying. Having your belief system challenged is very, well, very challenging.

Whereas a belief that’s maybe closer to the truth, or at least harder to disprove, the belief system will serve you well to shape the identity put on yourselves. This is actually at the heart of the horribly-named “fake it ’til you make it” concept. Whilst I’ll never advocate being a fraud to yourself, modelling (that’s why psychologists call mimicking) your behaviour on how you want to be, and believing in it enough to be convincing, is a way of shunting your belief system toward something you aim to be.

A crucial part of that belief system that is expanded is the comfort zone — practice being a rock-star on stage enough times, and do it convincingly (to yourself, and to others), and one day you will BE that rock-star.

Levels of Identity — deeper than I thought?

At the top level, we have identification with minutiae — what one collects, music tastes, ice-cream preference — peripheral aspects of our identity; things you might mention on second date, but won’t influence which political party you vote for.

Further down at the social level we get what a lot of adolescents are testing out — sub-cultures. US high-school sit-coms love this, categorising teens into quick clichés such as the nerd, the jock, the art-geek, the goth, etc etc.

Going deeper, and by “deeper” here I mean things that are not learnt later in life, things that are more innate; going deeper we can see there are aspects of our identity that are essentially fixed from birth.

Genetic Code —> Phenotypic Goad

At the deepest levels, our genes connect quite clearly with a reality, and the resulting phenotype (i.e. the physical expression of the genotype) becomes part of our identity. So, rather than preferences or skills, you have identity that presents physically. Identities such as “I’m tall”, “I have oily hair”, or “Blue cheese doesn’t not agree with me”.

At this deep level, beliefs play little role, because the reality is very difficult to deny, distort, or simply remain ignorant of.
But note: there may be secondary beliefs attached to the gene-based identity, such as “I’m ugly, because so I’m tall”, which in turn becomes an identity in itself – “I’m an ugly person.”

Beliefs are obviously powerful things, and they CAN be changed. So it’s worthwhile discussing this more in a later article.

Bio-Identity — (no Elon Musk chip implants required)

The deepest level of our identity is the machine of biological life itself. Our instincts are quite universal to all mammals, and also characterise what we are (quite different to bacteria, or a rock). This is the lowest, most primal level of identity, because to expand the area of concern outside this identity (i.e. to include also rocks) is to open up the concept of identity to non-living physical objects. Inanimate objects hold no narrative, no agency, they cannot “identify”, or indeed do anything active. They have identity only insofar as others (we humans) attribute it to them. Thus, their identity is only ever projections of the beliefs and ideas of others.

And this most fundamental of identities is the one we can always come back to, and which is futile denying. Whatever you may think of yourself, or another for that matter — what you’re good at, what you prefer, what you identify with — behind all this is the identity shared with living beings — you’re a thing that wants to survive, to thrive, to express yourself, and to be recognised by others. Just you. Just like me.

The Scarcity Mindset

One mindset that I see making life hard for a lot of people around me is what some have called a “scarcity mindset”. This is the feeling that we don’t have enough – not enough of something specific, and often not enough in general in our lives. It is the polar opposite of the so-called “abundance” or “prosperity mindset”.

Every feeling has an associated activation that, if we allow it, comes out in behaviour. The scarcity mindset activates us to seek out and accrue more.

An obvious example of a scarcity mindset, when it’s acted upon in an out-of-control manner, is hoarding. When we hoard there is an underlying feeling of not enough now, or that we will lose things and very soon have not enough. Many of the southern Asian and Graeco-Latin based cultures (West Europe, Australia, North America) that I’ve encountered involve a lot of people suffering from hoarding.


Runaway hoarding offers the most striking example of the scarcity mindset, but this mindset can manifest in less obvious ways. One might extend “scarcity” into matters of personal skill. If you feel like you’re lacking in ability to perform, you might get carried away trying to build a repertoire of skills and information that don’t actually help you. For example, you may spend hours, days, watching YouTube tutorials, getting more and more information, without actually putting it to use to improve your situation.

One more thing is, our mind doesn’t always know what our mind is up to. The feeling of not enough in one specific part of our life can drive us to do some behaviour that actually has nothing to do with fixing that feeling. So feeling, for example, socially rejected (not enough meaningful social contact) can in fact activate us to make up for it by collecting an inordinate number of empty jam jars (that we “might need one day”).


This particular mindset is one of the most fundamental, I believe. It is rooted in our basic biology. You can see an analogue in our appetite for calories. It can sometimes seem like no matter how many calories we’ve consumed, we’d happily take in more. This is even at the cellular level – our fat cells very flexibly expand and increase in number when lipids come in, but won’t decrease if fat is dramatically cut from our diet.

It does this for a very good reason – for almost all our history as a biological organism, it was a challenge to find enough calories. We’ve evolved to take on all the food available to us now, because we don’t know when we next find a good meal – in an hour? 2 days from now? In 2 weeks?

To wrestle with a scarcity mindset is to denounce almost 4 billion years of biological encoding. Impossible! (Quick tip: in a battle of biological needs versus willpower or intention, always bet on biology).


in a battle of biological needs versus willpower or intention, always bet on biology

And scarcity mindset is something you’re likely seeing everywhere around you. Remember before any pandemic, ads would often start with “Times are hard…” or “In these difficult times…”. A nudge to get you feeling like there’s not enough, just in case you were a bit too happy with your lot.

Have you ever gone out and bought something or some service, any quick fix solution, and it felt really good at first before quickly leaving you as unfulfilled and hurt as before? Then you’ve probably just added to your scarcity mindset. It’s the equivalent of stuffing your fat cells with calories to improve your health and chance of survival. It actually would help if you really are impoverished and malnourished, but in the developed world, and if you have the luxury of reading this now, I can assure you that more is not what you need.

But that’s not to say we’re helpless.


In the field of coaching there’s a lot of jargon that doesn’t say much to most people. One term I’ve come across many times, but which is hardly ever explained, is “abundance mindset”. If you’ve heard that before and thought “that sounds nice” and then immediately forgotten about it, don’t worry. This article will have helped cement the concept into memory as something meaningful.

In short, the abundance mindset is the opposite of the scarcity mindset. It is to feel like you have all that you need. You don’t need to add to it; in fact, getting more might even make your life more difficult. It is finding value in what you already have, and recognising the richness we have within ourselves. This may be in appreciation of the material things we have access to, or gratitude in what good friends we have, or being mindful of our strength in character.


To switch the mindset – from the constant fear and pressure of scarcity, to the calm contentment of abundance – is not necessarily easy. But it is something anyone and everyone is capable of.

This switch isn’t necessarily what solves your problems (and, please be wary of any life coach that reduces the total of your suffering to this one fix). But from what I’ve observed in many, many people around me, replacing the scarcity mindset with an abundance mindset can certainly add a lot to your life.

You can find more about re-wiring your mindsets to your advantage at my other website – Deep Victory.


Machine Reboot

A quick post first, to allow the boot sequence to finish.

In a groansomely predictable cliché, this blog enjoyed an initial burst of creative output, and within a couple of months withered into idle obscurity.

just like 99%* of all other blogs.

Well let’s see if I can’t proceed beyond this cliche.

Inspired in part by what a capitalist might call a “competitor“, what a humanist might call a “kindred soul“, I intend on moving more of my private thoughts and musings online, here.

Oh my, the threat of scrutiny is terrifying. How will my Ego survive?

Less melodramatically, further blog activity may come from snippets and links to other sites – science articles and worthy opinion pieces – since the internet seems more about repurposing information than creating new knowledge or art. Let’s test out that cliché.

Notwithstanding, I’ll see to it that I maintain focus on original creative output here.

To any unwavering readership continuing with me through this re-boot, thankyou and long-time, no-see.


*(made-up statistic, overgeneralisation of a real statistic that I won’t bother sourcing right now)

Self-Certainty, vs Self-Doubt

We’ve all had that feeling of self-doubt – doubt about who were are, what we’re doing, why we are where we are right now.

It might come up as nagging thoughts, that little voice in your head saying something like:

  • “I’m not supposed to be here, in this situation.”
  • “Was it a mistake in choosing/deciding x?”
  • “I can’t do this. I’m going to fail.”

 

It might also sneak into out lives at a deeper level, causing us to:

  • feel disconnected from what we’re doing
  • delay making any final decision
  • feel constantly drained of energy, just from doing what we do
  • constantly re-think and worry about decisions already made

 

The opposite of doubt is certainty. Feeling a deep sense of certainty in your identity, in your life’s story, in who you are and why you’re here – that is a powerful force.

Self-certainty is not to be confused with arrogance, vanity, or “being cocky”, which are just masking an underlying self-doubt.

Being self-assured in the decisions and actions we make, and in expressing our true character, comes from a base of strength. It means we’re comfortable in being challenged or questioned, leaving us open to new ideas and experience. Self-certainty can have a positive effect on those we engage with, putting them at ease with who you are, and maybe even inspiring them.

 

Want your input on making the change toward more self-certainty? I have a simple 2-question survey asking for your opinion on what is important in changing how self-certain you feel. I’m grateful for any responses given: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CWLFFVH

What Good is Evil? — Things the Sith got Right

How to die 4 times (or more) in a lifetime.

As I promised yesterday, today I’m tackling the surprisingly thorny topic of good versus bad/evil. Thorny? But we all know what is good, right? And we’re all united over what is bad? Well, hardly.

In a conversation with a friend we were talking about Desmond Tutu — a prominent figure in world news of the 90s.
Such a bad guy … Errr, right?
Nooo no, he was fighting for human rights; he was he up against the bad guy… Was he not?
All we could agree upon was that Tutu was involved, pro or contra, in some human-rights atrocity. Tutu was very something — either good or bad. Definitely very that something!

Surely either me or my friend had a false memory, since Tutu could not be both good and bad (though, read on, even this gets challenged). False memories, when it’s at play in greater society, is sometimes called the Mandela Effect due to the curious phenomenon of many westerners falsely “remembering” that Nelson Mandela died in the 1980s.

Zombie Mandela.jpgPoor Mandela also died in 1991, according to a South African school textbook and the conspiracy theorists that jumped on this “evidence”. And again in June 2013 thanks to rumours propagating through South Africa at the time and spread further by CNN. How many respawns does this guy have? Mandela died again in December 2013, and this time it seems it was final. As it turns out, Desmond Tutu is intricately linked to the serially-dying Nelson Mandela, both working together to rebuild the post-apartheid government. Coincidence, or perhaps the media are just generally really bad at getting the facts straight in South Africa leading to scrambled and/or false memories.

This is one direction in which our confidence in what is good/bad can be shattered. Our memories are quite fallible. But I don’t want to dwell too much on this fairly basic and well-understood (if not so very well-accepted) error of judgement. There’s plenty of articles going into nauseating detail about various cognitive errors/biases.

 

The Good Villains, The Bad Heroes, and the Ugly Me

Far more interesting, more confronting, are the good/bad judgements we make even given the correct facts. Note here, judgement is a human act, prone to error, and performed differently by different people. A judge’s ruling may be appropriate; or it may be flawed; or even appropriate to some, but not to others. The death sentence is allowed in some cultures, but not in others. And within each these cultures are, of course, individuals who for or against it. Historical trends indicate the death sentence will be inevitably abolished altogether, but in the meantime there are hangers-on.

As will become demonstrated more than once in this blog, what we might take for granted in our home culture, Our Invisible World on Display, is in fact far from being an absolute truth or anything universally applicable.

We judge others to be good or bad, and in turn we and our actions are judged good or bad. Of course, most people in our lives aren’t noticeably good nor bad. Strangely, if we go to the extent of putting such labels on people, we seldom accept the fact that someone may be both good and bad.

A guy promoting public health schemes and embracing preventative health and is kind to animals — he’s a good guy, right?
Like… Adolf Hitler?

A guy who, due to personal ideology, denies his children education and withholds life-saving medicine from his wife is bad.
Like… Mahatma Gandhi?

In those rare moments of rationality we do actually reason that every real-world villain has a redeeming feature, every real-world hero has so-called skeleton in his closet (a dark side); it’s foolish to think any one human is absolutely either good or bad. I’ve had to include “real-world” there, because Hollywood and mainstream fiction tend to push these absolute judgements on to us.

random-pic-internet-01.jpg

For all our progress from the Age of Reason, we’re still hopelessly prone to glamourising high-status persons on a one-dimensional morality swing: either fame or notoriety. But not both. Never both.

 

I’ve got a bad feeling about this

Anakin Skywalker: “The Jedi use their power for good.
Chancellor Palpatine: “Good is a point of view, Anakin. The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way.

Darth-Vader-Having-A-Hard-Time-Drawing-Good-Guys-In-Comics-By-Jeffrey-Brown.jpg

George Lucas left us with a fictional universe complex and detailed enough for us to make some interesting re-interpretations. In the article We All Thought The Sith Were Pure Evil, But What If We Were Wrong, the author Coovadia digs a bit deeper to evaluate what is good and evil in Star Wars. As a 12 year old watching for the first time A New Hope (back then, just called Star Wars), it was obvious to me the Sith were the bad guys. I mean come on — they dress in black, have red light-sabres, intimidate subordinates, and are accompanied by menacing music!

I guess the Jedi had watched the same movie. Based on little more than “He’s Sith — get him!” they commit high treason and apprehend Palpatine. A classic act of religious intolerance — an absolutist good/bad judgement.

 

Criminal Profiling, Soothsayer-Style

Finally, it’s time to get really thorny. I’d like to explore one effect of this way of thinking at two extremes of the scale, something psychologists call dichotomous thinking. It came as a slap in the face following the Columbine shooting, and continues to slap me in the face with every subsequent mass shooting in the USA. What I always see are over-simplistic explanations for it — the shooter is (or more likely the historical “was”) evil. Case-closed. Let’s go have lunch.

Until 3 days later another such evil surfaces.

What allows someone to act in such stark contradiction to social norms, and commit mass murder, is a complex lifelong accumulation of factors including genetic disposition, parenting style, social accommodation, physical environment, self-regulation strategies, and all the interaction effects between these. Explaining away the question of why or how someone would gun down dozens of unarmed people with “oh, he was evil” is like blaming Odin for having not done your laundry. The rejection of responsibility, the denial of reality, it’s astonishing.

Some have attempted to delve deeper than this neolithic pagan mentality and have cleverly unearthed the following chain of cause and effect:

listening to Marilyn Manson → “evil” → mass shootingMarilynManson-flip.jpg

Evil like Hitler, or like Gandhi? Or Luke Skywalker? In any case, this steals some power away from the gods and returns it to mortal (i.e. non-Mandela) human beings. Now we can intervene, by muting Marilyn Manson, no more evil, no more shootings. Let’s go have lunch.

Are you feeling the slaps in the face that I was talking about?

These simplifications cheat ourselves out of a proper investigation. The curious mechanisms at play within these extreme individuals, and the prevailing circumstances that drive them to the edge, remain as unsolved footnotes in a very thin case file. We owe it to the future victims to take on responsibility of understanding what is going on with such radical mindsets and, armed with that knowledge, act to work on realistic preventative measures.

 

Good to be Bad

I think humanity will slowly grow up from the ancient the good-versus-evil mentality. Sure, we might corrupt some heroes on the way with some inconvenient truths. But at the same time we make them more human, we bring them closer to us, to who we are.

Maybe it’s time we take a more Michael Jackson-style interpretation of “bad” into our lives, in that bad might be kinda good?

And the whole world has to answer right now
Just to tell you once again
Who’s bad?

MJ-Bad.jpg

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started