Saturday, September 25, 2010

We don't need bad in order to have good

If, as the average person believes, struggle and horror make life worth living, build character, and teach us lessons, then why isn't anyone deliberately creating horrible situations for him- or herself? The sheer size of the anti-smoking collective is enough to demonstrate that most people are not interested in imposing harmful or deleterious agents on themselves, so why do the most pretentious among us continue to lie when stating that they find the most awful aspects of life to be the reasons for why life is worth living? Such aspects do not build character or make the good more good.

If you think otherwise, then why aren't you trying to get lung cancer by starting smoking? Why aren't you trying to get AIDS by having unprotected sex? Why aren't you chopping your arms off? If you want the good to be so good, then why aren't you making the bad as bad as it can be for yourself? Don't you want to spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair in order to prove that you're a strong person whose life is rich and worthwhile? If not, then cognitive dissonance, that most vile and disgusting of all meme viruses, has taken root inside your brain.

Of course, some might claim that, in order to be truly valuable, the bad cannot be administered consciously. This is silly on its face, as the only difference between the above set of circumstances and this one is that, in this case, there is a lack of reason and deliberation. It could be said, then, that mystery is what those who subscribe to this view are after, and, unfortunately, humans do value mystery, often for idiotic evolutionary reasons: we eventually became intelligent animals, but did not fully understand our world, so we had no choice but to evolve reverence for the unknowable and mysterious.


  1. How do you know that appreciation for the good is separable from the experience of pain or lack? Maybe our brains are wired to appreciate things by feeling their absence.

    I suspect the reason SOME people become happier after misfortune is because they adjust their preferences and expectations to something more realistic. If more people did that to begin with, they would probably avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering.

  2. I've never entertained jumping over thirty buses on a motorcycle not because I've experienced the pain resultant from one of the negative outcomes of that activity, but because the risks are too high when considered alongside the benefits.

    I have, of course, experienced bad things in the general sense, so perhaps a memory bank of generalized experience is a prerequisite for appreciation of bad things, but I wouldn't be so quick to espouse this point of view. A sufficiently logical, artificially intelligent computer would, hopefully, be able to think to itself, "Well, this human says that it isn't good to experience pain, and I've never experienced it myself, but he appears to possess some logic or coherence to his thought patterns, so until a superior possibility presents itself, I'll take him at his word."

  3. Also worth noting is that there are two separate problems, here:

    1. Whether we need to experience suffering in order to understand it.

    2. Whether we need suffering at all in order to experience good states.

    For 1., I don't think we do.

    For 2., technically, yes, we need bad in order to "have" good in life, but the goal should be to continually shorten the deprivation duration while eliminating as many barriers or impediments as possible -- rather than to strive for some kind of balance.

    Analogies of use:

    I don't have to have a heart attack in order to become a heart surgeon.

    I don't have to be depressed in order to become a psychiatrist.

  4. I think you're onto something with this mystery angle. I think you should write more about that.

  5. I agree. I was thinking about this yesterday, actually. Basically, if you can't take it to court, it's "mysterious" enough to be justifiable on some level. If you climb a mountain just to prove that you can do it, you may claim that all of the struggles experienced along the way are what "made it worth it," but you're not going to intentionally lacerate yourself or bang your head into the side of the mountain as you go up it.

  6. Yea, that sounds like a really worthy topic to me...