By Tim Hayes
Okay, so here we all find ourselves, smack in the middle of a global crap storm. Everyone called on to share the burden, the inconvenience, the frustration, the anxiety, and for far too many, the pain and suffering and loss.
And then, of course, entering stage left – the assholes, idiots, and predators.
With news that Americans who automatically receive Social Security benefits will now also receive their stimulus checks – many of whom are elderly people, now living alone by necessity – the scammers have descended. Offering bogus information about the money on its way, these awful people swindle cash from their unsuspecting prey, in the most immoral, repugnant, unrepentant way.
As businesses, families, and friends have flocked to online video group meetings during the quarantine, hackers have figured out a way to bust into the digital identities of participants. Dubbed “Zoombombing,” this unwanted intrusion into purposeful, needed communication throws open the door to more invasion of privacy, thievery of personal financial data, and who knows what else.
In the past week locally, one customer intentionally spit on the face of a grocery checkout clerk, and a person being arrested intentionally coughed three times in the face of a police officer. In Detroit two weeks ago, a passenger sneezed into the face of a bus driver. That poor soul died a couple of days ago as a result of that crass, ignorant act.
Then came the dismissal of those who dared to stand up for people placed in unsafe situations. Amazon fires the organizer of a one-day warehouse walkout to protest lack of protective gear for workers there. The Navy fires a captain for demanding that his crew be respected and safeguarded, as per the code of the service.
What motivates such evil? It’s incredibly difficult for me to fathom the sort of mind that works so diligently to treat other people with such complete disdain – especially as the world endures a level of existential crisis none of us has ever seen.
It got me thinking about the big questions. And I mean the BIG questions. Like: Who are we? What is the point of all this? Is the human race inherently good or evil? Let’s see what the going opinion on this topic has been over the centuries:
The Greek philosopher Socrates thought that the most important question before man is the determination of good and evil. According to him, knowledge of good and evil and its criteria are imbued in man and he can differentiate between the two if he desires. (1)
His fellow Greek thinker, Aristotle, considered reason the greatest bounty of God, and called it the “Divine Spark.” If man uses his reason and other capabilities properly, he can attain self-realization, after which he hardly needs any measure for good and evil. (1)
Philo, a philosopher in ancient Rome prior to the birth of Christ, thought that the spiritual part of man, his mind or soul, is the seat of good, and his body, the material part, is the seat of evil. Consequently, when the soul is incorporated in the body, it suffers a fall from divine perfection and becomes predisposed to evil. Thus the goal of man is freedom from matter and a return to God who is perfect goodness. (1)
From Bible.com: Things tend to fall apart without an external force maintaining it. In the moral and spiritual realm, that external force (really an internal force) is the Holy Spirit. Despite what the rationalists say, you can’t just teach morality and expect men to follow the rules. People don’t usually do what they know is right. They do what they love to do. They do what makes them feel good, what gives them power, etc. Education doesn’t make people be good. It just makes smarter sinners. (2)
And a more contemporary answer comes from a scientific study described in Psychology Today. Part of the conclusion reads: So are humans moral or immoral? The biological answer is that we have evolved behaviors that increase our chances of survival and reproduction. When in a stable and safe environment with enough food in our bellies, having a biology of morality sustains our place in the community of humans who help ensure our biological imperatives. In highly stressful, resource-poor environments, we’ll step on whoever is in front of us if it helps us survive…We’re a complicated species—both moral and immoral as our environment and physiology dictate. But mostly the moral dominates. (3)
Well, there you go. So what do I draw from all this philosophy, theology, and psychology? A big, fat: Who Knows?
Maybe it’s brain chemistry. Maybe it’s an imbued slice of the almighty and immortal that either gets fed and watered, or ignored and discarded. Maybe it’s the luck of the cosmic draw. Or maybe it’s the way you were potty trained or something. Who knows?
The malevolent behavior of some in the wake of the coronavirus scare leaps out as evidence of an inherently evil nature. But then you hear about the thousands – more like millions – of small, silent, steady acts of empathy and kindness occurring everywhere, and the good begins to shine through again.
Who are we? We are the ones carrying meals to elderly or infirm neighbors. Keeping in contact with friends and family by phone or computer, just to see and hear each other. Working at private and publicly held companies converting their manufacturing processes to pump out masks, ventilators, and other equipment to pick up the slack left by the criminally chaotic federal response. Setting up neighborhood parties where everyone stays on his or her front porch to share an evening drink together. Picking up drive-through hamburgers for truck drivers to thank them for carrying food and needed products to stores. Treating the sick and developing vaccines in the most pressure-filled environments imaginable. And innumerable instances more like these.
Who are we? We’re a shared species that’s taken a real gut punch. But a fighter is never more dangerous than after he gets up off the canvas. That’s the kind of fight, the kind of spirit, the kind of energy we now see bursting from the coronavirus blow.
Who are we? We are scrappers. We are big-hearted. We are empathetic toward those suffering around us. Some bad actors may always poke through. But we are better, stronger, finer people than those exceptions.
Who are we? We are essentially good. Let’s continue to prove it, and destroy this monster once and for all through our common goodness.
Copyright 2020 Timothy P. Hayes