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Moral Outrage! vs. True Goodness
There are two kinds of scofflaw:
by David Truman
Conspicuous and inconspicuous wrongdoing
You would feel outraged to hear that someone got raped or stabbed and no one around cared, nobody helped, nobody called the cops. I want you to know why you would feel outraged. You would feel outraged partly because that event is so deeply wrong, showing such heartlessness, such callous indifference, such inhumanity. And, you would feel outraged because those are such conspicuous wrongs.
Of course, it's not that you would worry about how you'd look if you didn't feel outrage at those wrongs. You would, as I said, react that way naturally, sincerely. But it's nonetheless true that if you were not outraged at such a terrible story, you'd look like a monster. Don't you agree?
On the other hand, people are not normally outraged about "lesser" offenses -- such as selfishness, unkindness, ignoring the feelings and needs of others. People are even prone to overlook terrible inhumanity on their own part as long as they think it is not too conspicuous -- or to put it more accurately, as long as they don't think it is "actionable" (that is, it could be the basis for a lawsuit against them).
Fortunately, most people don't live in the most abusive, inhumane ways possible -- not by any means. They are sensitive to what they can get away with. So what they generally do is this: They live near the maximum human insensitivity possible without going over the line, getting themselves in terrible trouble, and inviting interventions, gross punishment, etc.
But in their daily quest for this value called self-protection, they do go for the maximum human wrongness that fits under the conventional radar. They will push, push, push the envelope, using the exact same principle of inhumane callousness as you see operating on the streets of New York City, where people ignore people who are in pain, all day every day. Not a problem as long as it's not actionable. Wherever there's a chance to be inhuman, but there's no law presently enforced that says what you are doing is grossly unacceptable, most people will operate in that zone.
PE's and SPE's
PE's are Punishable Evils. Punishable Evils are the evils of the grossest and most obvious kind: killing, violence, property theft, etc. "Fortunately" for inhumane people, the laws and expectations regarding inhumanity relate only to the grossest offenses. But what about inhumanity in the less gross forms that typify ordinary behavior? Those ordinary forms of inhumanity are not opposed by any earthly law, or by prevailing social expectations. As a matter of fact, that kind of inhumanity is encouraged. Those kinds of offenses to the heart and soul can be called SPE's: Sub-Punishable Evils.
For example, the pursuit of perceived self-interest is God -- it is an ideal. So as long as you are in pursuit of perceived self-interest, it is politically correct to betray anyone -- including all your friends. There are strong self-protection arguments that could even make you seem like a modern hero for doing it. I'm all about me -- that sort of thing. I'm a "Nike, just do it," I'm-in-it-for-me-person. So you see, it's fine to be humanly immoral. It's more than fine, actually -- it's recommended. It's ideal. And furthermore, anything much better than that, morally, is generally considered to be foolish, reckless, and naïve.
SPE's are the refuge and strength of ordinary egoists. They live in the SPE realm just as moles live in mazes of underground tunnels, and clownfish live in the shelter of the poison tentacles of sea anemones. If a potential assailant comes in to get the clownfish, the tentacles will drive it back. The clownfish is immune to the anemone's poisonous tentacles, but none of its predators are, so it's safe there.
Ordinary egoists know this: "I can be mean, I can be immoral, but in so doing, I am protected by the standards of common society. My behavior is accepted as normal, conventional, reasonable." For instance, it's very homey for egoized people to be able to mistreat their fellows. It's homey to be able to ignore people. It's homey to be unkind, cruel, non-participatory -- all the kinds of aberrant behavior that satisfies the letter of the law, but not the Spirit.
Living like clownfish among the terrible tentacles of conventional practice, most people consider themselves immune to the poison standards they use for protection. But righteous people are stung by things that common people consider to be normal practice, in which they feel at home.
Filthy inside, but "clean" under the law
Jesus came out with great ire about the fact that people were straining at a gnat, and ignoring a camel. That people were, in fact, filthy inside but "clean" according to the law. There was a great ignoring of the terrible loss of one's soul in the attempt to acquire the world. "What profit a man if he loses his soul but gain the world?" Right?
And so, he was really outraged about this. He really considered this to be the absolute ultimate hypocrisy, which obviously it is. But he was talking about two different moral standards. One is the standard of the heart, which is yourself, your God-given knowing. That is a moral standard and better. Then there is the standard of society: what you can get away with.
What Jesus was upset about was the fact that people were really scofflaws relative to the inner standards -- the standards that are true -- and obedient and subservient to the outer standards, in the sense of "render unto Caesar," obey the laws of the land and of the church.
They denounced him for working on the Sabbath, in part. Which, in fact, was an outer law, while he was talking about an inner law, in which you save your sheep because you love your sheep, you care about your sheep, and you don't care what day it is.
Live by the sword, lie about the sword, die by the sword
Commonly, human indifference, even though it's obviously immoral, is fine. Sure, anyone who looked squarely at human indifference would agree that it is immoral, and immoral in every case; but obviously, that's not most people's main concern. Their main concern is staying out of trouble. And as you know -- because you take advantage of this every day -- staying out of trouble has nothing to do with morality.
For example, the people who ignore stabbings in New York are not getting in trouble for ignoring those wrongs. If anything, they are staying out of trouble by ignoring them.
So this thing of "staying out of trouble" is an issue of prevailing standards. A savvy operator will stay aware of the way the wind is blowing, presently, in society. That's the only way to stay out of trouble -- official, gross, general trouble, I mean.
The question people ask themselves is this: "What can I get away with this month, this decade, this time? What will people in this particular context let me get away with? How far can I push it?" And most people just go ahead and push it until it breaks:
One man says, "Hey, I was a good father until my son committed suicide."
Another says, "I was a good husband until out of the blue, my wife divorced me."
And you were a good person until your friends had an intervention on how anti-social you're being. Is that right -- or how would you characterize it?
When you say, "I was a good person until... ," are you going for pure legal definitions of a good person? Or are you raising your sights higher than that, to include moral factors beyond the minimum standards required by law or prevailing standards?
The ego revels in evil, but it has a certain self-protective instinct, however warped and ultimately destructive it may be. Ego wants to avoid punishment, that's for sure. Therefore, ego contents itself with levels of evil that run under the radar: Sub-Punishable Evils. Those are the ones it would maximize.
Why would it do that? Because laziness and cowardice require it. For example, it can take a bit of effort to express care for others. Therefore, the less you express care, the better your ego likes it. And what that means, basically, is ignoring others. Now, ignoring others -- in any social context, at least -- is evil. But it is a Sub-Punishable Evil. Therefore, ego would maximize it.
To maximize your SPE's, all you must do is work within the realm of technical acceptability. You can push evil to the max, but you must stay in that realm. Of course, you'll get a few complaints anyway, because the fact is, inhumanity hurts, whether it is actionable or not. But the complainers have no leg to stand on -- not one that you would recognize as valid, most likely.
We're talking about defending oneself against trouble. The simplest way to do that is minimizing exposure in the first place. You minimize exposure by using SPE's as your basic lifestyle and love style. Use any pattern that limbos in under the radar. You can feel safe in the knowledge that if some sensitive asshole tries to blow the whistle on an SPE, there's some sleazy way you can argue your case, and win.
And furthermore, very few other people will go to bat for a person who complains about SPE's of any kind. If they do, they would be fighting a lost cause, and they know it. They know, for example, that when it comes to your SPE's, you can just say, "Everyone else does it." Or, "Most people do it" -- and that will suffice to stop the complaint.
Scofflaws and vigilante justice
A real danger, though, is the scofflaws who have no respect for the letter of the law, and for prevailing standards of practice -- common law, if you will. They have no respect for it.
For example, what if some accuser stepped up to you and said, "The problem is not that you broke some law that's been printed in legal type. The problem is you're a sleazebag, an immoral person, with the way you live your life every day!" That accuser is a scofflaw. They're not working within the system. Apparently, vigilante justice is what they want.
There's a school of thought that says, "The regular justice system in our society is corrupt and morally insensitive." Meaning, you can be a scumbag and get away with it. That's what many critics of our system say. And some of them go so far as to say, "The closest thing to true justice we've ever had in the USA is Mafia justice." The Mafia punishes people, not for breaking the law in a technical sense, but for doing wrong. And, right and wrong, in the Mafia system, is a moral matter, essentially.
Using their peculiar moral system of justice, the Mafia took justice into their own hands. And in so doing, they were, relative to the nation's penal code, scofflaws.
The thing is, SPE's under American justice (or common law) may very well be PE's in the Mafia system. And therefore, people who ignore moral rightness may have good reason to fear the Mafia. But fortunately, most people have nothing to do with the Mafia, and therefore, live under the protection of American justice and the lower expectations of egoistic society (that is, common law).
In the common law system, a person can defend SPE's quite effectively: "Well, it's not fair to accuse me of an SPE. Don't you know that SPE's are protected under common law? Everybody commits SPE's every day. So why am I being singled out?"
As long as they can offer that kind of defense and think they might be able to get away with it, they'll follow that course, absolutely. Why not? People do what they can get away with, right?
To merit any real attention, any correction, something conspicuously and grossly terrible has to happen. Then it's a problem. In the most extreme cases, it might even be actionable.
The old one-too-many-times problem
I'm sure you've heard the expression, "the straw that broke the camel's back." But of course, the camel is a beast of burden. And you want the camel to carry your load. So you want to heap as many straws on its back as possible -- short of breaking its back, that is.
But what if you mouth off at your boss one too many times? What if you ignore your wife one too many times? What if you're late with your rent payment one too many times? You break the camel's back. So you find yourself sleeping under the bridge. And that, you might think, is a real problem. (Not the things that caused the problem, but the eviction, the homelessness, and the discomfort and exposure that homelessness entails.)
That way of thinking goes like this: "The problem is not the straws, and nor is it the heavy load. The problem is the broken back. And actually, to refine that a bit more, it's not the broken back, actually, but the problems that the broken back causes me. I mean, who cares about the camel, really?"
Isn't that perfect, you see? That shows that it's a moral-free thought system. People who think this way are the kind of scofflaw that scoffs at morality. When people say these things -- "I don't care that I break my camel's back. But I do care if it causes me inconvenience" -- that is a moral scofflaw attitude. It is completely free of morality of any kind. It has moved into the realm of pure immorality.
If some consequences come down that are extremely troublesome and bothersome to them personally, that kind of person might consider changing their ways. Not for moral reasons, of course, but for reasons of personal comfort. For the same old reasons that any inhumane, cheap, cowardly, self-serving citizen would cherish: Narrow self-interest. Convenience. Comfort.
If something about a person's patterns of behavior has the effect of compromising those selfish values in grossly obvious ways, that would provide motivation for change. But if you look at it, the change is pretty superficial. At least, the motivation is not new, not by any means. It's the motivation they've always been operating by, all along; it's just being applied under new conditions, that's all.
Some people say, "I only change when I'm forced to change. That's just the way I am." That may be the case for you, too. But if it is, it makes you a real chump. Who but a real chump refuses to change unless they are forced to change?
When people say, "I don't change unless I'm forced to change," they're talking about involuntary change. No choice. But what's the significance of a choice that you had no choice about? How could a person be credited with such a choice? It's insane. Isn't that like the man who pays alimony only if the court garnishes his paycheck each month? Now I ask you: Is he a changed man? No, he's not.
So people are looking to be that kind of reformed person themselves with their prayer, their candle, and their wish that circumstances will somehow intervene on their habitual commitment to evil, and force them to change it. But what I don't get is, why do people think that that's a real accomplishment? Why would they think that they would be good under those circumstances? "I'll be good when I'm forced to." I don't see what's good about that. All that says is they have an animalistic sense of survival.
Sure, people do what they have to do, what they are forced to do. But so what? What good is that? So, although I have said many things here about morality, or the lack thereof, I don't say these things to force anyone to change their behavior -- so they appear to be more moral than before, even though they're not really any more moral at all.
Change -- at least change worthy of the name -- isn't about having no choice. Real change is about making a new choice voluntarily. What fool would interest himself in the self-destructive spiral by which moral midgets seek bottom, hoping to be forced by the impact to change? I have no interest in that, simply because there's no real change involved.
Tides of consciousness
You may, on account of what you've read here, put yourself under stricter constraints for the time being, until the awareness level settles back down. In obedience to your own religion of self-protection, you may feel that you have to slightly modify your behavior. But don't worry; if you need to make a little adjustment, it's temporary. Truth may pass, but you, friend, remain.
You can rest assured that someday, people like me who seem to be asking you to conform to a higher standard will leave you alone. Then you can safely return to comfortable levels of immorality without the mask. Right?
Consciousness comes in cycles, like the tide. Now and then, depending on which way the wind blows, you might need to adjust. You may need to put on more masks, or different masks, when they -- whoever they may be at the time -- require of you some new conformity. You take it as it comes. You do what you have to do. You follow the path of least resistance. That's the way you roll. It's your way for now, the ego way. It's legal and proper under common law.
But the larger view I have presented here is different: it incorporates morality. Morality is the only star by which an honest person steers.
Thank you for listening.
by David Truman
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