Is the world a generous, giving place of mutual loyalty? Are the human inhabitants, at their core, altruistic and capable of true compassion? Do we live in an environment that is uniquely suited to our evolutionary success, and that actually wants us to succeed? Or is this naive? Are people generally self serving, selfish, and ultimately out for their own betterment? Are we in a niche that truly occupies a sphere of survival of the fittest? Is loyalty just a facade, just a currently comfortable place of contentment that will be ditched when a better alternative arises?
Maybe. I honestly do not know. But I would guess the answer lies somewhere between yes and no. People are capable of truly evil things, and ignoring that fact just sets us up to be taken advantage of. Evil and malevolence are real, and exists between the facets of every word, every conversation. Life is suffering. Buddha, and Christ, and all of their followers were not lying when they told us this. We, as humans, walk on a thin sheet of glass called order, typically unaware of the chaos that lurks after the fall.
But then, we also see truly altruistic behavior that can be described as nothing but saint-like. We see bravery and courage course through veins. We see whole countries rally together behind a just cause. We see love that lasts a lifetime, and friendship that always seem to reign supreme. So then, if humans can behave in the most beautiful and empathetic of manners, while also in the most brutal and harsh of ways, where do we draw the line? And even more importantly, what is the proper mode of being in this type of world?
How do we not only behave, but survive and even thrive in a world where malevolence lurks behind every corner, and chaos continues to stalk us, like prey. Where fortune has a cruel ability to take what we love in an instant without warning and people contain within them the most evil the world has ever seen. How do we not grow cold and distant, but continue to be open and potentially vulnerable if this same world also holds within it the greatest experience that has ever been offered? Experiences such as love. How do we survive in a world that offers love in one hand, while simultaneously offering hate in the other?
It seems the answer lies in being fully capable of massive destruction, of massive harm and ruthlessness. Of being able to do the most ghastly of acts, and not blink twice. The proper mode of being in a world that can send you to the depths of chaos at any second must be to be the type of person who always has a foot in chaos and a foot in order. To be the person who is acutely aware. To be the person who is truly capable of evil, but to choose not to manifest it. To be the one that holds within their hands the capacity for hurt, but then to choose to help.
Obviously, this truth is right in front of us, in many facets. Why are superheros the biggest thing in cinema right now? Marvel brings in millions of dollars a movie for costumed crusaders saving the world, why? Why do we shovel over time and money just to see another return of the same archetypal structure (the hero’s journey)? Why are heros praised? Because they can destroy, but they choose not to. This is why they are seen as such higher beings. Because within them lies the capacity for pure evil and chaos, within them is the potential for the cruelest and most horrific acts mankind has ever seen, but yet they choose not to manifest it. This is why we praise them.
There is no virtue in harmlessness. No hero would ever be held to such a high esteem if they couldn’t also destroy. If a person could do no bad, they are not good, they are just there. In other words, good is not good unless it is held by a potential counterweight of bad. One must have to make a decision to be good, in order for good to be good. If no decision is made, and if good is just the baseline, then it is not just, it just is.
For example, is Superman’s powers only allowed him to do good actions, but somehow shut off whenever he tried to do bad, then he wouldn’t be the moral sage that he is seen to be. It is only because his powers can bring absolute chaos, that he is praised when he uses those for just causes. We must be the same. In every regard.
There is no virtue in harmlessness, and there is no virtue in making a decision when there is only one option. You aren’t loyal in your romantic relationship if there are no other potential suitors, you just have no other options. You aren’t nice if you can’t force yourself to be mean, you are just what is left. Nietzsche stated that most morality is not in fact morality, but it is fear disguised as morality. We don’t follow the law because we feel a moral obligation to, we follow the law because we are afraid to break it. We don’t act kindly because we decide that kindness is the best option, we act kindly because we fear confrontation and disagreements. This is not morality, just fear. There is no virtue in making a decision when there is only one option. You must make a choice to do good in order to be virtuous, everything else is just fear or laziness.
This is why François De La Rochefoucauld said, “No one deserves to be praised for kindness if he does not have the strength to be bad; every other form of kindness is most often merely laziness or lack of willpower.” Therefore, in order to thrive justly in a world that can flip between order and chaos like a coin, we must become the type of person who makes a decision to be good.
If we have the capacity for evil, we can manifest it when the situation calls for it. If we can handle conflict, if we can be mean and even harsh, then the world cannot take advantage of us. If we can look fear in the eyes without blinking, then we can find the courage to stand up for what we need. If we can speak truth without bending, then we can disagree, we can fight, and we can do what needs to be done in order to survive.
Throughout history, we have seen this truth pop up in various regards. People who refuse to break, people who could have easily chosen violence, but choose peace. Martin Luther King Jr was so highly regarded as an advocate for peace, because those around him wanted violence. He could have easily given in and choose to be violent, choose to allow his anger to manifest physically, and everyone would have understood. But, he made the decision not to. This is the same with Gandhi. On the reverse, Nelson Mandela fought peacefully for a long time, but understood that a time may come when violence is the answer, so he kept the capacity alive within himself. This is seen in his journal entries in “Conversations with Myself”. When the time came, he answered with violence.
The similarities here is that these men held the capacity for peace and for violence within them, and choose which was better for the specific situation. If Nelson Mandela did not have a peaceful bone in his body, then his call for violence would not have been moral. If Martin Luther King Jr or Gandhi had to work endlessly to stay peaceful despite a world, and probably a conscious dreaming for violence, then that is where the morality lives, and that is where the ability to survive, and to thrive live. It is in being the person who has every set of options readily available to them, and picking the one that the situation calls for.
If you can’t leave, if you can’t fight, if you can’t scream or yell, if you can’t be truly evil, if you can’t hurt, then you are not moral, and you will not survive this world. Maybe this is the “nice guys finish last” saying that is readily mocked. Maybe it is true, or it is: “Guys without the capacity for evil finish last”.
If the world can force you to bend, but never break, then you can survive the chaos. If you can choose which option is best for the situation, and you have endless options, then you’ll never be destroyed. If you can choose, because you’ve taken the time to allow yourself to have choices, then you can fully love, you can fully live, and you can fully survive this world.
So become friends with the shadow, become able to recognize malevolence, become able to stand up for yourself. Become harmful. Because, as in all things in life, if there are no options, if there is no other choice but to stay, to be nice, to follow, then that is not morality, and that will not enable you to survive. Become the person who holds within them all chaos, and all order, because that is how you live fully.