Tuesday, December 16, 2008

what's the good in good?

I have been chewing over this for quite sometime--what is the good in doing good? I mean this from an existentialist or even nihilist perspective. If the end is the end, why not act purely in self interest and indulge? Who cares about anything or any one if reality is not real, or if everything is irrelevant and meaningless?

To this end, I had a few answers. Life may be ultimately meaningless, but I can still process stimulation--so why not just feel good, mentally or physically? The second is rather civil libertarian. We must fight for freedom in general to ultimately protect the security of our own. Once a certain group is oppressed, oppression becomes permissible, and our own stability is compromised. Fine. Self-interest connected to the whole.

But that answer was not enough. What could explain my environmental edge? As far as I am concerned, I will not live to see the true dangers of climate change. As far as actual rights are concerned in the political sphere, animals are irrelevant. To this end, I attributed the urge to cultural appraisals of kindness and care taking--specifically hammered in as a social product of my vagina. Because I have been made to believe that being ethical will make me happy, I live my life giving and being ethical. I ultimately decided that even if the joy I experience from giving is indoctrination, the physical and emotional sensations prevail, and for this effect, such actions are taken in self-interest.

Still, I felt as though something was missing--and a few weeks ago, I found my answer. I realize that positive feelings and positive energy simply feel good. Smiling feels good. Watching people smile feels good. Being around happy people feels good. Being around sad people feels bad. APATHY DOES NOT FEEL LIKE ANYTHING. So why would I ever be negative or apathetic if I need not be? It is in my own self-interest to be positive about as many things as possible at any given time.

This translates into the way one considers the rest of the world. For example, I could hate animals or be apathetic toward them. If I hated them, I would detract from my own positive experience through anger or abhorrence. If I were neutral, I would simply not gain anything from them at all. I would eat a burger and be unaffected. But if I love animals, I win--because I have something extra in my life to enjoy. I get free, positive energy. And when I love animals all of the time through veganism, I have replaced a wash with a win--everyday.

If positive energy feels good, reasonable altruism can be a drug. I have also realized that the same applies to people. I could chose to not care or hate a person--or I could be forgiving and wish that person well, and instead feel the gains of happy thoughts. This is different than being happy because I am the type of good person who wishes one happy thoughts (which is the effect of the indoctrination theory). This is literally about taking away some other neutral, worried, or negative thought in my brain and replacing it with a positive thought.

I suppose I could enjoy only the select things that directly bring me pleasure: food, friends, movies, infatuation. Only a limited pool would contribute to my self-interest and pleasure. Or I could just appreciate life and all living things, and suddenly the pool of things that give me pleasure seems unlimited.

This is not about care taking. This is about receiving pleasure. No matter how upset I may be, seeing a doggy on the street makes me shriek with joy. By loving animals instead of being apathetic to them, I just win. It isn't about giving.

Perhaps this is all a matter of framing. Perhaps I only say all of this now because I am at a different place in my life. A more appreciative and thankful place. The more I care about life, the more I appreciate life, the more positive I feel all around. I have less anger. I have less stress. I get to experience gratitude, affection and joy much more.

In fact, I am starting to wonder how or why I could even waste my own precious, self-interested time with anger or stress to begin with? Instead, I can just find something to appreciate in everything--and always win.


Vanessa said...

Maybe I was not clear. For example, under my original indoctrination hypothesis, I might pick up litter because it is a good deed, and I am supposed to be good, and being good feels good. It is not about enjoying a process, but seeking some end that is culturally promised to you.

Or, if apathy is replaced with affection and I actually love the earth, then picking up trash in and of itself is joyful.

I could have walked down the street and ignored the piece of trash, or I could have added one moment of joy by throwing it away.

I guess the question would be, how does one come to care about something in other to reap the self-interest that caring can bring?

This also bleeds into larger questions about where the line is drawn between caring and taking care of something.

Maxim said...

It seems like your post is essentially a syllogism of the following form: (1) some form of nihilism; (2) hedonistic reductionism is the proper response to nihilism; (3-conclusion) "good" are those things that I happen to find pleasurable.


Vanessa said...

For my case specifically "good" happens to overlap with pleasurable in many respects...but your summary works

Now, how it is that my pleasures have come to overlap with "good" is a completely different blog post...which one can expect in the near future.

Maxim said...

Hmm, I'm not sure I understand the 'overlap' point. If you're defining "good" as that which you find pleasurable, then certain things are good because they're pleasurable. For example, given your argument, you can say that what makes caring for the environment a good is the pleasure it gives me.

But your 'overlap' point suggests that you're already assuming that certain actions already have some kind of inherent goodness irrespective of the pleasure you derive from them. If that's the case, then that both refutes your argument (negates the major premise of the syllogism) and makes it moot as well.

Setting this aside, I think what you're really interested in is the question of how it is that what society deems 'good' in many instances happens to coincide with what you find pleasurable. Something like that or am I missing something?

Vanessa said...

I meant "good" to mean culturally deemed as ethical.