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It's Tough Being Good

Suppose you are a bad person. You get angry a lot, have trouble valuing much, aren’t very successful, blame others for your troubles, and hurt your children often. But, whatever, you’re life isn’t so bad. You get through it, enjoy a fair amount of it.

Now, suppose someone claims to be moral, and you notice the implication that you are not. And suppose this person lacks all your bad traits. This might well make you feel bad.

And then you might write a letter to the so-called moral person, attacking him. The content might be along the lines of (if you were exceptionally intelligent and clear, for a bad person): You bastard, fuck you. You’re totally wrong. Oh, and if you reply in kind you’re just like me, except also a liar. Nope, just sit there and take it, Mr. High and Mighty. Oh, and you can’t get resentful because that would violate your moral code, huh? But you are mad at me, aren’t you? Yep, you’re a hypocrite. Now stop implying I’m bad, and get back to your stupid, lucky life.

Elliot Temple on December 15, 2003

Comments (5)

What's so tough about getting a letter like that?

It seems entertaining to me.

Gil at 10:06 AM on December 15, 2003 | #733

What is your definition of "good"? 100% morally perfect/ mostly morally correct/ has the best available world-view available at the current time in history? Does your definition of "good" take into account people's inexplicit moral theories, as well as their explicit ones? Does it take into account the degree of *activeness* with which the person exercises their goodness?

I'm not convinced that how tough your life is is principally characterised by how good you are (if that is what you are implying). It seems to me that the toughness of one's life depends on factors such as being skilled at dealing with the problems one chooses for oneself, being flexible and good at acquiring new knowledge when needed, and so on. Good knowledge of the practical details required to live by one's theories, perhaps. Plus a good deal of luck, like being in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes people get picked on for being good. Sometimes they get picked on for being fat or wearing glasses or being a child. Adults getting picked on for being good can develop a wide range of strategies for dealing with it, so they don't experience it as coercive, and don't mind it at all, even find it amusing, in most cases, except where they're being arrested and tortured in unfree countries, maybe. Some good adults find those skills harder to develop than others: I think it depends on their entrenchments, their meta-knowledge, luck, and other variables.

Alice Bachini at 10:15 AM on December 15, 2003 | #734


Of course the letter is not tough when one reads the abstract version written by someone trying to highlight why it's wrong. A real copy of the letter would be full of personal details, and would leave out the busted moral philosophy. It would not tell you about the logical trap (if you respond in kind, you will be called equal to the troll). Such a trap cannot be admitted to directly because it implies the troll is worse.

I'm not going to write an example of a real version, because it requires so much personal detail that it's v v hard to just make up a good one. I might *find* an example, but no promises.

Elliot at 1:22 PM on December 15, 2003 | #735

This is my first time here and was wondering how often posts are made?

Stephanie at 2:38 AM on March 30, 2004 | #736

I post here (www.curi.us) on Mondays. I post at www.curi.us/domain at unpredictable times.

Elliot at 2:49 AM on March 30, 2004 | #737

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)