Fighting the Good Fight

Tuesday, June 22, 2010
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

Last night was the series finale of a television program called Saving Grace, starring Holly Hunter. The program is based on the idea that Grace, an Oklahoma City Police Detective, receives a visit from Earl, a "Last Chance Angel." God wants her back in the fold after a life of drinking, smoking and promiscuous behavior, and has sent the drawling Earl out to the world to accomplish that task.

Given the premise, you may find it strange that a humanist like myself would find such a show endearing, but I found it an interesting study on the nature of good and evil and the power of redemption.

Now I don't believe in an "ultimate" good or an "ultimate" evil. I don't think there are personifications of such things, and I think angels, demons and their respective bosses are figments of humanity's imagination. But "good" and "evil" are certainly defensible concepts within the moral fabric of humanity, and I believe that each of us has a bit of both in us.

I also believe that the historical struggle between the two is really nothing more than a holding action. We're never going to have some Utopian society where no one's ever covetous of their neighbor's goat/mate/natural resources and we all go skipping through the daisies, lalala. Within the context of the wider world, we're never going to have some dystopian hellhole where anarchy reins and the man with the biggest cleaver always wins, although I recognize there are certainly pockets of such villainy in the world.

But here's the thing - the fight matters. Standing up and fighting the good fight, even if you lose, is an aspect of our moral character. It gives humanity as a species something to aspire to. If evil and bad behavior has an entropy of its own, then left to its own devices it will creep across our civilizations like a cancer. Making the commitment to fight stops that creep, even if you lose, by setting the example for others to follow.

It's not always necessary to defeat evil, but it is always necessary to confront it. I thank the writers at Saving Grace for reminding me of that.

11 comments:

Karl said...

I have that exact quote mounted on the wall by my desk not 2 feet from my head. It's been a good reminder to try and keep my footing and stance, to stand up and to persevere. It's right next to a picture of Skrat - the sabre-tooth squirrel that never gives up. And that's right next to a hot pink post-it with 'GITFS' printed on it. ;)

Still standing so far...

WendyB_09 said...

I believe that's why I took to working in the legal field so well, once it found me. The chance to help do good in the world for people who have been wronged.

Since I left the IT world, I have always worked for small law firms, solo practices. Now, I could go to one of the larger firms and get paid a whole lot more, but there I'd be just another paralegal in a 9-5 job.

It's not like we have massively good v. devilishly evil cases to deal with, although some of the insurance defence firms walk on the dark side... It's every day people who've had something happen-car wreck, shooting victim, dog bite victim. We do a good deal of pro-bono work with clients at a couple rehab centers to help clear their records while they're in recovery.

Here I get to know the clients, the opposing counsel, and all the players. Good and bad. Even if the outcome is not what we'd hoped for, when the client calls in afterwards to thank me for being there for them during the proceedings, I feel good about it! And I know I made a difference in their life.

Nathan said...

I know you're talking about "GOOD" and "EVIL" -- the big concepts -- but I don't think it's any less important to extend the thought to the more mundane -- the everyday occurrences that we either ignore or take the time to try to alleviate. One of my current guilty pleasures is a fairly (OK, really) stupid show called "True Beauty". The contestants think they're in a competition to be the new "Face of Las Vegas"...sort of a "spokesmodel", I guess. What they don't know is that each weekly contest includes a set-up test for them observed from a hidden camera. It might be a biggish deal, like when each contestant was enticed to shoplift an item that they couldn't afford, but that might help them win that week. In another episode, the test was to have the contestants showing up late for an appointment and there's a woman at the building entrance whose dog has its leash tangled around her ankles and a sign near the entrance. (Some stepped over the leash and ignored her plight, while others stopped to help.) (O.K. I said it's a stupid show, but I do have a point.)

The point is...If I want to think of myself as someone willing to take the risks involved in confronting an actual wrong in the world, I'd better practice by demonstrating willingness to be inconvenienced by just showing some common courtesy on a regular basis.

(And I'm not sure if that all really made any sense or if it edged into "hijack" territory, but I'm not going back to proof or edit it, so...)

Janiece said...

Nathan, that's the kind of hijack I like, because you bring up an incredibly important point:

I hate reality television.

Okay, that's not really the important point, but I thought I'd get my dig in.

The important point is that most of us will never be called upon by circumstances to pledge our allegiance to either GOOD or EVIL in some huge, myth-making way. We're not in a position to save the world from dystopia, or push the world toward Utopia. We just live our little lives, touching our immediate circle of friends, family, workmates and acquaintances, paying our mortgages and hoping we don't screw everything up too badly.

But that doesn't mean we don't have the opportunity (and the obligation) to Do Good within the circles of our influence.

Who said that doing the right thing is a habit, like any other, and that practicing it on the little things leads to automatic occurrences of Doing the Right Thing when the big things come along? It might have been John McCain before he lost his damn mind and his way, but regardless, it's a good rule to live by.

So yes - I agree with your most excellent point. But not your choices in mindless television.

Vagabond said...

"Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one's weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can't all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Stark Munro Letters"

Here's to fighting the good fight, Ja-Neese! I like the phonetic spelling better . . . it's like your new rapper street name!

Vagabond said...

As a matter of fact, we should form our own rap group . . . DJ Matty Chew and Ja-Neese! Whadaya think? That's some mad whack crazy shit, yo?

Janiece said...

DJ Matty Chew and Ja-Neese!

Dude, seriously. Lay down the crack pipe. It'll set a bad example for little one and make your teeth fall out.

Vagabond said...

That's it . . . fine . . . be a hater!

Janiece said...

Um, yeah. I really need to lay off the haytin' of posing white dudes and the use of crack as a life-management tool.

Silly me.

Karl said...

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not and act, but a habit."
--Aristotle

That one?

It's on the other side of Skrat next to the hot pink post-it...

Nathan said...

Guess what Janiece (or should I say JA-KNEEEEEE-ZIZZLE?),

I'll have you know TV has been a touchstone throughout my life. Everything I knew about classical music before I was 15 came from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

So PBBBBBBBTTTTTT!

(Besides, watching reality shows gives me the only opportunity I ever get to say, "Oh NO you di-int!" without anyone looking at me funny.)