Tag Archives: good

The Chocolate Shop

“What? You don’t like chocolate anymore?” He asked them.

“No, Saba,” Tommy was pulling away. “I still like chocolate. It’s just that I don’t want to go here.”

The older man looked inside at the tables and chairs, the shelves of light and dark chocolates, the cloudy displays of ice creams and sherbets, and the nice looking young girl holding the menus standing in the open door way smiling at them. It looked like nothing had ever happened here. It looked like a perfect place to take his two grandkids for a holiday weekend.

Daniel was busy double-thumbing something on his smartphone and didn’t seem to notice where he was at the moment.

“Why, Tommy?” he asked.

“Because,” Tommy said.

Daniel stopped double-thumbing and explained, “He doesn’t want to go inside because this is where those terrorists came in and shot and killed those four people.”

Tommy nodded his head somberly, agreeing with his brother for a change.

“Oh,” the older man said, “I see.”

They walked over to the low wall surrounding the open square where kids were skating and riding their bikes. They all sat down facing the square with their backs to the chocolate shop only ten meters away.

“If the world is such a good place, why are there such bad people?” Tommy asked his Saba, which means “grampa” in our language.

“I ask myself that all the time,” he replied. “If the world is such a bad place, why are there such good people as you kids and your parents?”

“That’s not what he asked, Saba!” Daniel interjected. He was the wiser of the two brothers. He was going to be bar mitzvahed next month. A long time ago, when we lived in tents in the desert, that was when a boy became a man. He still felt like a kid though. “He said ‘if the world is such a good place …'”

“I know what he said, Daniel,” the older man smiled. “I just wanted to show you both that reversing what he asked was also an interesting question.”

Tommy said, “What I meant was why do bad things happen? Why can’t we be protected from them?”

“Your parents, your brother and sisters, your grandparents, and everyone else who loves you want more than anything in the world to protect you from bad things,” Saba said, “more than they would want to protect themselves.”

“But what happens if you are not with us?” Daniel asked.

“That’s why we try to keep you close to us when we go somewhere.”

“What if the bad people are stronger than you?”

“Love gives good people strength they didn’t know they had.”

“What if they shoot you?”

“There will be good people around you who will try to protect you.”

“What if they run away with their kids or what if they’ve been shot too?”

Saba was quiet for a few moments. He didn’t really believe in God but he didn’t want to weaken their confidence. Neither did he want to lie to them.

Daniel asked, “Why do bad people do bad things anyway? Don’t they know they’re not good?”

Saba was thankful to be rescued from the previous line of questioning. “I don’t believe they think they’re doing anything wrong. Nobody does anything wrong intentionally. Everyone believes what he’s doing is the right thing to do.”

“How can anyone think killing an innocent person is the right thing to do?”

“Maybe we killed an innocent person whom they loved very much, like we love you, and they wanted revenge for what we did.”

“Why would we do that? We don’t go around killing children, women, or old people. Sorry, Saba.”

“Maybe we killed an innocent person by accident when we were trying to kill terrorists.”

“But who started it?”

“Nobody remembers. Everyone believes his enemies started it.”

“But who really started it?”

“I don’t know. It depends on who’s doing the counting.”

“Don’t they know we wouldn’t kill innocent people on purpose?”

“They don’t care what we say or think. They just care about what we do, like us. We don’t care what they say or think either, just what they do.”

“Why do they think revenge is the right thing to do?”

“They think that revenge is a kind of justice, when no other form of justice is available to them, just like many of us do, and everyone believes that justice is the right thing to do.”

“I wanted revenge when one of my classmates said I was too short to play basketball at recess,” Tommy admitted.

“What did you do?”

“Well, at first, I wanted to punch him in the stomach.”

“So what did you do?”

“I threw the ball into the basket. Everybody laughed at that and he said I could be on his team if I wanted.”

“If only people could think of other things to do to get even, besides killing, that would be good,” Daniel raised his finger wisely.

“Anybody up for an ice cream,” Saba asked, standing up and stretching his arms and back, “somewhere else?”

“Yes!” they both answered.

The older man offered each his hand and they walked away from the chocolate shop on the square. He said a silent prayer to no one in particular that today wouldn’t be the day and this would not be the place.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Filed under Dilemmas, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose, Stories and Novels, Uncategorized

Collateral Damage

Those of you who are reading this blog from beginning to end, and especially those who follow this blog on a regular basis, are ethical, empathetic, and independent thinkers; otherwise, you would have moved on to other blogs more suited to your inclinations. You may have heard of ethical relativity or even taken a course in it at college but you believe viscerally in ethical absolutes, that there is such a thing as absolute Good and absolute Evil. I know these things because I’m like that too and like minds tend to cluster together.
Therefore we are clueless about how could anybody join or support a group of terrorists like ISIS, so hateful, so full of disregard for the sanctity of life and body, and so obviously Evil. We don’t understand such Evil. We didn’t understand Nazi Evil and we don’t understand ISIS Evil. Incidentally, they are not the same kinds of Evil. The Nazi kind was impersonal and efficient. The ISIS kind is personal and inefficient. Not that it matters. The point is that ethical absolutism does not equip us with the means to analyze how Good people can become Evil.
In my ever so humble opinion, it has to do with collateral damage.
It happens like this: you’re ten years old and walking your little sister home from Sunday school. She’s wearing her white dress with the blue and yellow flowers that your mother made for her. Out of the clear blue sky comes a missile fired from a drone at a terrorist training camp on the other side of a tall sand dune, but the coordinates fed into the missile’s guidance system were off slightly and it shot over the sand dune and incinerated your little sister. You can’t read English very well, but you recognize the “US” markings and the stenciled flag on one of the burning twisted pieces of metal from the exploded missile. You are radicalized.
You came to this country with your young wife to make a new life and participate in the American dream. You don’t speak the language very well. You don’t have the requisite education. You are marginalized. You are disenfranchised. You are radicalized.
Your parents came to this country and worked very hard so that you would have the kind of life they never could have dreamed of. They put you through school. You graduate from university. You’re hired for a good job. Nobody even knows your background or cares about it. You’re just like them. You feel you’re floating. Your life has no purpose or meaning. You meet someone by chance. He’s from your parent’s old village. He’s charismatic. He introduces you to his friends. They tell you stories like the first or second one. You feel their pain. You feel their hatred. Suddenly your life has purpose and meaning. You are radicalized.
Once you are radicalized you see only brothers or sisters and enemies. Enemies don’t seem human to you anymore. Enemies are Evil. How can it be Evil to destroy Evil?
The generals and politicians talk about collateral damage, acceptable losses, the cost of waging war, innocents who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Collateral damage is a weak signal lost in a vast sea of statistical noise when we attempt to calculate the effects of a military action.
The potential of radical hatred and revenge of a single man or woman may be more Evil than an atom bomb. We should expect our generals and politicians to put that into their calculations next time they try to calculate the consequences of going to war.
And just for the record, nobody, not even ISIS, believes that his own actions are Evil.

Mike Stone
Raanana Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays

Morality and Religion

There is absolutely no correlation between morality and religion. Don’t misunderstand: there are probably many moral people who happen to be religious too, just as there are probably many moral people who are not religious. The opposites and contrapositives are also true: there are probably many religious people who happen to be moral too, just as there are probably many religious people who are not moral. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be all that surprised when you encounter an atheist or agnostic who contributes money to worthy causes or hear about a minister caught with his hand in the till.

Morality is based on considerations of goodness. What is the greatest good? What is a lesser good? What is the greatest evil? What is a lesser evil? Religion is based on faith and obedience to the representatives or the tenants of that faith. There are subtle but important differences between the two.

Religion may have provided a kick-start for morality back in the old days. It probably went something like this:

“Thou shalt not kill!”

“Why should I listen to you?”

“Because I represent G-d Almighty and He’ll send you to Hell if you don’t do what He says!”

Then along came Immanuel Kant and wrote a philosophical treatise on Categorical Imperatives. Click http://aquileana.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/immanuel-kant-the-categorical-imperative/ for more information. Basically he said that the Ten Commandments, among others, make sense to abide by them, not because of the personal consequences of doing so, going to heaven or hell or getting some other reward or punishment, but because of the criterion of universality. The criterion may be applied to any action or inaction under consideration. Take an action A. Ask yourself hypothetically what would happen if everyone were to do A? Would world order thrive, at least survive, or would it break down? If world order would break down, then it’s not a good idea to do A. If world order would thrive, then A is a good action. If world order would continue to survive, then there’s no reason why you can’t do A. You may substitute “kill”, “lie”, or “commit adultery” for A and see what you get. Now let’s see what you get when you substitute “attack someone with the possibility of killing” or “defend yourself with the possibility of killing” for A. Yes, “attack” would lead to the break-down of world order, whereas “defend” would not.

Kant’s system of morality is not the only system that analyzes morality independently from religion. As a matter of fact Kant was preceded in this endeavor by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. Thanks to Michael Dickel for pointing this out to me. Religion is counterproductive when it comes to analyzing moral dilemmas. Religions start out with a cosmology and a history to establish their credentials, power, and future. Morality is considered an attribute of their commandments but is not to be questioned. It is not for you to question the will of G-d. Who is man to understand His ways? G-d moves in mysterious ways. If you follow His commandments to the letter then you will be rewarded with life everlasting; if not, you’ll be condemned to burn forever in the fires of Hell along with the rest of the nonbelievers. The measure of a man’s faith is that he believes even if it is absurd to do so. To analyze why it makes sense for us as a group not to kill, not to tell lies, or not to commit adultery is not a legitimate activity within religion. Some religions, however, do encourage the analysis of modern actions or modalities in an attempt to correlate or trace them back to some original religious commandment.

So what are the sources of morality that do not necessarily originate from G-d or religion, sources that can teach us or at least stimulate us to learn what is right or wrong? The simple answer to that is everywhere and everything.

Philosophy trains us to analyze the logic and the consequences of our words and actions. Literature, poetry, music, and art train us to feel things we’ve never felt before, to sympathize, and to empathize with anyone and anything around us. That guy walking unsteadily towards your car window holding out a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a cigarette in another at his side who looks like he hasn’t eaten a decent meal in a month is a challenge and a test of our morality. So is that nice looking girl at the office. So is your dog who would give up his life for you in a heartbeat and doesn’t want you to go away. So are the cats who have no one to feed them and give them water. So are the animals we slaughter wholesale for our insatiable appetites, the trees we cut down, the plants we plow into extinction, the soil, the water, and the air we befoul.

Analysis leads to paralysis. Yes, we walk a tightrope between too little and too much. To mix another metaphor, awareness is the burden of our consciousness. Nobody else can hold that burden for us, not even if they say they can. If we analyze too little or too lightly we are at risk of doing or not doing something we’ll regret later. The consequences of our actions or words can never be retracted. Time’s arrow only flies forward. The consequences can only be buried under new consequences which hopefully might be less regrettable.

Religion says differently. It is predicated on the premise that regrettable consequences may be forgiven. I ask you this: what would happen if we substituted “forgiveness of our sins” for A?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel


Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays

On Good and Evil

Open systems are good. Closed systems are evil.

Open systems are good because they allow for the continuation of possibilities. The continuation of possibilities implies the continuation of possibilities for good.

Closed systems are evil because of lack of replenishment and material exhaustion.

We live in a closed system. Unfortunately one man’s good is immediately converted into another man’s evil.

A dictatorship is a tightly closed system. It is a very evil system because it only takes one man to make it evil.

A democracy is a loosely closed system. It is less evil than a dictatorship because it requires a majority of the people to be evil to make the democracy evil.

Religion is a closed system. The fundamentalists, literalists, and the ultra-orthodox believe that after God wrote the book, He closed it so that no one else could add anything to it.

The Earth is a closed system. There is a limit to how many trees we can chop down, how much carbon we can dump into the atmosphere or waste into the sea, how many people we can feed before we can’t live here anymore.

So, what is an open system? If I were to describe it for you, it would probably become a closed system. In spite of that, I’ll try to give a glimpse of a few open systems.

Space, time, infinity, and eternity are open systems, of course. See my blog post on https://uncollectedworks.wordpress.com/2014/06/14/common-sense-about-space-time-and-infinity/.

The distances between stars are open systems, for all practical purposes, unless you happen to be travelling in a spaceship, which is a closed system.

A moment might be an open system depending on what you do with it.

Eric Berne’s game-free personality type is an open system of sorts. See http://www.amazon.com/Games-People-Play-Transactional-Analysis/dp/0345410033/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406396951&sr=1-1&keywords=eric+berne+games+people+play&dpPl=1.

In Gödelian terms I would suggest that an open system is both inconsistent and incomplete. See http://www.amazon.com/G%C3%B6dels-Proof-ernest-nagel/dp/B0017ID1A0/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406397023&sr=1-4&keywords=Goedel%27s+Proof.

An evolution is an open system. So is a language, providing there’s no language academy trying to close it. Science is an open system too, as long as it maintains its pragmatism and does not succumb to dogma.

The jury is still out regarding imagination. There are those who say that our imaginations are limited to our worldviews, to what we have been hardwired to conceive to be true. There are others who believe the imagination to be unbounded.

The number of open systems is endless.

Maybe when we develop interstellar travel we will begin to live in an open system. Just to be able to imagine this may give us a sliver of hope in an otherwise dark and loopy dimension.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Sometimes It’s the Situation that Is Evil

Human beings love structures. Give them a routine, a structured situation, any kind of behavioral pattern in which the outcome is known in advance, and they will embrace it with open arms. Dr. Eric Berne wrote all about it in his best-selling book, “Games People Play” (http://www.ericberne.com/games-people-play/).  Games may be frivolous or they may be deadly serious. Games are essentially patterns of behavior, called transactions, involving two or more roles that are usually filled by people. People who play a role in a game, who decide they don’t want to play the role or game anymore, often bring down upon themselves the wrath of the remaining role players. Psychologists and psychiatrists who subscribe to the principles of Berne’s Game Theory sometimes call themselves Transaction Analysts. Only Transaction Analysts are qualified to call a game that people are playing a game and to give it a name. Anybody else who dares to do so is called a “game caller”, which is the name of another game (a variant of “Oneupmanship”). The highest level of existence to which one may aspire, and which is mostly occupied by Transaction Analysts, is called a game-free existence. This describes a person who doesn’t play games, who does not engage in hidden or ulterior transactions.

Claude Steiner (http://www.claudesteiner.com/spl.htm) took the idea of game theory and developed it into life-spanning stories and scripts people followed. A person would choose (or somebody else would choose it for him or her) a story that would define the meaning and arc of that person’s existence from birth to death. Of course these stories were well-known, they had roles, and each role had a script to be followed. Many of the stories were tragedies and many were comedies, but I believe that even the comedies were tragedies. All the tragedies were Greek tragedies. Everyone knows how they turn out in the end. Stories are long-running complicated games and scripts are long-running complicated transactions.

In this vein I propose to analyze another pattern or structure called a “situation.” Like games, they are repetitious, have roles, and if not necessarily well-known, they usually are amenable to analysis. When people find themselves in a situation, they usually find themselves cast into a particular role in that situation. People usually follow the scripts that are available for their role. If they don’t, then they will be booed off the stage and somebody else will be solicited or drafted for the role. When they are released from their roles, people quickly enter other roles and play them according to the scripts available for those roles. Just like people, situations may be good or evil, or neither good nor evil. Josef Stalin was a good father who loved his daughter Svetlana more than anything, yet Josef Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 20 million of his comrades. When he played the role of father, he was a good man and he played his role well. When he played the role of dictator, he was an evil man and he played that role well too. How was that possible?

Several countries in this region are currently at war. A war is a tricky situation in which all sides struggle to gain some kind of advantage over the other sides while minimizing their own disadvantages. The situation of war has its roles and scripts, and endless variations on a few well-known themes. The only problem is that you can’t always tell who’s playing which role. The roles include government officials and clerks, combatant soldiers and non-combatant soldiers, non-combatant civilians and combatant civilians, heroes and cowards, aggressors and defenders, terrorists and those who finance them, hide them, and transport them, religionists who whip up the masses saying God is on their side, people who just want to work to support their families, people who are sick or wounded and need to get to a hospital, mothers with babies, husbands and wives, grandparents, lovers, poets, tourists, pilgrims,  doctors, policemen, prostitutes, criminals, ah yes – and “neutral” observers. As long as we are at war, and we will be at war as long as not all sides want peace, we will need soldiers to protect us. If we didn’t have soldiers to protect us or the soldiers didn’t protect us very well, some of us would become terrorists, if not now then at some time in the future. That’s what happens when one side maintains a consistent advantage over the other side but doesn’t eliminate their capacity to rise up against the victor. So we have a situation in which one side has a military advantage against the other sides, but the other sides still have the ability to shoot missiles into the “winning” side’s homeland and to blowup buses, stab civilians, and kidnap non-combatants. A poet is drafted into the role of soldier. He dons a uniform, is given a rifle, and is sent to guard some barricade between them and us. That’s his new role. The old role of poet has been folded up and stuffed in his pocket. He has a new script to learn now. A couple of burly young guys approach the soldier from the other side. They know the role he is playing, but he doesn’t know the roles they play. They don’t stop when he tells them to stop. They shout at him. One pushes him. The soldier points his rifle at them. A television camera records the scene. The soldier is relieved of duty and jailed. After being released, he goes back to his role as poet. He is not under any pressure to learn that script. It is already well-known to him, and it’s not a matter of life and death. On a TV set on the other side of the world, a news report of a soldier pointing his rifle at three young boys is presented by a respectable looking anchorman. People’s beliefs are confirmed by the news report.

Sometimes a child is forced by his peers to pick up rocks and throw them at the soldiers patrolling their streets. The child’s parents may be forced by social pressures to send their children out to throw rocks at the soldiers. They are forced into roles of rock throwers and supporters of the resistance. A young man may be pressured into a role of suicide bomber. Then again, he may just be a doctor or teacher.

Sometimes it’s the situation that is evil, and not the people trapped in the roles they have to play. Then again, there are evil people who consistently seek out roles that allow them to express their evil predilections.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel


Filed under Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose