Monday, November 07, 2016

Am I a good person?

I am often left dumbfounded by the motivations other people are assigning to my actions. Most of the time it is caused by their self-centeredness, their assumption that whatever I do is somehow related more to them than to me. And it made me think: am I a good/bad person, or is it all a matter of perception from others?

I rarely feel like I do something out of the ordinary for other people; instead I do it because that's who I am. I help a colleague because I like to help or I refuse to do so because I feel that what I am doing is more important. Same with friends or romantic relationships. Sometimes I need to make an effort to do something, but it's still my choice, my assessment of the situation and my decision to go a certain way. It's not a value judgment on the person, it's not an asshole move or some out of my way effort to improve their life. What I do IS me.

It's also a weird direction of reasoning, since I am aware of the physical impossibility for "free will" and I subscribe to the school of thought that it is all an illusion. I mean, logic dictates that either the world works top-bottom, with some central power of will trickling down reality or it is merely a manifestation of low level forces and laws of physics that lead inexorably towards the reality we perceive. In other words, if you believe in free will, you have to believe in some sort of god, and I don't. Yet living my life as if I have no free will makes no sense either. I need to play the game if I am to play the game. It's kind of circular.

Getting back to my original question: Isn't good or bad just a label I (and other people) assign to a pattern of behavior that belongs to me? And not before I do things, but always afterwards. Just like the illusion of free will there is the illusion of moral quality that guides my path. While one cannot quantify free will, they can measure the effect my behavior has on their life and goals and determine a value. But then is my "goodness" something like an average? Because then it would be more important the number of people I am affecting, rather than the absolute value of the effect per person. Who cares I help a colleague or pay attention to my wife? In the big sea of people, I am just a small fish that affects a few other small fish. We could all die tomorrow in the belly of a whale, all that goodness pointless.

So here I am, asking essentially a "who am I" question - painfully aware it has no final answer - in a world I think is determined by tiny laws of physics that create the illusion of self and with a quantity of consequence that is irrelevant even if it weren't so. I am torturing myself for no good reason, ain't I?

Yet the essence of the question still intrigues me. Is it necessary that I feel a good drive for my actions to be a good person, or is it a posterior calculation of their effect that determines that? If I work really well and fast for a month and then I do less the next, is it that I did good work in the first month or that I am a lazy bastard in the second? If I pay attention to someone or make a nice gesture, is it something to be lauded, or something to be criticized when I don't do it all the time? Is this a statistical problem or an issue of causality?

And I have to ask this question because if I feel no particular drive to do something and just "am myself", I don't think people should assign all kind of stupid motivations to my actions. And if I need to make this sustained effort to go outside my routine just to gain moral value... well, it just feels like a lot of bother. And I have to ask it because the same reasoning can be applied to other people. Is my father making terrible efforts to take care of just about everybody in his life, making him some sort of saint, or is it just what he does and can't help himself, in which case he's just a regular dude?

Personally I feel that I am just an amalgamation of experiences that led to the way I behave. I am neither good nor evil and my actions define me more than my intentions. While there is some sort of consistency that can be statistically assessed, it is highly dependent on the environment and any inference would go down the drain the moment that environment changes. But then, how can I be a good person? And does it even matter?

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