Nietzsche’s Abyss

A saying I have heard a few times in my life goes, “All it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing.”

But do we take for granted that there will always be good men? Morally, we’re often at a loss about how to define things as good and evil. Nor does the absence of evil necessarily mean good, for there are often large swathes of moral gray from within which we ponder our existence.

Very often, we tend to lighten evil by reason and justification. The phrase, “Greed/Money is the root of all evil” is one such example of this. In my life, I’ve read stories of men and women who have engaged in acts that, by our current definitions of rational or moral, are anything but. Criminal psychologists have invested hours, years and lifetimes trying to answer why.

The more you stare into this abyss of the irrational, the more tiring it becomes. I’ve looked down there many times in my life, and I’d imagine everyone has once or twice, if only to have a comparible standard that clarifies the difference of sanity to its opposite.

Only a mind can hold the untruth. A symbol in the equation whose values shift and alter without logic or reason. The chaotic black box against which even the same formula results in different values. In reality, there is an equal or opposite reaction for every action. But this symbol stands in defiance against such natural truths.

Regardless of the existence of this chaos in every mind, we build a structure of rules and thinking within the framework of our minds, a framework of which is our accepted school of morality. They may differ, but we all have a set of morals, defined by both their existence or lack there of.

With regard to evil,  four major schools are moral thought exist: absolutism, nihilism, relativism, and universalism.

Absolutism is the belief that certain things are absolutely always wrong, such as murder or stealing. Relativism is the the comparison and tolerance of differing sets of behavior. Universalism is embracing a set of standards for all people. Nihilism is the inherent disbelief in any sense of right or wrong.

These four schools do not always compete or disagree. Absolutism can be compatible with universalism, but that is not always true. And furthermore, some may apply varying schools to varying actions. For example, a person who believes that killing is wrong at all times may apply absolutism to situations that could be self defense or the death penalty. But then the same person may feel relativism when answering questions about two men stealing bread, one because he can and the other to feed his family.

When it comes to villains, we often apply a rationality for their actions which smacks of relativism from a lower set of moral standards. That for some reason, they have compared their situation to others and feel in someways justified in their actions. The world has done them wrong, so they feel justified in stealing to survive, at least from a particular group or people.

Absolutism and universalism can also turn dark. Absolutism can be raised to arrogance, justifying the righteousness of one on the belief that their decisions are good. Univeralism too in the application of “moral truths” against everyone, whether they wish it or not.  

Nihilism is particularly unique in that denying the existence of morals, it can become the very evil that all other schools of thought fear. A person with absolutely no morals may choose not to kill or steal out of logical consideration of the legal consequences. But in a state of weakened administration of the law or straight anarchy, such individuals can easily be quite dangerous.

Morals are the basis of both good and evil.

Technically, the temple of morality every person builds for themselves becomes suspect the moment that any untruth is laid upon it. Especially when a truth dispels an falsehood that is the basis of that very foundation. But anyone who has ever had an argument before knows that a person’s moral standing does not collapse when confronted with evidence of it’s incorrectness.

The psychological term we apply for this phenomenon is cognitive dissonance, the attempt to justify and “correct” the original assumptions of our thinking, rather than to accept and rebuild our understanding of morality and truth.

But the abyss I mentioned before is always there. Like a black, light absorbing sun, its illogical is the bane of all reason and all knowledge. It does not inverse truth; it makes truth meaningless. There are many terms for it. The schism of interloping consciences. Biological psychobabble. Madness. The chaos from which the universe sprung.

Who knows.

There is another psychological term for what this abyss can create. It is called metanoia, the breaking down and restructuring of one’s mindframe. A kind of reconciliation of the mind to the facts. Perhaps this abyss is the pit where we toss the truths we dismiss until it gross and consumes the temple of morality and leave the ground afresh to begin again.

I suspect there will always be those however, that are absorbed by the abyss and never reemerge. Maybe they go catatonic or insane. Maybe what comes out of it is worse than before. Some reach down into the abyss and pull back a hand of water from which they clean themselves of the impurities they have wrought upon themselves.

Most I suspect, fall and never come out.

“When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

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