I recently finished watching the first season of True Detective. Wow, what a great show. I really enjoyed it. I like the murder mystery aspect, but also the relationship between the two detectives. The character of Rust Cohle was the perfect epitome of Chaotic Neutral–or of the King’s Fool. He was calculating and smart. He had been good once, but in fighting evil, he had sacrificed part of his humanity. He was willing to play the part of the bad guy in order to achieve his objectives–objectives for the greater good.
Often, that’s the way it goes. There is good and evil in the world, and some of each in all of us, but the ratio varies. I am grateful to live in an island of light, where my children are not exposed to violence or cruelty. I wish that was the way of all children, but sadly it is not. And because it isn’t, there are people that take on evil to spare others not just of evil acts, but also of losing some of their humanity in the process. But those that live on the border between both often have the most power to sway the balance.
In True Detective, there is a saying, “Time is a flat circle.” That similar events have occurred and will always occur. That in our four-dimensional lives, if you understand not just the space component, but also the time component, you would see patterns, the patterns that rule us and bind us all.
I am not quite so pessimistic. I believe in a slow outward spiral, personally. I think things are getting better, that humanity is improving, even if in a jagged and stilted manner. That we are like a toddler learning to walk, but taking a step backwards in other areas–because a large improvement in one area means a small step backwards in another. It is the pattern of the stock market, you cannot get obsessed with small time progress, you have to look at the big picture.
However, understanding the big picture means knowing who we are and who we’ve been. How can we avoid the sins of the past if have no insight into our true nature?
I was reading this article about “Ask a Jihadi,” about an ISIS fighter. What they’re doing is horrible, and yet it useful to understand why. And perhaps it is harder to understand, because I for one, have not grown up in a war zone. My childhood involved no bombs or war, so I feel unequipped to understand all of the threads of this. But as the human race proceeds, we have to decide which road to take–that of vengeance or that of justice.
A truly just society feels uncomfortable, more than what you would think. Justice is not about the individual, but what is good and rational for society for a whole. That is why in response to a murder, capital punishment is not always the answer. It may fulfill individual justice, “an eye for an eye,” and all that; but it neglects the price paid by society to lower ourselves to that level. Every life taken takes also a piece of our soul. That is why you have iconoclasts like Jesus saying, “Turn the other cheek.” It is only by removing ourselves from the emotion of it all that we can change the future.
We have seen the past. Just look at Njall’s Saga from a thousand years ago. It’s widely seen to be historical in nature, but, of course, those who write history also get to define it. One of the main themes is that of violence masquerading as justice, every victory demanding a price of money and blood. This is our true animal nature, one that cannot see the long-term consequences, only satiating what we feel in the here and now.
But our potential lies in the boundary of reason and emotion. Our strengths are our tools–we make machines be stronger than us, and computers to memorize data. Wisdom, though, is all our own. Knowing how to make tools, how to interpret data, how to feel our emotions without being ruled by them. We have the potentiality of greatness if we can navigate all of this. Otherwise, we’ll simply doom ourselves.