Table of contents:

A Good Deed as an Act of Hygiene - Writer John Fowles
A Good Deed as an Act of Hygiene - Writer John Fowles

Immediately after the publication of his famous novel The Collector, John Fowles (1926 - 2005) published a collection of essays, Aristos, in 1964, in which he wanted to explain the meaning of the novel and reveal his ethical attitudes. One of the main problems of his time, Fowles saw inequality in society, the objectively existing confrontation between the Few and the Many, the intellectual minority and everyone else.

Fowles saw the solution in the fact that Few realize their responsibility and begin to do good in the name of establishing justice.

Why is there so little good?

46. ​​And yet, even considering all these reasons - given that non-doing good often occurs, apparently, from our inability to understand which of the possible paths is really the best, or from a sincere inability to recognize any need to act (the ancient heresy of quietism), - we are all perfectly aware that we are doing less good than we could. No matter how stupid we are, there are the simplest situations when it is obvious to everyone which path must be followed in order to do good, and nevertheless we deviate from this path; no matter how selfish we are, there are times when the path of good does not require any self-sacrifice from us, and yet we shy away from it.

47. Over the past two and a half millennia, almost every great thinker, saint, artist has defended, personified and glorified - if not directly, then indirectly - the nobility and indisputable value of a good deed as the fundamental principle of a just society. Both the social and biological value of a good deed, according to their testimony, is beyond doubt. Involuntarily, you ask yourself whether the greats are not mistaken, and are not ordinary mortals, of whom the majority, closer to understanding a certain, albeit vicious, but much deeper truth: generally speaking, it is better to do nothing than, again, generally speaking, to do good …

48. In my opinion, this strange, irrational apathy is guilty of the myth, born of religion, that in doing good we get pleasure - if there is an afterlife, that is, there is eternal bliss - and that as a result, the one who does good is happier than the one who does evil. The world around us is rich in evidence that all this is really nothing more than myths: the righteous are often much more unhappy than the villains, and good deeds often bring only suffering.

Just as a person is always looking for what drives everything, he is always waiting for reward. It still seems to him that there must be some kind of compensation for good deeds - something more essential than just a clear conscience and a sense of one's own righteousness.

Hence the irrefutable conclusion: good deeds should bring (and therefore, knowingly promise) pleasure. And if not, then the game is simply not worth the trouble.

49. There are two obvious "types" of pleasure. The first can be called deliberate, or planned, in the sense that an event that gives pleasure - a date with a beloved, attending a concert - is planned in advance and carried out in accordance with your intentions. The second and much more important kind is accidental pleasure, or unintentional pleasure, in the sense that it comes unexpectedly: it is not only an accidental meeting with an old friend, suddenly revealed to you the charm of some very ordinary landscape, but also all those elements your intentions for pleasure that could not have been foreseen.

50. What is immediately striking when it comes to these two types of pleasure is that both are highly contingent. Let's say a girl is about to get married, everything was planned a long time ago. And nevertheless, when the wedding day comes and the wedding ceremony is performed, the feeling that luck has smiled at her does not leave her.After all, nothing happened - and how many obstacles could arise! - what would prevent him from happening. And now, perhaps, looking back, she recalls that first, chance meeting with the man who had just become her husband: the element of chance that lies at the heart of everything clearly comes to the fore. In short, we are placed in conditions where pleasure of both types is perceived by us as primarily the result of chance. We do not so much come to pleasure ourselves as pleasure comes to us.

51. But if we start treating pleasure as a kind of won bet, and then go a little further, hoping that in this way we can get pleasure from moral choice and related actions, then we are not far from trouble. The atmosphere of unpredictability, permeating through one world, like an infection, inevitably penetrates another.

Chance governs the laws of pleasure - so let it, we say, governs the laws of good deeds. Worse, from here we come to the conclusion that only those good deeds that promise pleasure are worth doing. The source of pleasure can be public recognition, someone's personal gratitude, personal self-interest (the expectation that you will be repaid with good for good); hopes for bliss in the afterlife; getting rid of the feeling of guilt, if such is introduced into the consciousness by the cultural environment.

But in any of these cases, no matter how you explain its historical necessity or justify it from a pragmatic point of view, this kind of incentive creates a completely unhealthy climate around our intention to do what we should.

52. Doing good in anticipation of some social reward does not mean doing good: it means doing something in anticipation of a public reward. The fact that good is done at the same time may, at first glance, serve as an excuse for such an incentive to action; but there is a danger in such an excuse, and I intend to demonstrate it.

53. There is a third, not so obvious, "type" of pleasure, with which we usually do not associate the idea of ​​pleasure, although we feel it. Let's call it functional, since we get this pleasure from life itself in all its manifestations - from what we eat, defecate, breathe, in general, we exist. In a sense, this is the only category of pleasure that we cannot deny ourselves. If we do not completely clearly distinguish between this type of pleasure, then this is because the pleasures of two other, much more conscious and more complex types are superimposed on them. When I eat what I want, I experience planned pleasure; when I enjoy what I eat, beyond my expectations, I experience unforeseen pleasure, but underneath it all lies a functional pleasure in eating, because eating is to maintain existence. Using Jung's terminology, this third type should be considered archetypal, and it is from this, in my opinion, that we should derive the motives for doing good deeds. In medical terms, we should evacuate good from ourselves - not ejaculate.

54. We are never satiated with the administration of the natural physiological functions of the body. And we do not expect a reward from the outside for sending them - it is clear to us that the reward is in their very sending. Non-sending leads to illness or death, just as non-doing good deeds is ultimately fraught with the death of society. Charity, acts of kindness towards others, actions against injustice and inequality, should be done for the sake of hygiene, not for pleasure.

55. What, then, is the functional "health" achieved in this way? Its most important element is as follows: a good deed (and from the concept of a "good deed" I exclude any actionspublic acceptance) is the most compelling evidence that we do have relative free will. Even when a good deed does not run counter to personal interests, it requires a lack of personal interest or, if you look at it differently, unnecessary (from the point of view of biological needs) expenditure of energy. It is an act directed against inertia, against what would otherwise be completely subject to inertia and natural process. In a sense, this is an act of divine - in the ancient understanding of the "divine" as the intervention of free will in the sphere of the material, imprisoned in its materiality.

56. All our concepts of God are concepts of our own potentialities. Mercy and compassion, as universal attributes of the most perfect (no matter what external guises they hide) ideas about God, are nothing more than the very qualities that we dream to assert in ourselves. They have nothing to do with any external "absolute" reality: they are a reflection of our hopes.

57. In ordinary life, it is not easy for us to separate self-serving motives from that "hygienic" motive, which I single out in a separate category. However, the hygienic motive can always be used to evaluate other motives. He is, as it were, their yardstick, especially in relation to that, alas, vast variety, when the good, in the eyes of the perpetrator, the deed turns out to be undoubted evil as a result.

Among the inquisitors, among the Protestants - witch hunters and even among the Nazis who exterminated entire nations, there were undoubtedly those who quite sincerely and disinterestedly believed that they were doing good. But even if they suddenly turned out to be right, it still turns out that they were driven by the desire to receive a dubious reward for all their "good" deeds. They hoped that a better world was coming - for themselves and their fellow believers, but not for the heretics, witches and Jews whom they exterminated. They did this not for more freedom, but for more pleasure.

58. Free will in a world without freedom is like a fish in a world without water. It cannot exist because it does not find use for itself. Political tyranny eternally falls under the delusion that the tyrant is free, while his subjects are in slavery; but he himself is a victim of his own tyranny. He is not free to do as he wants, because what he wants is predetermined, and, as a rule, within very narrow limits, by the need to maintain tyranny. And this political truth is also true on a personal level. If the intention to do a good deed does not lead to establishing more freedom (and therefore more justice and equality) for everyone, it will be partly harmful not only for the object of the action, but also for the one who performs this action, since the components of evil, hidden in intention, inevitably lead to the restriction of his own freedom. If we translate this into the language of functional pleasure, then the closest will be a comparison with food that is not removed from the human body in a timely manner: its nutritional value under the influence of the formed harmful elements is reduced to naught.

59. Personal and public hygiene and cleanliness have risen to a higher level over the past two centuries; This happened mainly because people were persistently taught: if the disease overtakes them, when they are dirty and apathetic, then this is not at all because God ordered this, but because nature disposes of this, and this can be completely prevented; not because this is how our unhappy world works, but because the mechanisms of life that can be controlled operate in this way.

60. We have passed the first, physical, or corporal, phase of the hygiene revolution; it's time to go to the barricades and fight for the next, psychic phase.Not doing good when you could do it for the obvious benefit of everyone does not mean acting immoral: it simply means walking around as if nothing had happened when your hands are smeared with excrement up to the elbows.

Popular by topic