I took a philosophy class a number of years ago where one of the assignments was to write an essay on good and evil: whether or not they exist, what they might look like, which one is stronger, and the like. I drew on ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and argued that for the most part, good and evil are irrelevant categories in the lives of most people, who instead use other criteria to make decisions. I also pointed out that many ‘good’ and ‘evil’ things are so deeply embedded into our culture that their existence and use is taken for granted. I recall that I used prisons and slaughterhouses as examples of structural evils that people might, nonetheless, have a hard time giving up.
The instructor wrote that my paper was well-reasoned, but that he found the conclusions I drew depressing. I had no real problem accepting my conclusions (after all, I had concluded them), but I guess I can see how some people might find them a little grim. Recall the debate between Obama and McCain at that church during the 2008 election. We are trained to think in terms of good and evil, even when those categories are not real or useful. Nobody wants to think that they wittingly participate in evil every day, or how rarely they do anything that could be considered truly ‘good’ in a larger sense.
Personally, I find this all a bit freeing. We (mostly) are not beyond good and evil, but below it. It feels a bit wistful being lighter than air. I’ll close with an Irish folk song (with translation):