Thursday, May 7, 2015

good for nothings

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. 
Aim above morality. 
Be not simply good, be good for something"
--Henry David Thoreau, Letter to Harrison Gray Otis Blake

I have not yet read Walden, so it is probably very bad form of me to criticize a man whose main work I do not know.
But, that quote above of Thoreau's, from the very moment I heard it, rankles the core of my heart like none other. It smacks of an American pragmatism, that actively denies any sort of transcendental need in the human person, and simply tells the human being that they ought to aspire not to be good, but to be an agent of "good".
This is slightly problematic, because, firstly: the world breaks down when goodness for its own sake is not worth achieving.
Secondly, goodness is inherently a mission-oriented virtue. Goodness, by its very definition is not just a stuffy, self-seeking quality. Goodness is the original dynamism of the world. Goodness is the only thing woth pursuing, for goodness is not just a state of ourselves, but it is a state of harmony in the world. 

For it is truly goodness that we seek: I understand that goodness is certainly mission-centric. That the point of being good is to then share goodness with others. But to seek the doing good before the being good is missing the most important step, which is a fundamental transformation of our natures at their very core.

For, in fact, we are not utiliatarian particles. I think, in our eager drive to go forth, do good, and change the world, it is easy to forget that.
To be a graduate of a top twenty university is to have the duty to transform the world. But, even if we were to become a person in charge of many millions of people, capable of swaying policy, we would matter nothing more, really, than if we had just spent all of our lives in a cabin in the middle of the Massachusetts woods.

We do not need to be good for anything.
We need only be good.

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