Is there more good or evil in the world?

Serious question…do you think there is more good or evil in the world?

I ask this question because lately, I’ve felt like the world around me is polarized. I know there is good and evil in all of us, but I feel like I only see one or the other. Depending on where I go and who I interact with, I feel a wide range of emotions daily because of it. 

I absolutely love my job. I facilitate art, writing, and support groups for people recovering from homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. I often feel socially awkward but work is the one place I can really connect with people. I’m not saying it’s perfect but for the most part, when I’m at work I feel like I’m on a high – I’m in such a good mood and nothing can bring me down.

At work, I am around people who have had some very unfortunate circumstances, but I can really see the good in people there.

Then there are my family members who treated me poorly and lied about me. How can someone love you and betray you? I can’t wrap my head around how or why this happened. I’m normally a very open person but this has caused me to lose trust in people. I have my guard up. You don’t know how low people will go. 

I’ve spent so much time focussing on the bad in my family that it’s hard to remember the good. 

My husband and I have a great relationship. He has been my number-one support as I spent the last year struggling with an eating disorder. I can tell him anything and it’s like he always knows what to say. This past month I’ve seen a light at the end of the tunnel and my eating disorder has been a lot easier to deal with. However, while that’s been going well, my husband and I have been struggling financially. I assumed it would strain our relationship but it seems like it has brought us closer. We are definitely in this together.

My husband reminds me of the good in the world. I was so nervous on our wedding day but marrying him is probably the best decision I’ve ever made.

Sorry if I’m making you puke with the mushiness.

And of course, there’s the US. We are a country divided with no solution in sight. It has brought out a lot of ugliness. I don’t need to explain this; you all know what I’m talking about.

I am a very intense and emotional person, so it makes sense that I might feel things are polarized. Do I think there’s more good or evil? Lately, even though I have some amazing people in my life, I’ve been leaning toward evil. Call me a cynical atheist but I feel that’s what the world has revealed to me.

But I am very grateful for the good in my life and I hope, in my own little way, I can put a little more good in the world.

How do you feel? Good? Evil? What do you think prevails? 


  1. StevoR says

    Extremely hard to determine given how subjective both terms are and how hard to measure they are.

    Evil tends to get a lot more attention than good does.

    We often overlook the small acts of compassion and empathy that happen and are done by so many (most?) people everyday whereas acts of appalling – but rarer – extreme evil are attention and headline grabbing.

    I really don’t know which there is more of though or how you would even begin to start answering that in any sort of calculable way.

    • John Morales says

      You basically pre-empted my main point for commenting.

      But there’s good reason for that; for most of us (me included) one evil act may well eclipse a thousand good acts. One significant lie can vitiate a thousand non-lies. Etc.

      I think it’s pernicious to consider the two conmeasurable, never mind objective — which, incidentally, is one of the bases for utilitarianism.

      (It was also the conceit Marquis de Sade used in one of his more infamous books — that is, the amount of pleasure acquired by the sadists exceeded the suffering of the victims, so it was acceptable)

  2. flex says

    My first inclination was to say that the question is poorly defined, with no intention to insult you, because there is a morass of philosophy books on this question. But on reflection I think I can offer some thoughts.

    I’d say that there are far greater, orders of magnitude greater, actions which are intended to be good than those intended to be evil. Very few people actively attempt to be evil, to deliberately cause pain and suffering.

    But I think we can add an additional dimension to your question and reach a better understanding. The dimension of intent vs. outcome. And for clarity I think I’d prefer to use help vs. harm as proxies for good vs. evil. With this additional dimension and clarification we can break down actions into:

    Actions which are intended to be beneficial, and are beneficial.
    Actions which are intended to be beneficial, but are ultimately harmful.
    Actions which are intended to be harmful, and are harmful.
    Actions which are intended to be harmful, but are ultimately beneficial.

    I would hazard a guess that more than 99% of human actions fall into the first two categories. While school shootings, or Russian torture basements get into the news (somehow the CIA torture basements rarely get into the US news), the billions of daily acts of kindness, mostly small and personal, are not reported. Person rescues cat from tree is not news, but it probably happens over a hundred times every day, giving pleasure to the cat owner (although maybe not the cat). I obviously don’t have actual numbers for that claim, it’s just an example of what I’m trying to argue for.

    But, as has been said many times, intent is not magic. A parent disowning a homosexual child is not doing so in order to cause harm. They are doing so because they perceive harm to themselves, and avoiding harm is seeking a benefit. The harm they are avoiding is personal shame, family shame, reduction of their level of respect in their community, even a reminder of the disgust they have learned to feel about that lifestyle. The parent foresees harm to themselves, takes an action which will alleviate the harm to themselves (which creates a benefit for them), but at the same time causes harm to their offspring which may lead to further harm, further pain, and even death. I don’t think the parent would call their actions evil (and might even use that hackneyed phrase “It’s for your own good”), but most of us would call the outcome of that action evil even if the intent to cause evil was not present.

    The intent to prevent any abortions is not an evil intent. The result is an increase in pain and suffering, but the intent is not to cause that. There are lots of examples of actions where the intent may even be a laudable one, but the results are harmful.

    Which has led, in a reasonable progression, to a very utilitarian view of ethics. If intent is not magic, then how do we quantify beneficial or harmful actions? By strictly measuring the harm or benefit? If the benefit is greater than the harm, is the action then a good one? There are a couple stumbling blocks for utilitarianism. The first is that there are no agreed upon tools to measure benefit or harm, all the tools proposed are, on examination, dependent on the culture of the person proposing the tool. A utilitarian tool to evaluate benefit or harm is different if created by an Australian aboriginal or a Russian autocrat or a Chinese peasant, or a Canadian professor of ethics.

    The second failing of utilitarianism is that while it seeks to measure benefit and harm, it fails to capture joy.

    Joy is in a child’s smile, a sunrise on the water, the top of a tree-covered mountain, a flurry of snow, a lover’s kiss, and a moonlit night. Joy is what religions, and cults, use to attract worshipers; but also what makes people leave them. Joy can come from sharing adversity, and overcoming doubts. Joy is not only a human emotion; I’ve seen joy in playful cats, prancing horses, and songbirds singing in the morning sun. Maybe I’m reading joy into these creatures, but it give me joy to do so.

    It sounds like you and your husband share a joyful existence, and it without even knowing you or your husband it gives me joy to know that is so.

  3. moonslicer says

    As I’ve mentioned before on these forums, I’m transgender. What I can tell you about being in a tiny minority is that you see the best of people and the absolute worst of people. It’s hard to believe how horrible people can be when they want to.

    As StevoR has remarked above (rightly, I think), evil tends to get more attention than good does. The reason for this is that bad people want attention. It’s their purpose in life to mess up other people and they go about it in a way that others will notice it with no mistake. Whereas decent people don’t attract attention to themselves. They just quietly go about their business of being decent people.

    For me, how this pans out is that people who want to harass me will make their behavior strongly felt. Decent people don’t do much of anything but go about their business and leave me in peace to go about my business. That’s why I don’t notice them so much.

    I have to keep asking myself, how are things going for me right now? Am I getting along OK? If I am, it’s because decent people are winning. Their quiet little actions add up to more than the shenanigans of the other crowd.

    There are things that you don’t directly see or feel. But you do feel their effect within you. You see their effect in your own life.

    Good luck. You always have more people on your side than you might think.

  4. Katydid says

    First, congrats on both having married a great guy and getting on top of your struggles!

    I was pondering this very topic yesterday when I was in the city and with some time on my hands after an errand, swung by a branch of a membership store. It’s not “my” branch, and it was arranged differently than mine, and it was noon on the Friday before Thanksgiving–the place was filled to the rafters with shoppers. Despite that, the experience was nothing but good. The people shopping there were courteous despite the crowds: I witnessed several acts of everyday courtesy and experienced one myself. As I was driving away, I reflected that this city is constantly being reported as terrifyingly unsafe in the news. The suburban branch of the store that I shop in is much less courteous.

    Another thought; the former guy certainly made it acceptable to let your inner jackass out in public.

  5. SchreiberBike says

    I don’t think in terms of good or evil.

    I think some people define their world as small and others think it is big. Those who see a small world, mostly just themselves, will tend toward selfishness. Instead you may feel like you are just a small part of a universe which you can make better.

    Also most of us are damaged in various ways and sometimes it’s hard to do anything, let alone do something well.

  6. Oggie: Mathom says

    I, like many others, have a real problem with this, mostly because of definitions. What is evil? Obviously, we know it when we see it, so it is just like pornography. Or fine art. Or kitsch. Or beauty. Or . . .

    The only definition of evil I have found that works for me, that works with my history as a survivor, is the one that Esme Weatherwax (character in Pratchett’s Discworld series) uses: “Evil starts when you begin to treat people as things”. I really do use that as my definition of evil. And, by that definition, I have done evil, but I don’t consider myself evil (though others might). My cub scout leader was evil. My football coach was evil. I was evil when I sold cars. Trump and Putin are evil. Most people I can think of (those I know through reputation or personally) are, by the Weatherwax definition, evil. So, by the definition I use and have internalized, there are more evil people in the world than good.

    But your question was, “Is there more good or evil in the world?” And to that, I would have to answer that there is more good. My cub scout leader treated me, and other scouts, as things; he was also a father, a husband, a biologist, and most of the time did NOT treat people as things. I have treated people with things — as a scout, under the ‘tutelage’ of my scout leader, I treated others as things; there are some people who bought Isuzus back in the day who I royally screwed so that I could make a living. But most of what I have done — father, husband, grandfather, Park Ranger, historian, wildland firefighting, some of my writings on Freethought Blogs — are, most definitely, NOT treating people like things. My football coach (before I quit) treated his players as things, but he was also a history teacher, yadda, yadda, yadda. Trump and Putin are part of a handful of people that I truly consider evil — Trump’s relationships are ALL transactional, so he treats people as things; Putin treats people as tools, as enemies, as supporters, as stooges, as things.

    So, while I think that many of us (no, I am not accusing anyone here!) have done evil and are, therefore, evil, I think that there is more good in the world than there is evil. Save for a very few, most of who are evil (like me) have done far more good than evil.

  7. says

    Very few people actively attempt to be evil, to deliberately cause pain and suffering.

    Actually, LOTS of people deliberately cause pain and suffering, because they enjoy it, or they think it’s necessary for some important objective, or they profit from it. HOWEVER, lots of other people do it because it was done to them and it’s all they know how to do, the only example they ever had, or all they’re allowed to do. Not sure if the latter group can be judged as “actively attempting to be evil.”

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