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A Bad Person - Ed's journal
A Bad Person

There have been instances recently of people saying or doing something inappropriate, and there being an associated furore over it.

A scientist making sexist comments about 'distractingly sexy' women in the lab.

A guy wearing a 'pin ups' T-shirt when talking about a space mission.

Or the whole 'sad puppies' thing around the Hugo awards.

Even "gamer gate".

The problem is in these scenarios, that there seems to be an urge to categorize people as either 'good people' or 'bad people'. And then there's a massive debate.

There is just no such thing as an unambiguously good - or bad - person. It's never so simple. There's no ethical calculus that lets you be a saint for 40 years, and then get a free pass on murdering a baby or two.

Nor do you -ever- get to 'cancel out' past mistakes. You can seek redemption, but the only way you ever get it is via forgiveness, not fixing the past.
So it's actually quite harmful to apply this sort of abstraction. We saw this in the Jimmy Savile affair (and many many other examples). People who couldn't believe he was doing what he was doing, because of all the good things he did.
And the truth is - he did both. He _did_ do a lot of good, and raise a lot of awareness and supported charities. We're fools if we dismiss that in light of the subsequent revelations.
But likewise - that doesn't excuse - or prevent from happening - the _other_ things he (allegedly?) did.
And the same is true of pretty much everyone. Everyone has a price. Everyone has pressure points. Everyone has weaknesses. Everyone has prejudices. Everyone makes mistakes.
And in some cases - these prejudices, mistakes and weaknesses lead to causing a harm that can never be repaired. And you just have to live with that. That doesn't mean you cannot do better, or indeed that you become irredeemable. It doesn't make you unforgivable.

Think how horrible _that_ would be. One mistake, you're now a 'bad person' and that is that.

A lot of people misunderstand what it is to forgive. It isn't about letting something pass, and say 'never mind, it doesn't matter'. If it didn't matter, it wouldn't need to be forgiven. It's about letting go of _your_ pain, anger, hate or fear. Acknowledging a harm - understanding that it hurt and always will - but letting go of it's ability to control your future.
Continuing to hate someone is ultimately very poisonous. It taints your world view massively.
That doesn't mean we should let "wrong" pass - not by any means. Challenge it whenever you can, especially when it's at a point that by doing so, you can change the course of a thing. But merely accept that every person in the world is a complex bundle of ambiguities, and picking fights and censure rarely changes anyone's opinion.
And you never get to 'fix' the past.

This started as a comment on a facebook post, but turned into a bit of a rant

5 comments or Leave a comment
elrohana From: elrohana Date: June 13th, 2015 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent writing. Are you Facebooking it? Well worth sharing
(Deleted comment)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: June 13th, 2015 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hitler was democratically elected. It may be a little controversial, but I daresay he did some quite good, beneficial and positive things.

He also did some really bad things.

But when I say - "if you want to see some excellent oratory, watch some of his speeches", it is not because I condone the holocaust or any of the other points he was making

Edited at 2015-06-13 12:08 pm (UTC)
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: June 15th, 2015 08:27 am (UTC) (Link)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: June 13th, 2015 12:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
A better example might be Margaret Thatcher. When she died I heard a lot of opinions. Very few were neutral. Some thought her evil, others thought her a hero.

Not many were indifferent. Both sides were trying to weigh up what she did and decide.

But she could have easily been both.
mister_jack From: mister_jack Date: June 15th, 2015 08:34 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think you've chosen very good examples there.

Tim Hunt has been rightly criticised for his remarks, no-one has gone on to claim that because he said these things he's a terrible person and deserves to have his Nobel prize revoked. In fact, almost every article I've read on the matter has gone on to say that he has a good record of mentoring both men and women.

T-shirt dude issued a heartfelt apology which was widely accepted by those who had objected to the T-shirt in the first place and most felt the failure was at least as much on the part of the European Space Agency who should have managed a spot of basic PR management.

As for GamerGate and Sad Puppies, the debate here has centred more on the movement itself than the people that compose it. In the same way I can believe that UKIP is a powerful force for evil without assuming every UKIP voter is.

In short, whilst I think you've made good points, I think you've chosen very poor examples to back them up.
5 comments or Leave a comment