by Robert Metz – May 16, 2013

On top of all of the terrorist plot stories we’ve been exposed to at an increasing pace recently, over the past week or so, we’ve been hearing a lot about the nightmare of evil that was occurring in Cleveland, Ohio. Criminal suspect Ariel Castro was charged with raping and kidnapping three women – constantly for a decade! And then, just as I was preparing this week’s broadcast of Just Right (#300), the tragic news of the murder of Tim Bosma, near Hamilton Ontario, was first being announced via live news coverage in the media. Having gone for a test drive with two strangers posing as potential buyers of a truck he advertised in auto-trading media, Bosma never returned.

Initial public reaction to the news was not surprising, but disappointing. The speed with which many members of the public resorted to blaming or focusing on some object or activity that had nothing to do with the motivation for the crime was quite alarming, actually. Immediate public reaction I heard to the news were variants of the following:

“It was just a truck.” Whatever the motivation for this crime was, it wasn’t about the truck. The only person who really had a legitimate reason to use the “it’s not a truck” argument was Bosma’s wife, and no one else. Why? – Because at the time she used it, she was actually negotiating – offering the kidnapper “a way out” by in effect lying to the kidnapper in suggesting he’s really not evil, and it really is “about a truck.” (This case has so many inconsistencies in what we’ve heard reported so far, including the charging of a millionaire suspect who has no money problems, that it’s just too weird, at this writing, to know what the real story is here.)

Unfortunately, even after it was clear that negotiation was no longer an option, public reaction I heard suggested that most people really wanted to believe that it was about the truck, and even worse, about numerous other objects and activities that have absolutely nothing to do with anything relevant here.

“Get rid of computers and technology,” I actually heard one open-line caller suggest. Really.

“Video games are the problem,” accused another, who was evidently offended by Grand Theft Auto. Hello! It is just a game.

The worst thing about these reactions is that they actually excuse the behaviour of the criminals by putting the blame for their actions on others. No one focused on the perpetrator as being the only cause of his crime. It was amazing just how high emotions were, which was actually a healthy thing to a point, and yet no one, beyond their outrage, responded rationally to events.

Instead, they began to sound very much like a lynch mob, which is curious given that having blamed everything except the perpetrator for his actions, the assumed perpetrator was now the target of their revenge. One common suggestion was to argue that the accused and/or the convicted should have no rights “in cases like this,” whatever “this” was, since no one had any firm evidence about anything.

Consider: if the accused has no rights, we as a society also have no right to prosecute him; it is his having rights that justifies our punishing him. One cannot deprive someone of his rights. One can only deprive others of their life, liberty, or property – the consequences of having rights.

At the heart of everyone’s fear, which leads to the irrational ideas just reviewed, is the realization that one can never in any absolute sense be certain about the moral character of anyone in our midst.

So how can we recognize the good and evil among us? Well, we simply can’t, unless we are offered evidence. But even given plenty of evidence, how many of us are able to define what good and evil are? – or what morality and immorality are? – or what right and wrong are? – even in the simplest of ways?

Fact is, you can’t know one without knowing the other. If one does not understand the nature of evil, one cannot know what is good, or why.

Philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand defined “the good” this way: “All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil.” She defined “morality” as “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions – the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code. The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”

This may be a far cry from what we hear from popular moralists who advocate sacrifice and altruism as the core of being “moral.” However, if you find yourself using these definitions as your basis for morality, the entire world will seem an evil place to you, and for all the wrong reasons. Worse, you’ll be defenseless in being able to identify the real good and evil in your midst – even when they have been made entirely visible to you.

So, for the purposes of judgement, that is, in determining whether someone is in fact good or evil, moral or immoral, right or wrong, I offer the following primer as a starting point. As a rule:

Good and Evil have to do with intentions and motivations – whether conscious or sub-conscious. Is the person in question willing to violate the consent of another? Is he/she willing to harm another person for unearned gain? It matters not whether they have acted on these intentions, because good and evil are more a matter of the character and values that determine the intention.

Moral and Immoral have more to do with actions and consequences. Another dimension of morality is one’s acceptance or rejection of personal responsibility for one’s actions. An action can be said to be moral in accordance with Ayn Rand’s stated standard of what “is proper to the life of a rational being.”

Right and Wrong? That’s the reality check. Determining right from wrong has to do with determining whether one’s intentions, motivations, and/or actions are in accordance with reality and with reason. Reality is the key determinant at this stage.

And of course, the only standard that is rational in the application of any of these terms is the standard of life itself.

In our May 16 broadcast of Just Right #300, (which can be found at I elaborated on this and a few other related issues. Included were examples of how one might be a good person, but behave immorally, and other permutations of possible judgements applying the distinctions I’ve raised here.

This exploration is just beginning. Further judgements are pending. {end}