While this post might be a decent guide to determine if you’re actually a good person, I’m going to just say right at the start that this is going to be confusing and head-ache inducing. Ethics and philosophy aren’t exactly the easiest topics to understand and we’re going to do a deep-dive of these topics, even if we are using the T.V. show The Good Place as a starting point, which basically means nothing’s really going to make sense. It’s all theoretical, and honestly this might be a good test to see if you’re even capable of complex thinking. You know, the same way that the movie Donnie Darko tests to see if someone is capable of understanding time travel.
So, as I stated, this has to do with The Good Place. While watching the show I fell in love with the clever comedy and the integration of complex ethical topics. As someone who took philosophy classes in college, these topics weren’t new to me and were easy to follow. I’m sure for others it was really eye opening and helped them understand a lot about society and how morals work. If you’ve been reading my blog, however, I’m sure you realize this is the point where I start to take issue.
For a show that seems to pride itself on clever and complex writing, I found it missed that final step of really covering ethics entirely. No, I don’t mean it should have covered every single theory and topic ever, that’d be crazy, but I feel it failed to even touch on one of the biggest and most important topics of modern ethics that really brings all previous theories and concepts to question. I’m talking about Moral Relativity and how socioeconomic status has been proven to affect one’s ability to be a positive contributor to society.
What does that all mean? Put simply, Moral Relativity is just how morals change based on circumstances. In America, it’s “bad” to slurp your food but in Asian countries it’s a complement to the chef. This theory basically states that there is no universal truth to morality, a single act can have many different perceptions. This concept alone may have been brought up in the show but let me explain the second half of my point and then it’ll all start coming together.
Socioeconomic status is basically the amount of assets someone has, such as: money, possessions, education, fame, connections, etc. How does this relate to Moral Relativity? The simple answer: Robin Hood. It’s almost a universal truth that Robin Hood is considered a good guy for robbing the rich and giving to the poor, except obviously he was considered bad to rich people. The same concept can be applied to real life, and honestly feels incredibly glossed over in The Good Place. According to the Office of Policy Development and Research, in their Neighborhoods and Violent Crime article, crime rates are much higher in neighborhoods that experience poverty, segregation, and inequality. Not only are “bad people” born from struggle and circumstances (put on them by society), but Moral Relativity would state that actually some crimes could be seen as “good” within these neighborhoods. Selling drugs to support your struggling family would be “good”.
The Good Place really failed to notice this oversight in their show, and in a way, said the complete opposite of the truth. In the “fake” good place, despite the inhabitants being fake, were all people who had a lot of wealth to either donate or volunteer their time to help people. In the “real” good place, we saw a lot of famous people who weren’t exactly poor anyway, and in general had a lot of advantages to help them do the great things they did, such as Hypatia of Alexandria who was a teacher, counselor, and great thinker/contributor to philosophy and mathematics. Due to “no one getting into the good place since 1497”, and the point system being flawed, they were able to skate around the topic and had the overall message be “a lot more people are capable of good and growing if they are given the right circumstances” but then we just saw a lot of wealthy snobs become better people. Tahani’s parent’s, that Brent guy, even the lawyer who was in the medium place decided to give it a go. Meanwhile, the entire show Eleanor is advocating for a medium place for everyone else that’s like her, poor jerks who had a bad upbringing and thus weren’t shitty people despite selling shirts that made fun of her friend’s misfortune.
I’m struggling to remember anywhere in the show where there was a good poor person. In fact, the only “poor” people I can even remember are Eleanor and Jason, both of which were actually much, much worse than the show portrays. The message I’m seeing is, if you’re poor a bad upbringing will either make you turn to a life of crime that you’re too stupid to realize is bad or turn you into a sociopath where selling fake medication to the sick elderly doesn’t make you feel even a little guilty. Meanwhile if you’re rich the worst a bad upbringing will do is make you look down on others, or hold giant charity events to win the love of your parents.
On a last note for the show, I just want to mention that Eleanor and Jason only became better people because they were in paradise but also were threatened with eternal damnation. It’s even revealed that part of Eleanor’s torture was being surrounded by people who made her feel inadequate, so in reality the only reason she learned to be nice was to show she’s a better person than everyone else. So, once again, the “average” person is only good for selfish reasons and are inherently bad, meanwhile the rich as just snobs who don’t know how to connect with people.
So what does this all mean for you, specifically? Well, the show’s made one thing very clear, circumstances really do make the person. Also, morality is relative, what someone perceives as you being rude might be you just trying to stay out of their way. A big indicator of how “good” you are is your intentions, regardless of the outcomes. If you want to be a good person and don’t want to hurt anyone or anything, then you can stop worrying about your morality. Regardless of the situations you’ve found yourself in, even the worst mistakes don’t brand you a “bad” person. Even the show makes it clear that money itself has a huge sway on people’s behaviors, and a bad upbringing can really affect your ability to be kind.
If you made it this far, good for you. You have some dedication to understanding philosophy and ethics. Hopefully I didn’t ruin the show for you, it really is a good comedy that dissects ethics and the concept of “heaven and hell”. Overall there are some good messages and tells people that they shouldn’t be a product of their circumstances. Don’t determine your worth based on some arbitrary and outdated “good vs evil” system. Be who you want to be and value the good you are able to put out into the world just as much as the billionaire donating a small part of their fortune to charity. Everyone has different capabilities and you being able to give the little that you have means just as much as anyone else’s contributions, regardless of how big or small. What matters is intentions.