Shifting Goal Posts

Shifting Goal Posts

Are people basically good, bad or victims of circumstance? This age-old question has occupied centuries of thinkers, philosophers, and observers of human behaviour. One would have thought that thousands of years should have provided us with sufficient data for a definitive answer. And yet it hasn’t? Why?

The underlying reason is that we keep changing the goal posts. What was good in one generation is bad in another and vice versa. But aren’t there basic values that humanity has always believed in? Haven’t we always believed that murder is wrong? Well, yes, but…it depends…Really?  Yes, really! Like, what if murdering one person could save a multitude of others e.g. assassinating a Stalin or Hitler or Pol Pot. Surely that’s not murder. Wouldn’t we list that as justifiable homicide? But who decides if someone is a tyrant worthy of murdering? Do all historians agree that Mao was a megalomaniacal tyrant? Many consider him to have been a creative leader who changed the face of China. Despite estimates of deaths in his 14 years of ‘cultural revolution’ – (read lawlessness maladministered by young student-aged cadres- echoes of Harvard, Columbia and Melbourne and Monash) as ranging from 40 million to 80 million dead bodies!

And therein lies the problem. Human beings vary in their opinions, and history plays havoc with standards. The goal posts keep shifting.  Only in one system do they remain truly fixed – the Hebrew Torah. No moral relativism here. The reason: the Torah does not play by human rules. When we stood at Mt Sinai (as spiritually we did again just a few days ago on Shavuot) the permanent standards of life were adopted and always remain constant.  Murder is murder is murder. Technology might evolve and dramatically change. Architecture may challenge the eye as materials’ tensity improves.  Fashions may be seasonal. But right and wrong, good and bad, remains constant. It doesn’t depend on fads, social evolution or majority decisions. It is healthily independent of socialism, capitalism and every ism.

In the absence of values, society would simply descend to the lowest common denominator, be it Lord of the Flies, 1984, Blade Runner, Mad Max – and often has.  Interestingly this week’s Torah reading is named Nasso – lift up. Our job is to raise people to their highest potential awhile being a safety net for those who fall.

How value-able are you?