justification for harmful behaviour

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There are two belief systems below that could possibly influence someone’s behaviour:

1. There is an invisible god watching everything you do, assessing and judging your every action. You are essentially evil, and there is an evil angel trying to trick you into being your core evil self, but the good god who is watching you will try to help you be good by providing you with an innate sense of good and bad. However, no human, except for this god when he came to Earth, has ever been truly good so you’re fighting a losing battle. At some point in your existence this god will intervene and hold you accountable for the life you’ve led.

2. All your behaviour and your actions are as a direct result of your brain interacting with your environment. There is nothing you can do to control your actions or make decisions because you are powerless to change your brain or the input you receive. You may be held responsible for any harmful actions you take (through not fault of your own) by a civil authority, if you’re caught.

While I agree with the opening sentence in belief number 2, the conclusion is in itself a behaviour modifier. Spreading this kind of confused nonsense is expressing a misleading environmental influence that can lead people to justify all kinds of harmful behaviour. So, for avoidance of all doubt, here’s my take on things. Let’s call it number 3.

3. All your behaviour and your actions are as a direct result of your brain interacting with your environment. You can usefully influence the choices that other people make by interacting positively with them and spreading any information you have that can make life a more pleasant experience, both for yourself and others. Everyone is responsible for their own actions, because we are our decisions, and it is our responsibility to seek out information to make our own choices. We have a common thread of natural empathy that leads most humans when presented with the same information to reach similar conclusions about what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour. However, some people due to physical differences in their brain, or a lack of ‘normal’ empathetic input at key stages of development, may not conform to these generally accepted standards, or may in specific circumstances go against their empathetic instincts. They are still responsible for their own behaviour, and for seeking ways to control their actions. They are accountable to civil laws, which should be designed to deter and change harmful behaviour, as well as protect the rest of society.

Recognising that people’s choices can be strongly influenced by their environment is not the same as justifying any kind of behaviour that harms other people. Looking for ways to identify the root causes of harmful behaviour is the only practical way of seeking to bring about change generally. Condemning harmful behaviour as simply ‘evil’ and in need of punishment, while refusing to acknowledge genuine reasons behind it, is about as useful as the famed chocolate teapot.

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