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The Seven Sins, Unwound

September 25, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Response to “Is Greed Ever Good? the Psychology of Selfishness”



Th article had the age old message that anything in excess is bad, yet it maintains that even the most frowned upon traits today are good in small amounts. No matter how unfamiliar this sounds to our ears, it makes perfect sense and this has been ingrained in society for ages. I agree with it completely. The article explains how instead of branding these “7 deadly sins” so negatively, we should instead practice them moderately which we are pretty much doing today. The only difference is that we don’t name it as such, I notice that we refuse to make the connection between our self-ish caring to being selfish even if they are the same in all but matters of degree. Perhaps this shows how we actually tend to not acknowledge the nature of  the things we do if they are associated in a bad light. Added to this is how we also do this to uphold our cognitive biases on what is right and wrong and give us a clear black and white picture of things that suit our needs and wants. It shows how much we are susceptible we are to symbolic reduction fallacy in which we try to simplify things as much as possible such that we loose all the other shades in between.

Another issue I gleaned from this article is how we create “negative stereotypes” that are supposed to be our moral compass in what we shouldn’t do. Notice how being greedy, or lustful is bad and shouldn’t be exercised?  Well truth be told, these are really spectrums of certain attitudes in which the difference between being selfish and self-ish or honor and hubris and humility lie in. In all actuality, these so called “7 deadly sins” encapsulate almost the whole range of emotions, values and virtues that we have, all that is different is the extent. Like my example earlier, humility, honor and hubris are all aspects of pride but humility is a lack or opposite and hubris is an excess.

Apple’s dictionary defines sloth as a “reluctance to work, or make an effort” seems like a pretty broad definition to me, yet we already think of it as bad. Then again, it is also a spectrum where rest or relaxing and laziness fit in. I mean we don’t really frown upon someone who rests but we do for someone who’s lazy. The difference between the two isn’t much since you can rest while being lazy but they can also be two different things. Context is what distinguishes both, if a person after a hard day’s work doesn’t do anything, lets say wash the dishes, he falls under the definition of “a reluctance to work”, but we leave him alone because he is tired, but compare this to a child who despite sleeping the whole day refuses to wash the dishes after dinner when his mother tells him to. This is considered as laziness because he was sleeping the whole day, there is nothing to justify his “reluctance to work”.

There are several points that the article presents to us. The first of which is how humans tend to tune their moral compass in the terms of what not to do as compared to what to do. Perhaps because the negative connotations presents to us the exceptions of things and allow for a larger base for options. It is a lot nicer to hear someone saying, lets say from a base of 100 options, “you can do everything except this” instead of “you can do all these 99 things but you can’t do this one” the former gives us the notion that there are more that we can do as compared do the latter which restricts us to what we are allowed. This leads to our inherent symbolic reduction fallacy in which we tend to forget the important things and stick a general idea to one thing and forget everything else. In the case of pride, we just want one big label saying “THIS IS BAD” and forget everything else. We thus fall into a world of binaries and stereotypes, only black and white, no shades of the rainbow, a world I don’t think anyone of us would like to live in.

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