Understanding What Is Good, Great, Evil, and Human
Most of us believe that people possess one mind. Sometimes that mind has the wisdom and courage to declare in the face of widespread civil violence: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies”—a thought that surely comes to us from “the better angels of our nature.” Other times our minds lead us badly astray. After all, “I’m only human/Of flesh and blood I’m made/Human/Born to make mistakes.” The mind that I have today depends on…what? Angels? The passions of my flesh and blood? How does a mind decide what is Good or what makes someone Great? Isn’t it clear to everyone what Evil is? Don’t we all know how Humans think?
The Quadrune Mind Model of Consciousness
In the quadrune mind model of consciousness, the human brain is able to produce four minds, not just one. Three of the minds are endowed by our evolutionary past: reptilian-like, old mammalian-like, and new mammalian-like minds. As we mature, each pre-Human mind may become dominant during infancy, childhood, or adolescence, respectively. However, if we experience significant afflictions to our growing brain, we may reach adulthood stuck at one of the “animalistic” mentalities.
Many of us think that we are right because we are better than the people around us. But it does not follow that because we think our idea of “good” is more noble than other people’s idea of “good,” we ourselves are more noble (or more Human). Counterintuitively, the animosity we have toward each other arises from pre-Human minds on both sides. But how can this be? We’re so woke and they’re so subhuman!1 But the thing is, we cannot dehumanize anyone else unless we are already functioning at a pre-Human mentality ourselves. The real spiritual issue for all of us lies in our level of consciousness, not the contents of our mind. The “moral” conflicts discussed in this blog occur at one of the pre-Human mentalities.2
Survival as the Highest Good and Source of Evil
The critical difference between the three pre-Human minds and the Human mind is the issue of survival. In the quadrune mind model, each pre-Human mentality is dedicated to a survival goal, which it perceives as its “Highest Good.”3 The reptilian mind in an adult continually directs a person’s behavior toward the maintenance of homeostatic security. Everything and everyone in the world are only an extension of itself, justifiably used for its “self”4 preservation. At the old mammalian level of consciousness, the identity and survival of self is partially attached to the survival of a physically identifiable group of people; such as a family, cult, police precinct, or privately gated community. The abstracting new mammalian mind serves the survival of an ideology, such as communism, neo-liberal free market economies, or fascism.
In any event, whether people are motivated by self, group, or ideological survival—at the expense of the well-being of others—their behaviors will always result in the increased suffering of themselves, other people, and planet Earth. This survival-oriented mind shows up in all of the exploitive, abusive behaviors that people have committed against each other throughout history. Below are a few examples:
Bigotry. The pre-Human minds can use any imaginable difference among people to divide humanity into “human” and “subhuman” categories. Thus, the pre-Human mentalities operate from an animalistic-type categorization of people as predator, competitor, prey, or one’s own species. Only “one’s own” is recognized as “humans.” We can feel equally alien from and dismissive toward both “prey” and “predators.”
Because victims of bigotry are also usually operating from a pre-Human mentality, they may conceive their injustices as distinct from other group’s experiences of bigotry. Each group believes that the injustices inflicted upon them require specialized responses. Consequently, various social justice movements can end up as competitors in the marketplace for public good will and support. In reality, all share victimization from the same cause: the unenlightened power elites’ bigoted pre-Human minds.5
Elitism.6 Bigotry among the different “groups” of the mindless oppressed masses, of course, helps to perpetuate the control over them by the unenlightened power elites. The unenlightened power elites fear unified resistance by the people more than other threats to their privilege and have perfected sophisticated methods to obstruct popular human rights alliances. One of the most powerful of the unenlightened power elites’ techniques to deflect popular resistance to oppression is to create fearful bigoted minds in the people directed against each other—so that they don’t see the exploitation by the elites as the real problem that needs to be addressed for the good of all. Another successful way to preserve elite privilege is to write the history books from their perspective.7
Colonialism/Imperialism. Historically, colonial and imperial powers have fostered a favored group among their oppressed subjects, who then obtain a privileged status. This privileged group administers the direct acts of oppression upon the less favored people. Consequently, when the less privileged people rebel, energies and resources are spent attacking the local sources of authority without much effect on the power of the colonial/imperial elites. This practice can create, or deepen, sectarian conflict among the subjected people that lasts for centuries and has devastating consequences. Belgium in Africa is one of a multitude of possible examples:
“Belgian rule reinforced an ethnic divide between the Tutsi and Hutu, and they supported Tutsis political power. Due to the eugenics movement in Europe and the United States, the colonial government became concerned with the differences between Hutu and Tutsi. Scientists arrived to measure skull—and thus, they believed, brain—size. Tutsi’s skulls were bigger, they were taller, and their skin was lighter. As a result of this, Europeans came to believe that Tutsis had Caucasian ancestry, and were thus ‘superior’ to Hutus. Each citizen was issued a racial identification card, which defined one as legally Hutu or Tutsi. The Belgians gave the majority of political control to the Tutsis. Tutsis began to believe the myth of their superior racial status, and exploited their power over the Hutu majority. In the 1920s, Belgian ethnologists analysed (measured skulls, etc.) thousands of Rwandans on analogous racial criteria, such as which would be used later by the Nazis. In 1931, an ethnic identity was officially mandated and administrative documents systematically detailed each person’s ‘ethnicity.’ Each Rwandan had an ethnic identity card.”8
Sixty years later the Hutus rebelled against the ruling Tutsi minority. “Rwanda’s colonial period, during which the ruling Belgians favored the minority Tutsis over the Hutus, exacerbated the tendency of the few to oppress the many, creating a legacy of tension that exploded into violence even before Rwanda gained its independence…. [T]he international community largely remained on the sidelines during the Rwandan genocide.”9
Our pre-Human mentalities look for reasons to see other people as less than human—that is, less human than ourself—in order to justify inhuman treatment toward them. Dehumanization of others may be based on the desires of our God, country, corporation, or best friends. Human beings, on the other hand, do not dehumanize anyone. No matter how righteously inspirational they might believe their mission on earth is, it never justifies intentionally hurting, or murdering, other people.10
“Righteous” causes do not justify unrighteous behaviors. Pre-Human causes, no matter how noble they sound, cannot be spiritually valid. Almost everything that motivates the “greatest” people among us arises from pre-Human minds. As Lord Acton said, “Great men are almost always bad men….”11 It is no wonder that we are confused as to why the world doesn’t get noticeably better. We give our loyalty to high-minded sounding words while either ignoring or justifying the barbarous behaviors of the people saying those words.
In order for us to heal each other and the world, we must learn to understand the significant distinction of the Human mind. As the Ani DiFranco song, Swan Dive, goes: “I’ve got better things to do than survive.”12 In stark contrast to the appropriate natures of other creatures on earth, survival is not the prime directive of the Human being.
We’re ready to answer the question that began this essay: “The mind that I have today depends on…what?” In the quadrune mind model we see that the Highest Good for all of the pre-Human, “flesh-and-blood” directed minds is survival: survival of self, group, and even ideology. This primary goal of survival leads people to behave harmfully in the world, including bigoted exploitation, oppression, and violence against other people. Because survival-oriented people believe they are living, killing, and dying for something “good,” they do not recognize the harm they do to others as “evil.” They think “evil” is only what is done to them that threatens their own personal, group, or ideological survival. People who excel in protecting their survival—whatever the cost to the well-being of others—are often considered to be “great heroes,” especially if that defense costs the hero’s life. We build monuments to them. Unfortunately, this kind of greatness has no part in “the better angels of our nature.” Paradoxically, those “better angels” are the most Human part of us.
The quadrune mind model of consciousness says that the mind we have results from the interactions of many causes. Genetics, early childhood environment, social class, cultural norms, and luck are involved. However, these are things we don’t have much control over. Significantly, quadrune mind identifies a responsibility we can take for the mind we have. We can learn to recognize the dominance over us by our pre-Human minds for what it is—an unsatisfactory pre-Human substitute for the healthy adult Human mind that God and/or Nature intended for us. It is the Human mind that is the only mind worthy of a human being.13 From our humanizing relationships with others, we could create the opportunity to live for something, not just bigger, but better than ourselves, our clan, or even our best-sounding ideals. Perhaps we can make a healing difference in the real world. This is why our Human consciousness exists. It’s up to us to develop it.
- Maiese, M. (2003, July; rev. 2017, April). Moral or value conflicts. Beyond Intractability. (Eds. G. Burgess, & H. Burgess). University of Colorado, Boulder: Conflict Information Consortium.
The points made in the following excerpts from the “Moral or Value Conflicts” page of the Beyond Intractability website can be more usefully understood through the quadrune mind model. Links are from the original source, while added information is in brackets:
“Participants in moral conflict often behave immorally, even according to their own standards of behavior, because they believe the actions of their enemies force them to do so. If a group is regarded as morally depraved, its members may come to be regarded as less than human and undeserving of humane treatment. The demonization or dehumanization of one’s opponent that often occurs in moral conflict paves the way for hateful action and violence. It often leads to human rights violations or even attempts at genocide, as parties may come to believe that the capitulation or elimination of the other group is the only way to resolve the conflict.” [Any situation as perceived by our pre-Human mentalities will be seen as a kind of “life-or-death” conflict. See our QM and the End of the World blog to learn the differences between our survival-oriented minds and the Human mind].
“… sometimes people distinguish between moral orders built on rights and those built on virtues. Each one is associated with particular forms of society and ways of being human. While a rights-based approach is associated with the Enlightenment and modernity [new mammalian mind], a virtues-based approach emerges from traditional society [reptilian/old mammalian mind]. When modernists carry out acts regarded as obligatory or good within their own moral order, ‘these very acts offend traditionalists.’ Inter-racial or inter-religious marriages, for example, are seen by many as one outgrowth of inclusivity and tolerance. The freedom to marry anyone is a ‘right.’ Traditionalists, however, would see it as evil — harming their race or religion.”
“… moral conflicts often stem from a desire to safeguard basic human needs such as security and social recognition of identity… [“needs” of pre-Human minds]. Unfortunately, those enmeshed in moral conflict may be unable to discern [emphasis added] the effects of conflict, even if those effects themselves threaten the basic human needs that were at issue.” [Inability to “discern” in the sense of “to come to know or recognize mentally,” indicates that the combatants are functioning at a sub-intellectual/sub-new mammalian mind (see page 9 of the Study Guide).
- See our Study Guide for further information about the quadrune mind model.
- See page 9 of the Study Guide
- “Self” is in quotes because the reptilian mind has undifferentiated object relations—just as someone stuck in a reptilian mind cannot understand anything external as independent, that person also cannot truly understand himself or herself as an independent, coherent self.
- See the A Broader Conclusion section of our “QM, the Strategic Error Made by ‘Anti-Racists,’ and the Mind of a Bigot” blog
- Lundberg, F. (1968). The rich and the super-rich: A study in the power of money today. New York: Lyle Stuart. [Lundberg is an historical source by which we can appreciate how impressively stable and successful elitism is, as practiced by the wealthy in the United States of America].
- Zinn, H. (1980/1999). A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present: Twentieth anniversary edition. New York: HarperCollins. [Zinn’s philosophy of history is indicated by the following: “The treatment of the heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks)—the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress—is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from one point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they…represent the nation as a whole.” (page 9)].
- Belgian League of Nations mandate (1916–1945) section, “History of Rwanda,” Wikipedia.
- History.com editors. (2009, October 14; updated 2019, September 30). Rwandan Genocide.
- See the “It takes no position on metaphysics” section of our “QM as a Model of Spirituality” blog.
- Grey, CGP. (2016, October 24 part 1, & 2016, November 7 part 2). The Rules for Rulers: part 1 and part 2. [The Rules for Rulers is adapted from The Dictator’s Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith. Grey says that the lessons of this video apply to every power structure from the “CEO of the largest global corporate conglomerate… to the chair of the smallest home owner’s association….” Joe Carter, Senior Editor at the Acton Institute, notes that the video by Grey gives a clear explanation of why “rulers (and powerful people in general) have incentives to use—and abuse—their power in ways that tend to lead to corruption”].
- See the Study Guide for Value Statements related to the quadrune mind model.
- See the QM blogs for further information about the Human mind.