April 9th, 2008

Artsy me - by Micha

The pull of the weasel

I've been listening to the old Penn Radio Show in podcast form for the past... oh, several weeks. I'm almost done with it, actually, only a dozen episodes left or so, and they "just" came up with this new thing to talk about, "the pull of the weasel". It's supposedly the feeling you get when you want to do something, but you know it's wrong. I guess that's pretty close to the idea of the conflict between the "little devil" and the "little angel" on your shoulders, but Penn wouldn't use religious analogies, now, would he? So it's a weasel.

Anyway, I'm listening to the stories people phoned in to tell and remembering something I did that would fit in very well with the rest of them. Unfortunately, there's no Penn Radio Show anymore to call and have that catharsis. I think the experience must be a lot like going to confession as a Catholic, except you don't get assigned a bunch of prayers to repeat. But hey, I have a blog, that's what this is for, right?

I have to give a bit of the context here. I'm sure everyone is familiar with the claim that without religion, there are no morals. Interestingly, those claims are often made by religious people, whose so called morals are entirely based on the will of their god of choice. And so were mine, up until the moment I realized that there is no god. In a fraction of a second, I had no more morals at all. Everything I had done and not done up until that moment was because of reward and punishment from a big father figure in the sky, then all of a sudden daddy was gone.

So, for a while, I was this completely amoral person walking around, and I can honestly say that the only reason I wasn't committing murders left and right was that it would have given me no advantage to do so. All of my actions were decided on the basis of what would give me short term benefit. Looking back, sounds like a pretty dangerous time to be around me, but really, nothing much happened. Except for this one thing.

There's this student's lounge at my school, with sofas and a couple of board games and a few computers for students to use. I used to hang out there all the time. One day, while I was in this very dangerous phase, I walked in alone to use a computer. There were a couple of people in there, but a short time later they left, and I was entirely alone in the lounge. Someone had forgotten a wallet next to one of the computers. I went through it and found, and kept, fifty bucks, leaving the wallet with all the documents of the owner in the exact same place, as if untouched.

To this day I don't like going into the lounge, because I feel like a criminal going back to the scene of the crime. See, even though my moral compass was completely out of whack back then, after a while it adjusted itself, mostly by expanding the time-frame for the benefits to come and the class of benefited people to include, to some level, the entire human race (and other living things). It still shocks me that I was able to do that without even a second thought. The reason, I think, is because many religious people are in fact completely amoral, but on a leash. "God says it's wrong" is not very stable ground to base your entire sense of morality. If anything shakes your belief in the Almighty, all of a sudden you're a psychopath loose on the streets.

This is one of the reasons I don't think it's such a good idea for religious people to become atheistic en masse; I don't think society could handle that many temporary psychos at once.