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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 23-Nov-14

 


Sunday 23-November-14

Good, evil, pleasure, pain and lorem ipsum

Have you ever seen a design for text layout, such as a web page, magazine, poster, etc? The blocks of written text may well have started with 'Lorem ipsum' and looked like a bit of Latin. Here's the full version:

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."

It's a method used by printers such the 16th century and is still common today. Until recently, I had thought it was just a bit of nonsense, words made up to look like English text. Then I found out recently that it means something and that it is in fact a scrambled version of text by the Roman philosopher Cicero in 45 AD, in a book called 'The extreme of good and evil'. In English it has been translated as follows (Rackham, 1914):

"But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?"

Pain and pleasure are still are a pair of basic motivators that set up a predictable causal chain. When we make threats or offers, we promise future pain or pleasure, hence stimulating fear or desire in the present, which in turn lead to avoidant or attractive ways of behaving.

As Cicero continues to note, these motivations can lead to acts of great good and evil, where we may take pleasure in harming other people or suffer ourselves in order to help others.

This month, the first world war is remembered, where many suffered and evil was done. I went this week to a reading of poetry written by soldiers were there, amongst the blood and body parts. It was a poignant reminder of what our species will do.

And evil still happens in the unspeakable atrocities of extremist actions we see in the news each day. Yet though the media tend to focus on the bad, we should also remember the good, such as those going out to help Ebola victims, putting themselves in danger to help complete strangers.

Good and evil are not just black and white. There is a whole spectrum of gray between them and the things we do each day can be placed somewhere along this line. While it probably would not be workable to make constant sacrifices, we can think about what we are doing and just judge or choices a bit in the good direction. If we all did this, just being a bit nicer, the world would be a hugely better place.

So go on then. You don't have to be good, just better. It's amazing how much more pleasure can be created even from the smallest change.


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