good and evil

(38) How to Win: Life is Not a Battle Between Good and Evil

Today we will explore the idea of good and evil, that there are “good people and evil people”, the foundation of the last untruth explained by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in their book “The Coddling of the American Mind.” In response to the three untruths, in (episode 33) Self-care Instead of Self-Harm, I offered three truths as a balm or replacement, noting the consequences of believing the first and the path of resiliency in following the latter. Here we’re going to focus on the third untruth, “Life is a battle between good people and evil people,” and its replacement, “Life is a lived experience through many intersectional identities,” to finish off this series of episodes.


  1. What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker – leads to self-identifying through victimhood
  2. Always trust your feelings
  3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people


  1. Consequences are inevitable and often outside of our direct control, so learn from them
  2. Question your feelings, but don’t dismiss them
  3. Life is a lived experience through many perspectives

“Tribalism is our evolutionary endowment for banding together to prepare for intergroup conflict. When the “tribe switch” is activated, we bind ourselves more tightly to the group, we embrace and defend the group’s moral matrix, and we stop thinking for ourselves. A basic principle of moral psychology is that “morality binds and blinds,” which is a useful trick for a group gearing up for a battle between “us” and “them.” In tribal mode, we seem to go blind to arguments and information that challenge our team’s narrative.”

The Coddling of the American Mind (p. 58).

Life is a battle between good and evil people, my tribe and your tribe is the third untruth. It interferes with our ability to communicate and find common ground. In tribal mode, we lose the ability to think for ourselves, we think with the group mind, and it moves us toward ethical abdication. We become closed to new information. If we want to grow, and build a solid community foundation we must find the common ground of our shared humanity.

good and evil

The Good and Evil of Identity Politics

Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at The Brookings Institution, defines it as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” He notes that “in America, this sort of mobilization is not new, unusual, unAmerican, illegitimate, nefarious, or particularly leftwing.”

The Coddling of the American Mind

When we define ourselves by any individual characteristic, our gender, race, religion, political affiliation, for instance, we automatically exclude others. For instance am I only female, or am I also a person of color, or Republican, or a mother, and what if each of these characteristics is a group and the group identities are in conflict?


“The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend difference, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite – that it frequently conflates or ignores intra group differences.”

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color” -Kimberle Crenshaw
question your feeling

A different way forward…

Lets begin with similarity as people

  1. We organize our experiences through Self-Stories or Narratives or Identities
  2. All perception through Narrative is context-specific
    1. Goal-Directed
    2. Environmentally Constrained
  3. Cognitive heuristics (any approach to problem-solving that uses a practical method or various shortcuts in order to produce solutions that may not be optimal but are sufficient given a limited timeframe or deadline) are innate and inevitable
    1. Availability Bias
    2. Proximity Bias
  4. We go towards ease and away from difficulty
    1. The “Consistency Rule”
      1. Within a given Identity-Driven Narrative, we focus on what supports the structure, ignore what doesn’t, and behave in such a way that perpetuates that “As-If” world.

This inclusive, common-humanity approach was also explicit in the words of Pauli Murray, a black and queer Episcopal priest, and civil rights activist who, in 1965, at the age of fifty-five, earned a degree from Yale Law School. Today a residential college at Yale is named after her. In 1945, she wrote: 

“I intend to destroy segregation by positive and embracing methods. . . . When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them. Where they speak out for the privileges of a puny group, I shall shout for the rights of all mankind.”

The Coddling of the American Mind (p. 61)

Starting from the place of our common humanity, we move away from the ideas of good and evil, us and them, and can engage in open-ended dialogue about the changes we want to make.