Another great episode! I totally see what Ali is trying to say in whether its ok to portray mental illness in a moral light and his concerns as to how The Good Place is written.
I think the point of the show is to dabble in Ethics philosophy and the point of philosophy isn’t to answer questions, but to seek to understand and produce valuable questions. I think it’s clear since the beginning of the series that the way the Good Place is run is unfair. (There’s a place in hell for waiters who say that nobody liked the food when everyone finished their plates!) It seems there is a place in The Bad Place for everyone. I think this all plays into what I believe is the main idea of the series which is how confusing ethics is and what our responsibility is to eachother.
There’s a lot of themes I feel the series has and id like to address:
Rules and how much they suck:
Freud addresses it in Civilization and It’s Discontents (Flashback to college). At the moment when we are born, we are enveloped in pain, suffering, coldness, confusion, and loneliness. This need is assuaged by the company of others, first the company of our parents and as time goes on this need turns outward into society, where we crave a sense of connection in things outside of us. Human beings are a social species so, in a way, we need each other to survive. But in order to freely engage in society, rules must be put into place. There must be a mutual understanding amongst members of a group on what lines should not be crossed and which are accepted or frowned upon when crossed. That’s one of the most basic conundrums of the human condition. At first, the rule seems quite simple, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, etc. But life is never that easy. People commit crimes for a variety of reasons. Narratives do a good job of portraying just how easy it is to step out of line. See Orange is the New Black; The Good Place. And as societies become bigger and bigger they become more and more complex to the point that we makes more and more rules and we lose the concept of basic principles. Before you know it, rules range from “Don’t kill”, to “Don’t kill steal.”; “Don’t change your assigned gender.”; “Don’t use You’re incorrectly.”; “Don’t cross this imaginary line that divides my country from yours.”; “Don’t use your cell phone in the cinema.” ; “Don’t look at people in the subway in the eyes cause that’s just creepy.” ; “Don’t look down on your cell phone on the subway because you are surrounded by people and you should see them and looking down at your cell phone implies you are consumed by technology.”; “Don’t have a relationship with someone of your same sex.”
At a point, we are called to question things. We are called to question what exactly about these rules are important? Is it intention (Tahini)? Is it Result (Chidi)? Is it to make society better and freer and kinder or is it to maintain a status quo and make society more predictable and homogeneous?
Rules keep society stable, but at what cost? At some point, some rules do more harm than good. They are a form of suppression for identity and freedom. At this point is when we are called to ask, What are these rules for? Who do they serve? and…
Who makes these damn rules?
Really, who makes the rules in “The Good Place”? Religions have provided various rulebooks, meant to be followed in order to achieve a Good Place. In order to win a prize or show that your time in this world was worth it. But who makes these rules and how do we know which one is the correct one? Ethics as a branch of philosophy appears because we know that there is no one rulebook to follow. Rules are formed when people band together. So It’s our job to be vigilant of ourselves and constantly ask ourselves whether we are doing good by ourselves and others or not. In “The Good Place” there are solid rules, there is a place in The Bad Place for waiters who jokingly claim that nobody liked the food when everyone in the table finished their plate! I don’t think the series is trying to posit on what is wrong and what is right. Instead, it’s telling us, “wow rules are really arbitrary!” Anyone can belong to the bad place if we are inconvenienced by them or if someone suffered as a consequence of your actions. Mental illness is inconvenient in one way or another, it makes us do things we are not proud of. But who made these rule, to begin with? Who wrote these rules? The Good Place makes me wonder if there can ever be a one and true ruleset. Even if the Good Place existed with the rules it has it is not a good moral code, to begin with.
Imagine a king who says that everyone who wears yellow is likely evil and should be burned at the stake, Eventually, those who live to stay in a world like that will come to know that the color yellow is evil. But we know it isn’t and even if it was, why should it matter? The same thing applies to the celestial beings that construct the system in The Good Place. Just because they are in charge of the afterlife, it doesn’t mean that their Ethics are sound. I would be right in saying that the way the afterlife is run is irresponsible and morally unsound. It values the suffering of people who failed to follow a rulebook that is not only invisible but also really unfair. The administration in the afterlife is downright evil, dishing out eternal punishment to those who do not follow their rules, essentially breaking those rules themselves. Some people do some downright reprehensible things in the series but does anyone really deserve eternal damnation? Who made these rules why do they get to decide what is important for the rest of the universe?
What is Justice?
Is what they are doing just? I don’t believe in Karma or some form of Cosmic punishment. It’s a personal belief but I don’t think that nature has mechanisms in place to determine what is good and what isn’t. So punishment has always been decided by people. Some are comforted by the idea that cruel people will get what’s coming to them, but is anyone deserving of eternal punishment? For many, Serial Murderers would definitely earn their place in hell, but could they say the same thing for Dexter Morgan? Could they say the same thing for their Grandfather who served in the war? Could they say the same thing for people who amass wealth while other’s starve and how would that be different from a doctor withdrawing treatment from somebody who needs it? Research shows punishment hardly leads to better outcomes or a better world. Punishment is a self-serving ideal that claims that pain must be recycled so that every bit of pain that is dealt should come back threefold on those who caused it. But whom does this serve? Justice should be a system that makes sure bad things don’t happen again, that addresses the things that bring death, poverty, hopelessness, and cruelty about. Instead, we settle for seeing those who slighted us suffer without the hope of a better future.
What we owe to each other.
In essence, I think The Good Place posits something very important. All the main characters were put in there to torture each other. But instead, the helped each other grow. I believed that we are owed kindness for the mere fact of being born. Existing in this world is reason enough to seek to understand and care for each other. That’s what the main characters did. Putting people together also has the capacity of making us stronger for as long as we look out for each other and expect better of each other. We all just wanna have a good go at life before we die and our journey eventually leads us into the unknown. Perhaps if we learned to live with the darkness in others and ourselves and tried to better each other, we could find an agreement that makes everyone’s lives worthwhile.
Ethics is weird and complicated, and while its awesome to ask these questions and wonder, sometimes its just so much better to be kind to eachother, accept our misgivings and hope for change as opposed to punishment.