Can We Still Get Into The Good Place? – Ethics in Modern Society


Eleanor, come on in. This is Eleanor, and she is about to receive
some important news. You, Eleanor Shellstrop, are dead. You’re life on Earth has ended and you’re
now in the next phase of your existence in the universe. Generally speaking, in the afterlife,
there’s a good place and there’s a bad place. You’re in the good place. You’re okay Eleanor,
You’re in the good place. She is introduced to her new neighborhood, an eternal paradise specifically designed
according to her desires. She is even matched with her soul mate,
a perfect partner to accompany her on this new journey. Cool, bring it in man! There is just one problem; There’s been a big mistake,
I’m not supposed to be here. Wait, what? Fearing she might be send to the bad place after all, Eleanor decides to improve herself by taking lessons from Chidi, a former professor of ethics, and learn, from a variety of philosophical perspectives, what it means to be a good person. This summarizes the basic premise of The Good Place. The story has some twists and turns, which
I won’t spoil here, but what caught my interest was a moment in which it became evident that there aren’t as many people entering the good place today as there were a few centuries ago. Apparently, there’s something about our
modern society that has made it more undesirable or more difficult for people to act morally,
and this is something I’d like to investigate. So today, let’s join Eleanor on her quest
to become a better person, examine what it is about our modern society that has complicated moral behavior, and find out if there’s something we can do to still get in to the good place. Now, you got a long way to go to pull this off. It will take hours and hours of studying
ethics and moral philosophy. It’s gonna be so much fun.
– Remind me what I’m getting out of this again? In his lessons, Chidi summarizes the 3 general
theories found in the history of moral philosophy, which are referred to as virtue ethics,
consequentialism, and deontology. Now first off, there’s virtue ethics. Aristotle believed that there were certain virtues of mind and character like courage or generosity, and you should try to develop yourself
in accordance with those virtues Next, there’s consequentialism. The basis for judgement whether something is right or wrong stems from the consequences of that action. And finally, there’s deontology. The school of thought that there are
strict rules and duties that everyone must adhere to
in a functioning society. Being ethical is simply identifying and obeying those duties and following those rules. To simplify it somewhat,
these philosophies are used to show that, 1; moral behavior is something we can practice
and get better at, 2; morality is in part determined by the outcomes
of our actions, and 3; morality is in part determined
by our good intentions. Over the course of the series, these are the principles that Eleanor uses to become a better person. In today’s society however, this apparently
is not as easy as it used to be. But before we going into that, let’s first
consider the question; what is a society? Many academic studies of society distinguish
between 3 dimensions; the market, the state and civil society. In an ideal society; these 3 are well-developed
and in balance with one another, meaning that a civilian with good intentions could act
within that society and ensure good outcomes. In 1534, Douglas Wynegarr of Hawkhurst, England gave his grandmother roses for her birthday. He picked them himself, walked them over to her, she was happy, boom; 145 points. So what has changed? While there is no one definitive answer to this and our modern society is obviously shaped by countless of interrelated developments, for the purpose of this video; a good starting point is the
Treadmill of Production theory, which was presented by sociologist
Allan Schnaiberg in 1980 to address why environmental degradation
in the West had increased so rapidly after World War II. The Treadmill of Production is in essence
an economic change theory about Western economies accumulating capital in a seemingly insatiable
quest for more profits. This of course had social and environmental
consequences as more resources were extracted to meet higher levels of demand, toxic output
was released into the environment, and workers became replaced
either by new technologies, or by cheaper labor forces as production shifted
towards the Global South. Schnaiberg thus painted the picture of a society
running in a treadmill without really moving forward; with each round of investments, profits were increased and consumer products became more accessible, but the social and environmental
consequences became vastly more complicated, therefore making it more difficult for individuals to estimate the moral implications of
engaging with the market, which is an issue that The
Good Place frequently emphasizes. Every time I do something nice, it backfires. There are so many unintended consequences
to well-intended actions. It feels like a game you can’t win. I brought blueberry muffins! Oh no you shouldn’t eat blueberries anymore, read an article, the migrant workers who pick them
are horribly mistreated. For a long time, the state facilitated this
expansion as the dominant neoliberal ideology of the time argued that economic growth was
the only path for social progress, and that more modernization would eventually iron out
any negative side effects. Even when the limits to growth became more
evident, governments were still either unwilling, or, because of the size and transnational
nature of the market, incapable of stepping in. As a result, the burden of responsibility
increasingly shifted towards civil society, towards the consumer,
and this is where we find ourselves today; having to consciously consider what we
once took for granted, and having to educate ourselves on what were once unambiguous decisions. Humans think they are making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making. Sociologist Ulrich Beck also talked about
a growing focus on what he calls the subpolitical level. where the pursuit of morality is not done through traditional politics, but through personal lifestyle. According to Beck, this movement is not a choice,
but a fate; the result of a neoliberal society that assumes individuals as independent, self-reliant actors who have the capacity to master the whole of their lives on their own. Your big revelation is that life is complicated? That’s not a revelation, that’s a divorced
woman’s throat pillow. You don’t want the consequecnes? Do the research, buy another tomato. What else you got? This perspective however doesn’t
seem completely fair, for it places a responsibility on individuals
that they are bound to fall short of. Hello, hope we have the right house,
I’m looking for Doug Forcett. The Good Place shows this through a character
named Doug. As a result of trying to carry the weight
of the world on his own shoulders, Doug lives a life of almost ridiculous levels of self-sacrifice, I volunteer to test cosmetics for a local company so they don’t have to test on animals. It’s fun, for the animals,
who don’t have to do it. leading to the conclusion that this cannot be
the right path to get to the Good Place. Michael, face facts, Doug is not the blueprint of
how to live a good life. But the real issue is not Doug’s lifestyle,
it is the premise that we have to do it all on our own. For not only does it tend to absolve the market
and state of their responsibility to change, but it also reinforces the idea that true
moral behavior cannot be achieved as any attempts from individuals to act morally will inevitably lead to some degree of hypocrisy, therefore making it a lot more enticing to just care
about nothing at all. There’s bad stuff everywhere man, it’s
impossible to avoid. Yeah, but shouldn’t we just try, shouldn’t
we just try to do the right thing whenever we can? Why? It’s so much harder to live like that, and
it’s not like someone’s keeping score. Ulrich Beck also criticizes this perspective for conflicting with the reality of our everyday experiences in which we are not independent
but in which we are enabled and constrained by our environment, by other people and by countless other factors affecting our ability to take moral action. And this is what I believe The Good Place
is really trying to tell us; whatever hope there is for achieving
morality in our modern society, it is not dependent on what we can do alone,
but on what we can do together. It may not provide all the answers to our
structural issues, but at the very least, it does suggest that the road to the Good Place is not found in one person becoming an absolute moral being, but in multiple people working together,
each with their own individual qualities. The Good Place shows us such qualities with Chidi’s conscience, Michael’s efforts towards empathy, Tahani’s care for the community,
Jason’s kindness and loyalty, Janet’s wisdom and cursioity,
and Eleanor’s will to act. And while the show’s story is not over yet,
I think that ultimately, The Good Place wants to reject the notion that
we should be judged and given points based on our individual actions, to instead advocate a focus on
our relations to others, on how we can help each other become better, and in that process, elevate ourselves as well. Why choose to be good every day if there is
no guaranteed reward we can count on, now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because
of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. At the intersection of empathy and ethics, is the realization, that we are not in this alone.

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