The following is paraphrased from a lecture by Alan Watts:
Alan Watts wrote: The higher self’s your old ego, and you sure hope it is eternal, indestructible, and all wise. But then the great problem is: how to get that higher self working? How does it make any difference to what you do and what you think? I know all kinds of people who’ve got this higher self going, practicing their yoga, but they’re just like ordinary people. Sometimes a little worse. And they can fool themselves. They can say, for example, “Well, my point of view in religion is very liberal. I believe that all religions have divine revelation in them.” But I don’t understand the way you people fight about it. You fight and say that, “We Jehovah's Witnesses have the real religion.” Others say: “Well, we Roman Catholics have it.” And the Muslims say: “No, it is in the Quran, and this is the right way.” And somebody else gets up, and he may be a rather highbrow Catholic and say: “Well, God has given the spirit through all the traditions, but ours is the most refined and mature.” And then somebody comes along and says: “Well, as I said, they’re all equally revelations of the divine. And in seeing this, of course, I’m much more tolerant than you are!”
You see how that game is going to work?
I could take this position: Supposing you regard me as some sort of a guru—and you know how gurus hate each other. They’re always putting each other down. And I could say, “Well, I don’t put other groups down.” See? That outwits all of them. See, we’re always doing that. We’re always finding a way to be one up, and by the most incredibly subtle means.
You see that and you say, “I realize I’m always doing that. Tell me: how do I not do that?”
I say, “Why do you want to know?”
“Well, I’ll be better that way.”
“Yeah, but why do you want to be better?”
You see, the reason you want to be better is the reason why you aren’t—shall I put it like that? We aren’t better because we want to be, because the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Because all the do-gooders in the world—whether they’re doing good for others or doing it for themselves—are troublemakers, on the basis of: “Kindly let me help you or you’ll drown,” said the monkey, putting the fish safely up a tree. We have been on a rampage for the past hundred or more years to improve the world. We have given the benefits of our culture, our religion, our technology to everybody, and we have insisted that they receive the benefits of our culture—even our political styles, our democracy: “You better be democratic or we’ll shoot you!” And, having conferred these blessings all over the place, we wonder why everybody hates us. See? Because sometimes, doing good to others, and even doing good to one’s self, is amazingly destructive. Because it’s full of conceit: how do you know what’s good for other people? How do you know what’s good for you? If you say you want to improve, then you need to know what’s good for you. But obviously you don’t, because if you did you would be improved. So we don’t know.
It’s like the problem of geneticists, which they face today. I went to a meeting of geneticists not so long ago, where they gathered in a group of philosophers and theologians and said, “Now look here. We need help. We now are on the verge of figuring out how to breed any kind of human character we would want to have. We can give you saints, philosophers, scientists, great politicians. Anything you want! Just tell us: what kind of human beings ought we to breed?”
So I said, “How will those of us who are genetically unregenerate make up our minds what genetically generate people might be?” Because I’m afraid very much that our selection of virtues may not work. It may be like, for example, this new kind of high-yield grain which is made and which is becoming ecologically destructive. When we interfere with the processes of nature and breed efficient plants and efficient animals, there’s always some way in which we have to pay for it. And I can well see that eugenically-produced human beings might be dreadful. We could have a plague of virtuous people. You realize that? Any animal, considered in itself, is virtuous. It does its thing. But in crowds they’re awful—like a crowd of ants or locusts on the rampage. They’re all perfectly good animals, but it’s just too much. I could imagine a perfectly pestiferous mass of a million saints. So I said to these people, “Look, the only thing you can do: just be sure that a vast variety of human beings is maintained. Don’t, please, breed us down to a few excellent types.” Excellent for what? We never know how circumstances are going to change, and how our need for different kinds of people changes.
What seemed in the moral and spiritual sphere like great virtues in times past are easily seen today as hideous evils.
Let’s take, for example, the Inquisition. In its own day, among Catholics, the Holy Inquisition was regarded as we today regard the practice of psychiatry. You see, you feel that in curing the person of cancer, almost anything is justified. The most complex operations, the most weird surgery. People suspended for days and days on end on the end of tubes with, x-ray penetration burning. Or people undergoing shock treatment. People locked in the colorless monotonous corridors of mental institutions. In all good faith, they knew that witchcraft and heresy were terrible things. Awful plagues imperiling people’s souls for ever and ever. So any means were justified to cure people of heresy. We don’t change. We’re doing the same thing today, but under different names. We can look back at those people and see how evil that was, but we can’t see it in ourselves. So therefore, beware of virtue.
Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher, said, “The highest virtue is not virtue, and therefore really is virtue. But inferior virtue cannot let go of being virtuous, and therefore is not virtue.” Translated in more of a paraphrastic way: “The highest virtue is not conscious of itself as virtue, and therefore really is virtue. Lower virtue is so self-conscious that it’s not virtue.” In other words: when you breathe, you don’t congratulate yourself on being virtuous. But breathing is a great virtue. It’s living. When you come out with beautiful eyes—blue or brown or green as the case may be—you don’t congratulate yourself for having grown one of the most fabulous jewels on Earth. It’s just eyes. And you don’t count it a virtue to see, to entertain the miracles of color and form. You say, “Oh, that’s just….” But that’s real virtue! Virtue in the old sense of the word as strength, as when we talk about the healing virtue of a plant. That’s real virtue. But the other virtue is a stuck on. They’re ersatz; they’re imitation virtues, and they usually create trouble. Because more diabolical things are done in the name of righteousness.
Be assured that everybody—of whatever nationality, or political frame of mind, or religion—always goes to war with a sense of complete rightness. The other side is the devil. Our opponents, whether in China or Russia or Vietnam, have the same feeling of righteousness about what they’re doing as we have on our side. And a plague on both houses. Because, as Confucius said, “The goodie-goodies are the thieves of virtue,” which is the form of our own proverb “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
What do you think?
Do you agree with Alan Watts?
The line that really stuck out and resonated for me is this one:
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Because all the do-gooders in the world whether they’re doing good for others or doing it for themselves are troublemakers: on the basis of 'kindly let me help you or you will drown,' said the monkey putting the fish safely up a tree."
- Alan Watts
My motto is live and let live. When violent humans come to take me from the proverbial water and put me in the tree, I hope to have the courage to say, "go govern yourself, and keep your hands off me!"
I shared a similar sentiment in my other topic, "Whether you are looking for a savior or someone to save, or both, look into a mirror.":
Scott wrote: ↑December 9th, 2022, 6:22 pmThere's no shortage of unhappy people wanting to give you advice, if not put a literal or metaphorical gun to your head and force you to take their literally miserable advice and live by their literally miserable standards. Many would rule the world because they cannot rule themselves, at least not in a way that lets them be truly happy with inner peace.
Whether you are looking for a savior or someone to save, or both, look into a mirror.