(With apologies to Wreck-it Ralph. Linked video contains spoilers.)
I used to get Lawful Good on D&D alignment quizzes, because I only picked the "right" answers. Later, and for most of the last ten years, I answered honestly and got Neutral Good ... because I didn't want to rock the boat, but I still went out of my way to help people.
I still do, sometimes. But the most recent alignment quiz I took pegged me as Chaotic Neutral, and the more I think about it the more I think it fits.
I think the tipping point, for me, was seeing how corporations like Mozilla -- which I thought were purely benevolent -- were really more concerned with ensuring their own survival. And while a lot of Free Software volunteers do so out of the goodness of their hearts, after being thrown away by GNOME I saw how others like me were being manipulated thanks to their desires to do good.
When we create our own monsters
I'm starting to feel like being "good," whether it means "meets with society's approval" or "gives of oneself to others," is a liability. To myself, and the people around me. Because in order for me to be heroic, there have to be villains to face ... and a lot of "good" people manufacture those villains so they can keep being the hero.
There are terrible people and terrible things all around us, but they're usually caused by the so-called "good" people, IMO. Or else they're often accidents and misunderstandings, caused by a lack of information and a lack of social safety nets. I honestly believe that if more people knew, for instance, the effect that consumer culture was having on innocent humans and non-human animals, they'd choose things like Fair Trade products more often. Not because they want to think of themselves as good people, but because they don't want to be jerks.
(Keeping in mind that not everyone who knows about these things can choose them, because of a lack of financial or other resources.)
What's important about things like organic and Fair Trade labels isn't the effect that they have on my conscience, though. It's the effect that the products which bear those labels have on the people who make them. See, in my ideal world they'd be the default. You wouldn't have to go out of your way to choose them, because the other choice wouldn't exist. There simply wouldn't be chemical pesticides, Cote d'Ivore cocoa slaves, or 13-year-olds digging coltan. I could spend less of my time trying to decide what's least harmful to others, and more of my time doing creative things I enjoy, because the safeguards would be part of society instead of my personal ethics.
Sort of like how business owners are required to accommodate people in wheelchairs, instead of it being a personal choice that they make for each store.
An it harm none
Note the wording I used: "least harmful," as opposed to "most beneficial." I feel like, when you're dealing with adults of a given species, they're usually going to know better than you do what's best for them. Sometimes you need to help educate them, but mostly you need to get out of their way and let them take risks. They just also need a safety net to fall back on, preferably one that they get just by virtue of breathing and not one that they have to beg for.
Mormonism, the religion I was raised in, teaches the opposite. In a nutshell, Mormonism teaches that it's Satan who thinks people's lives shouldn't be thrown away, while Heavenly Father wants his "worthless and fallen" children to beg him and Jesus for mercy.
It practically makes a fetish of uneven power relationships, and of "sacrifice." For conservative Mormons and Christians, Jesus' line about how we'll always have poor people around is a good thing, because it means there's always a way that they get to be heroes. They strongly oppose social safety nets that don't require people to beg, like liberal government welfare programs, because they want the threat of poverty and homelessness to be hanging over people's heads at all times.
They want people to be dependent on them and their good graces, and they want to be able to choose who lives and dies. Because it feels good to help cute, photogenic 12-year-old Mormon girls who have cancer, and to let ugly, hairy homeless people live in shame and fear and think that they caused their own suffering.
Not all of them see it this way, of course. But does it really matter, when this is the end result?
There's no one I'd rather be than me
I'm extremely grateful to the people who've gone out of their way to help me, even just by commenting / talking to us here and helping give us a reason to write. But I feel like the people I'm most grateful to have helped me for "selfish" reasons. Such as because they like talking to me, or they like hearing my ideas, or because they care so deeply about me that when I'm hurting they hurt as well. And they just happen to be the only people who are in a position to help, because society does not give a damn.
I'd honestly rather rely on such people than on the best-intentioned "do-gooder," who practices selflessness for its own sake. Like the rich lady who drove us in her nice car, to pick up our dollar-store groceries from Mormon church welfare. The strings attached to her help are harder for others to see, because of how "nice" she is. And she's blind to the conflict of interest, between her desire to do good and my desire to not need good acts done for me.
I'm not a vehicle for others to go out of their way to feel good about themselves. I'm not a chore, where people have to feel guilty if they don't take care of me. I'm a person, and my being treated as one should be normal and taken for granted. I should not have to beg, borrow, or steal in order to live, and to the extent that I or anyone else has to do so society is broken.
Selflessness is necessary sometimes, as a stopgap in a broken society. I've done a lot of selfless things, for people and causes I cared about. But selflessness isn't admirable in and of itself. If anything, it's tragic. Whether because it's necessary to begin with, like in the video I linked to at the start of this essay, or because it ends up hurting you or the people you're trying to help.
It does that whenever it becomes an end in itself.
The more I realize how little I know, and how messed-up my programming is thanks to my upbringing, the less confident I am that it's even possible to be a "good" person in the conventional sense. Not without massive conflicts of interest, and potential for abuse / exploitation.
Instead, I'm trying to be a kind person. Both in the sense that I want to treat others as people, and in the sense that aliaspseudonym referred to in its Xenotheism essay. Where "kindness is goodness," because the most genuinely good thing any person can do is to just be the kind of person they are.
If you don't believe that, then you can't really help anyone anyway.