Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."

  • 74%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

  • Google

Blogs I love and/or learn from

« More "Well, Duh" Profundity | Main | "Refund of $63.80" »



A by-product of Mother Theresa's selflessness was being admired and adored by the whole world. Paradoxically, people who crave admiration can get it by working selflessly.


Which makes selflessness something of an oxymoron, eh?!


There is no escape from the Universal Law of Irony.


Some people, such as Christopher Hitchens, had a rather virulent dislike of Mother Theresa.

It strikes me that the saint/sinner dichotomy is as tightly fused together as the two sides of a quarter.

Show me someone with great strengths or gifts, and I'll show you someone with great weaknesses and stark flaws.



I guess -- and perhaps no surprise -- that I don't really agree with this post's reasoning.

For instance, I am in general suspicious of reasoning that, in effect, permanently or universally establishes a pessimistic conclusion. Such a conclusion requires both having a firm grasp of the nature of human nature and where humanity will be in the future. Two things about which there is much disagreement and uncertainty.

For instance, take the notion that "the great are not good. and the good are not great." That doesn't make very much sense to me. Just because some of our supposed greats were not good and that many of them had serious character flaws doesn't translate into logical necessity either then or now.

The model I generally assume -- and it is an assumption -- is that if one steadfastly follows the inner light, all will eventually into fall place. And by this mechanism, the good will expand and become the great -- like Gandhi. I know Gandi had a harsh side to him -- and I think at this point -- the antis will seize on this and say, "Aha, proof that there is no truly good man (or woman)." But I just find that specious. Maybe if Gandhi had lived for several hundred years more, he would have ironed out those flaws. And contra to many, I actually do think that human nature is slowly improving although it is hard to see. Take this analogy. In a copper wire, the current is the (actually quite slow) movement of electrons in the wire -- the drift velocity. However, this small drift velocity is superimposed on a great chaos of extremely rapidly moving electrons due to normal thermal energy. I kind of like to view the divine as superimposing a voltage difference on humanity -- slowly, inexorably, bringing the race forward, despite the sometimes far more noticable swings.

At certain times where there is an appearance of failure of the good, as the reasoning goes, it is likely that the person is question has not garnered enough mastery rather than the good itself has failed to produce.

If you are one fairly good person surrounded by an angry mob, that person is likely to die. But -- as the reasoning would hold -- that's because there just wasn't enough goodness there to overcome the evil. But -- in theory -- a highly advanced adept could, in effect, break the moral sound barrier and not be subject to such a crowd. Like when Mara shots arrows at the Buddha and they became flowers.

Of course, all this is speculative. But, you know, you're gonna have to make some sort of assumptions one way or the other. You can assume that human nature is fixed and that it has a certain level of evil beyond which it will never ever pass. But for me -- I'm like why -- we don't know how far humans can go, we don't know pure we can make a human -- so let's at least leave the question open. If there is a barrier to the level of goodness possible, well, we want to be as close to that glass ceiling as possible.

For me -- I have two modes of thought. In the abstract, I am fiercely optimistic. I see no reason to prematurely declare humanity's permanent failures, nor do I see a reason to weaken the power of the good. It seems far better to imagine -- as I said -- that the person has failed, not that the good itself is either weak, or non-existent, or really not totally good.

HOWEVER, in the concrete, I probably have almost as much skepticism about human nature as you and RealPC does. In the concrete, I am very results-oriented, or at least strive to be. And this is where my moderate political stances come in. On this level, I'm very much in favor of meeting humanity where it is -- though I do favor actions or measures that will enable the ratcheting up of human goodness, or will intersect with that goodness if possible, eking out drop-by-drop more goodness.

If you examine the consciousness of say an Athenian Greek and an American, I think we can see clear moral advancements -- recognition of the dignity of all for instance (women, other races, the poor etc.). Now in some ways, maybe the Athenian had a better grasp of the good -- and if he were Plato, I'm tentatively inclined to agree. But overall, I think we have that drift towards the good. Humanity does learn from its mistakes. The West learned a lot from its wars of religions and we're unlikely to revert to theocracy. And perhaps we've gone too far with the Enlightenment sense of faith in human reason. But then we can dial in a correction, and move a little further forward. To me, human history is a back-and-forth messy spiral slowly approaching the sun.

So maybe RealPC is doing us a favor in trying to force that necessary correction, but I feel that she's (and maybe you) are missing that grand (and messy) upward arc of human progress.

This is a major reason why I disagree with RealPC, she seemed to espouse either a law of conservation of goodness (nothing ever gets better, it just changes) or a law of decline.

Besides, if we're gonna get all new-agey and morphogenetic or whatever -- we're likely to accept that human thought and feeling has power. If so, the drift towards goodness must be inner/divine-driven. We, as a society, have to embrace at least some notion of progress to move forward. We have to allow the divine within to place that voltage difference on our hearts to move us forward. When societies failed to do this, when they idolized the past, they often stagnated. It took a major thrust -- initated by Bacon in many ways -- to get us to stop looking back to the past, to stop looking back to the glory days of Greece and Rome and imagine that we should be builing on those successes, not imagining them to be the height that humanity can achieve.

(BTW, I do recognize that greatness and goodness can be in serious tension. My position is that they need and should not be.)


As is likely clear from my comment above, I'm very much opposed to the light-shadow,two-sides-of-a coin model of the good.

Such a model is given the lie by extreme examples: Gandhi's evil was not on the same level's as Hitler's. There is clear variation in people's goodness -- and I would say that there is variation within one person over time.

I don't think evil and good are in a symbiotic relationship or something. If anything, evil is the perversion of the good. Evil is parasitic on the good.

I think it is far more useful to distinguish good from the void. Void is the absence of good. Whereas good is the plenum of that void. So I might actually subscribe to a light-shadow model, but it would be a model of good/void not good/evil. In this model, evil is taking the plenum of the good and using it to cause harm. Evil too is a plenum of sorts.

While the existence of evil may show the good is starker relief and thus facilitate recognition of the good, that makes no claim on the existential dependence of the good on evil. We must distinguish epistemology from ontology. One could be objectively miserable -- and not know it -- and vice versa. You would feel sad and hate it, but just never know that there was another option.

Another important thing to note is that even were recognition of the good dependent in part on knowledge of evil -- this evil need only be known in the abstract or only to a small degree.

For instance, most of us recognize famine and torture as bad though few of us have been starved or been tortured. Just extrapolating from the hunger pangs that let us know we need to eat -- or one day where we miss dinner -- is probably sufficient for us to get enough grasp on the concept of famine to know it is something to be opposed.

So even were some evil necessary to recognize good, we might not need very much around. History books might get us pretty far.

Sissy Willis

Benedetto comes to mind.


I wrote a comment in response to eusto's that I really loved. Then my computer crashed before I saved it (as it often does on dial-up) and I lost it. You'd think I'd learn to get offline before writing, and then get on and save things instantly, instead of impatiently writing an e-mail to a friend while waiting for the connection to be established.

I'll try to recreate it, but my heart isn't in it. I'd rather smash the computer and then go blow up Apple.

* * *

I kind of like to view the divine as superimposing a voltage difference on humanity

That's as good a description as I've ever read of the working of spirit on nature. In fact it's almost a definition of "God," slowly, subtly, patiently making things ever more complex and conscious against the strong drag of entropy. My friend who was here last week kept saying, "It's incredible that anything exists at all."

To me, evil is the conscious exploitation of entropy. Entropy is neutral -- things fall apart. Evil spurs the process on, tears things apart, rides the gravitational water chute of entropy, and exults in destruction. Its essence is envy -- like Satan. It cannot create -- none of us can, creation is done through us, not by us (as any honest artist knows -- acclaim is a reward for enduring the torture of the process, not for the process itself). Evil, out of spite, refuses to get out of the way and invite creation to happen that it can't take credit for. So it is impotent, and the only way it can feel important is to destroy. A much easier way to feel important than creation, not only because it leaves the self intact (makes it ever smaller and harder, in fact, until it's airless and impenetrable as a diamond) but because things already tend to fall apart, all they need is a little push. You're capitalizing on the inertia of the universe, instead of sacrificing yourself to its conquest. [Now I'm getting going and saying things I didn't say in the lost comment,]

I didn't mean my comment to be pessimistic. It is based on experience. (All ideas are disguised autobiography.) I live with a great man, not in accomplishments but in being, presence, as most people who know him would agree. But like the people reader_iam describes above, he can be almost as greatly awful -- almost -- as wonderful. I am much closer to the mean. Both my good and my bad are half-hearted. I can't be really selfish, so I can't be really generous as only the truly selfish can.

What is good, anyway? I feel clearer about the definition of evil than of good. It isn't total selflessness, certainly, otherwise Jesus would have said "Love thy neighbor instead of thyself." What comes to me spontaneously is that good is being able to be brokenhearted for the sake of others. Jesus and Buddha were brokenhearted for everyone -- Buddha even for the nonhuman.


I have a hard time w/this one, too, amba. Maybe it's too deep for me to get (i'm still in my 30's LOL).

I just don't understand when people talk of others and can't believe the bad w/the good (bad not necessarily meaning evil). I always say- ~That's just him/her~. Of course, i slip at times and am incredulous to others' shortcomings (duh).

It's a human thing. It's a built-in weakness we ALL have and probably the greater goodness one has- the harder one has to fight against the secret badness, if you will; hidden in a dark place w/in one's heart. Not souls- that would be where the evil hides out.

Some fight harder than others, some hardly make a fight and some just plain don't give a shit. And, some are totally clueless to the necessity of a fight in the first place.

I'm glad i'm a mediocre gal. If great, i'd have a target on my back for those who envy greatness and make sure to record every negative human trait i would ever succumbed to. That's probably why it's so easy for a coin to have dirt on one side- it's dropped purposefully by those who can't stand the shiny brightness of true goodness because they are dulled in comparison.

Maybe i'm confused about the good/bad & good/evil, but i can see nothing evil of Michaelangelo for his jealousy or his filthy, stinking body. These are human frailties.

I know eusto will disagree because he's following the inner light and i'm following the Light of the world- but, we both hope to end up better people for it. I just know we can be, but i'll accept my humanity as a drawback- he a drawbar.

If only i could dare to be great and get away w/ doing it anonymously!!!


"A much easier way to feel important than creation, ... because things already tend to fall apart, all they need is a little push. You're capitalizing on the inertia of the universe, instead of sacrificing yourself to its conquest."

I love your description of evil, amba. I believe it's God's love that creates and holds everything together and, as you said, otherwise it all gives in to entropy. I believe that every instant of our existence is maintained by God's love -- not that we always feel it consciously.

One of my definitions of absolute evil is the complete absence of love. Even when we're feeling the most forlorn, our lives are filled with love that we take for granted. We can't even imagine the absence of love.

I also think it's important to differentiate evil from problems and all the things we perceive as "bad." God's love sustains life, but life is inherently full of problems. It's a creating system that is always making corrections.


real --

that goes with my sister-in-law's (an Episcopal priest) answer to the theodicy question -- "God can't be both all-good and all-powerful, so which is it?" -- "All good -- OF COURSE!"

Is it possible that, like children imagining our parents/progenitors are omnipotent because it makes us feel safe, we need to grow up and get over it? We are not safe, but we are loved and guided. We have almost magical help and protection if we know how to avail ourselves of it. Can it protect us infallibly from all dangers? No. It can empower us to survive the worst life can do and not be completely broken. And heal.


Atheists often argue that there can't be a God because bad things happen to people. They think a god's job would be to make life safe and comfortable for every one of us, at all times.

God is good because He (no sexism intended) is there for us, to keep entropy at bay as we take our short journeys in time. Existing in time has to be a constant struggle -- we should thank God for this chance to struggle, not blame Him for not making it easy. (Why would we even bother to come here if it was going to be an easy workers' paradise?)

And, as you say, God is there for us each time we lose a battle with entropy.

Karl Zipser

One of the most celebrated works by Michelangleo in the British Museum is probably a copy by another artist. I explain why in an analysis of the Michelangelo Drawings exhibition.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

New on FacTotem, my Natural History Blog

Jacques' Story: Escape From the Gulag

The AmbivAbortion Rant

Debating Intelligent Design


  • Listed on Blogwise

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 08/2004