Why good people do evil things with a clear conscience? Abstraction explained.

We are living in a society that was basically defined by a few people. What I have realized is that many of its failures are based on abstraction.

When I worked for NASA, we were tasked to develop software that had to work on PCs, Apollos, and Macs, different brands of computers with different microprocessors and operating systems. To make life easier for future programmers, we created what is known as an abstraction layer. I was responsible for designing the abstraction layer. Programmers of the PC, Mac, and Apollo wrote their code to the abstraction layer, which looked the same irrespective of computer type. In other words, that abstraction layer hid the differences between the different types of computers. More importantly, it hid how nasty some of the code looked that allowed these platforms to talk to each other.

The magic word here is “abstraction.” It is a great thing for those who only need to worry about interfacing to the abstraction layer. They do not need to be concerned about the intricacies, complications, and nastiness behind the abstraction.

Why did I go into the above narrative? It is a concept that explains why good people can do bad things unbeknownst to themselves. I have been trying to convince my daughter that inherently most people are wired to be good, but an abstraction, intentional or accidental, allows or causes many to do wrong with a clear conscience.

In the aggregate, capitalism, health insurance, and many features of our society are abstractions. The creators of our economic and social systems have created them in a manner that too many of these abstractions allow good people to do evil things without guilt. Interestingly most of the time, the victims (which are most of us) do not even understand the concept and become the defenders of each gradation of lesser victims up the scale because the abstraction of pilfering and bad deeds are so well masked.

This parallel of the abstraction and our society just came to me as I recently had a conversation with several friends with substantial means. I think I will cover this on Monday’s Politics Done Right show. If we can grasp the concept, we can create a real moral egalitarian system without the guilt of ensuring those with means do their part. Once we look under the hood of the abstraction layer, it becomes clear that a large part of that layer is, in fact, legalized theft that continues to exist by ensuring the aggrieved remains oblivious to it.

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  • January 18, 2021