How “The Good Place” Kinda Messed Me Up
Posted on October 13, 2020 Posted by Athena Scalzi 58 Comments
Do you ever wonder about life after death? If you’ve ever seen The Good Place, you know that their version of the afterlife is based on a point system that determines a person’s goodness. When a person dies, they either have negative or positive points, depending on what they did in their lifetime, and that score determines whether or not a person goes to “the Good Place” or “the Bad Place”. It’s very much like a Heaven and Hell sort of thing, but without the religion/faith aspect and just based purely on if you were a good person in your lifetime or not.
For me, I’ve always believed there’s nothing after death. But I really like the idea that the only qualification for a nice eternity is that you’re a decent person. But it makes me wonder about how many points things are worth. In the first episode, they mention that you even get good points for making a sandwich! Does that mean that Subway workers get a shit ton of free good points? Is anyone who works at Jimmy John’s for ten years guaranteed to get into “the good place” even if they do a lot of bad stuff just because they’ve been racking up points for years?
I’ve only seen the first season of The Good Place, so maybe all of this gets explained later on (or maybe I just don’t remember since I watched it when it came out), but it really makes me wonder which actions are better than other actions? Is it better to give money to a person standing on the corner with a sign asking for help, or is it better to offer to buy them a meal? Is it better to volunteer at an animal shelter or adopt a highway? What gets you more points, helping an old lady carry groceries, or helping your neighbor change a tire?
Who is the decider of how many points something is worth? Who dictates what is a good action and what is a bad action?
Anyways, I’ve lived my entire life not believing in an afterlife, so I didn’t really think of whether or not my actions would affect anything like that, except maybe in the ways of like, “karma is a bitch”. But after watching The Good Place, I started thinking about the point value of every single one of my actions. Like obsessively. Would doing this make me go into the negatives? How close am I to zero right now? Would doing this give me a substantial boost of positive points? Of course, I didn’t actually base my decisions off of these thoughts, but they still nagged at me constantly, and still do, two years later.
I keep thinking, if I died right now, would I go to “the Good Place”? But I guess people often think that about Heaven and whatnot as well. I wonder if right now I’m in the negatives, or if I’ve been a good enough person in my life to be in the green, y’know?
I don’t want to say I’m worried about it, but it definitely makes me think. I want to be a good person so badly. But I worry that every good thing I do is actually just performative, that I do it just in case it gets me good karma. Just in case someone is keeping score. I want to be selfless and generous and kind, but if I do anything that is considered “a good deed” am I really doing it because I’m a good person, or am I doing it because I want other people to think I’m a good person? I mean, I do want people to think I’m a good person. But I don’t want that to be my only reason for doing “good” things.
In The Good Place (spoiler), one of the characters did a ton of good things in their lifetime, but she didn’t it for the right reasons, so she ended up in the bad place despite having done a bunch of stuff that should’ve gotten her positive points. I worry I’m like her a lot.
The Good Place legitimately made me reevaluate my life and all the choices I’ve made. Which is kinda whack. I definitely want to watch the other seasons, I just haven’t gotten around to it.
Anyways, have a good day!
Don’t give Athena spoilers with information about subsequent seasons, please. She’ll catch up.
So… who wants to tell her about [very mild spoiler deleted — JS]?
(You should really watch the rest and avoid spoilers about it!)
This might interest you:
On September 17, 2019, before the final season of the show, I went to WBUR CitySpace in Boston to hear philosopher Lydia Moland interview Michael Schur (the show creator) and William Jackson Harper (Chidi) about The Good Place. The discussion was about morals and ethics, and at the end Schur gave a primer on how to be good.
Someone asked him how we in the audience could increase the points earned in the world. He said that the show would say as long as you are simply trying to be a better person you are increasing the points in the world. He said there are four basic questions to ask oneself every day that will help you become a better person:
1. What am I doing?
2. Why am I doing it?
3. Is there something better I can do?
4. And if so, what is it?
Those are rather basic questions. But sometimes the world is so confusing we need to return to the basics.
Anyway, it seems like something you’d want to know, given what you have said here.
You’ve made a solid argument in favor of believing in oblivion upon demise. Anything else is too complicated. And exhausting.
I think watching all the seasons of The Good Place, and then thinking about it a lot, will definitely score you a lot of points.
I think you’ll be interested to see just how much later seasons of the show answer the very questions you have about this system :)
I stopped watching after five episodes because of this. Littering? Really? I think this show is for people who have lived charmed lives (not a bad thing, I’m jealous). When you were sexually abused as I child, it’s hard to consider something like swearing as a big deal. I wear my nightshirt & sleep pants to Walmart, have they covered that yet? #sorrynotsorry
I’ve thought the same thing after watching The Good place. But if anything it makes me even more scared… like one wrong thing can send me down to The Bad Place. There’s like this expectation that I would have be the most ideal perfect person and then I would have some chance at getting into The Good place lol
@FaeryDesign – part of the problem with this show is that it’s impossible to answer questions like you have (or even some of the questions Athena raised) without spoiling the hell out of the show.
The short answer is that yes, all of that gets covered. Swearing, littering, taking off your socks on a plane, wearing pajamas as outwear, even things as complicated as murder, emotional abuse and parental abandonment. (I honestly don’t recall if sexual abuse was mentioned outright, though – and for what it’s worth, I hope your abuse is enjoying the tortures of the Bad Place.)
The Good Place is a show that needs to be watched, in full, all four seasons, to understand. Giving up after five episodes is akin to walking out of Citizen Kane or the Sixth Sense before the reveal – you end up missing the part that makes everything make sense.
I do hope you give it another watch – and if not, there are copious reviews that discuss the show (with and without spoilers) to give you an idea; I remember the AV Club’s reviews tended to be pretty thoughtful and got the main points across.
As to the premise, good points vs bad points, it all comes down to a judgement call. One huge judgement upon a human soul ‘outside the pearly gates’ in three seconds, or hundred of thousands of smaller ones over the course of decades. I resent transactional mode of such micro-judgements but will concede that relying upon one snap mega-judgement being worst yet.
In an effort to avoid being malleted, I carefully choose words; I would sum up the show by pointing out Ted Danson actually did something quite credible in this series. Delightful range and effective in his character projection. There were a number of wonderfully ridiculous moments that actually brought me to laugh aloud, which I wish I could mention. Huh. I guess I’ll have to go back now and re-binge ’em by myself.
Really need a laugh this week. I would so enjoy being allowed to watch Donald Trump being ushered into The Bad Place when at long last he dies in 2045 or however long it takes him to drown in his own bile after being dragged out of the White House on 20JAN21.
Ooops. Does that constitute ‘spoilers’, mentioning that (a) Donald Trump is headed for hell? and (b) he’s gonna get his arse spanked when all the votes are tabulated?
I’m still watching the final season. I think perhaps the premise of the show got to you so intensely because you don’t yet have a baseline morality and ethics philosophy of your own. You’re still working it out. In the absence of the acceptance of a religious default, one must work it out for themselves…what kind of person you wish to be, and how to accomplish that.
It took me about 40 years to reduce mine to two precepts:
1. Live life with as little harm as possible to yourself, and others around you, including plants, animals, and the earth.
2. Never lie to yourself about anything, including the harm you cause.
This recognizes that all decisions will probably cause harm to someone, or something, but you should choose the lesser harm, if possible. This is not an easy philosophy to live by, as brutal honesty with oneself, and the need to evaluate choices thoroughly are all work. Worth it, though. I think it’s helped me raise an admirable human being, and change the nasty, hurtful person I was as a teen & young 20’er, into a person who is kind to those around her.
And as for the afterlife, I figure it’s like before you were born, only longer.
All I’ll say is: go binge the rest of the series. I can’t *wait* to hear your updated thoughts once you have!
(And for what it’s worth, I consider The Good Place one of the top two shows ever made for television. The other is Deadwood. I probably won’t fight ya, but I might send someone else to…)
“I’ve only seen the first season of The Good Place, ”
I was so close to posting some spoilers.
You really need to lead with that. When you’ve finished the whole series, we’ll talk.
Along with everyone else, I’d say to definitely watch ALL the rest of the episodes before making any decisions on how things work on the show. And once you’re done (and for everyone else who’s already watched the entire show), I’d suggest watching one more video from The Film Theorists channel. I won’t link to the video because the title and thumbnail are too spoilery, but here’s the link to the channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/FilmTheorists), and the video was published on Feb. 20, 2020. There’s also a great tweet by someone named Louisa who tweeted “2020, @nbcthegoodplace style. This is my greatest work to date.” It’s one of those 9-square things that were popular in August of this year where each square was a gif for the month. It’s also spoilery so I’ve broken the link here by putting a space in the middle between the .com and the rest of the URL. Just copy it and remove the space.
I really recommend the later seasons of the show! It covers alot of these questions.
It’s really great that you’re thinking about the impact of your actions and how to be a better person. The main thing, IMO, is that alot of these actions are worth doing regardless of whether there is some heavenly reward for them or not.
Okay… no spoilers. Ugh, this is going to be hard. lol
I went into it having no idea what to expect and thought it would be a little silly and superficial, but perhaps a good show to kick back and veg out to. Instead, it became one of my all-time favorite episodic tv shows, mostly because it’s such a great examination of legitimate moral philosophy in a way that makes it feel real and tangible. I’m also an atheist and don’t believe in an afterlife, but ultimately that didn’t matter because they were talking about what it means to be a good, kind and moral human being, something that’s easy to lose sight of in these days.
End the end, it was a show that had me crying my eyes out after the series finale, mostly because I was saying goodbye to an amazing cast of characters that I had grown to love and respect.
It’s a great show.
“I worry that every good thing I do is actually just performative, that I do it just in case it gets me good karma.”
I firmly believe that it’s what you do that matters, not why you did it. That goes for both good and bad deeds. (No, I don’t believe in the insanity defense.) Because your actions affect the world; your reasons don’t, unless expressed in actions.
Whether you do a good deed because you think it will get you some kind of karmic brownie points, or because you fear the wrath of God, or because you just happened to be in a good mood and felt like sharing it, the important thing is that your good deed made the world a better place. That’s all that really matters.
I love the Good Place! It started as a fun watch but then crept into my lifeview, too. Could I encourage you to blog again when you’ve finished, so we can all dish about it? I have things to say and few people in my life who’ve watched it. And most random assemblies of people on the internet would not be as good quality discussion as I think you’d get here.
More recently, and not as quality, I also got quite a bit out of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist about choices made, though that was more as an older adult with aging parents. (Also my mom had PSP. I ugly cried and it was cathartic and fixed some part of me. But was often light-hearted and fun, too. Recommended to anyone reading this who might need it.)
My thoughts are that you should do good for goods sake, because it is the right thing to do. I try to practice by doing the right thing when no one is watching, to make it a habit that I will do without thinking. I know quite a few people who are so thoughtful without thinking about it it has made me want to be that way.
2 things. First the good place is incredibly well written and worth the time to see thru to the end.
Second at your age I knew everything, I’m older than your father and know less each day, but I know if I am a good person simply because it is the right thing to do I feel better and that is my personal definition of karma.
Being a bit cynical, do I gain or lose points for questioning exactly who is declaring the point levels?
That illustration makes me laugh, anyway. Negative pots for rooting for the NY Yankees? Has to be a Red Sox fan on the board ;-)
Throughout The Good Place series, every character remains true to themselves. They are who they are. How they’re judged however does change, which for me was far more interesting than seeing yet another typical tale of individual redemption.
It’s also hilarious and occasionally touching. And Ted Danson is fabulous. Cheers!
Oops points not ‘pots’, spellcheck has been ‘improved’ again…
This is the age for figuring things out – keep doing it.
There’s a chunk from a book introduction about C.S. Lewis that might apply, though, to the calculations:
“We had been talking about one of our favorite books, Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur,” and I mentioned how disappointed I felt sometimes when, say, Sir Launcelot went out to deliver a helpless lady from some peril or other. Then, just at the point when you can’t admire him enough for his selflessness, he explains to someone, as though it was the most natural thing in the world, that he is doing it to “win worship” – that is, to increase his reputation. We recognized it as an inheritance from Paganism. Without intending any embarrassment, I asked Lewis if he was ever aware of the fact that regardless of his intentions he was “winning worship” from his books. He said in a low, still voice, and with the deepest and most complete humility I’ve ever observed in anyone, “One cannot be too careful *not* to think of it.”
I guess: please! Do good things! Do not do bad things! (and, as a Christian, I think there are some solid ways to work towards that and some solid assistance in doing good things that are available to everyone.) But also, probably, get somewhere that you can do the things and *not* be doing them “to be a good person” or “for karma” but because they are good things to do.
I mean, as a kid, presumably you sometimes picked up litter simply because it doesn’t belong there – it wasn’t *right* in some impalpable way to have that fry box sitting beside the park garbage can instead of in it – and you could fix that to fix that, not for praise or because it would give you points or something. Pick up the litter because it doesn’t belong there and because you can, and not for points. Do the right thing because it is the right thing; abstain from doing the wrong thing because it is the wrong thing. Yes, figure out what are good things to do and what are bad things to do! But we can’t add up our own points, and I don’t think trying to do so is likely helpful to actually doing good. Love your neighbors (in the extended meaning) as yourself, and you get a motive that’s both much more challenging to complete and much less brain-twisty to compute than a roster of positive and negative points.
When college (eventually) resumes take an ethics course–probably offered through the philosophy department. Spend some time going over what great thinkers have been gnawing on in regards to ethical behavior since the time of Plato. It would be well worth your while in terms of becoming an educated person.
I’m about to do a FaceBook “study” group, episode by episode, of The Good Place. There’s so much there that’s wonderful. If life after physical death piques your curiosity, NDEs described by people who’ve had them are fascinating. In the end, it is a mystery.
Who knew moral philosophy could be so much fun? The whole series is such a treat. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I’ve rewatched it several times, and I get something new out of it each time.
Hi Athena! I haven’t watched The Good Place, but I know from personal experience that thinking obsessively about morality can mess a person up, so I’ll add my two cents’ worth. Hold onto anything in this that is useful to you, and let the rest go.
One thing I’ve found helpful when I’m obsessing a little about whether I’m doing enough good things, or the right good things, is the imagery of Psalm 1. It says that a righteous person “is like a tree that is planted by water streams, yielding its fruit in season.” What I love about this image is that it reminds me that being good isn’t ultimately about counting up good and bad deeds, but about growing into a person who is so rooted in goodness, rooted in what Christians call grace, that good deeds flow naturally from who you are. Of course, on the way to getting there it’s useful and necessary to think hard about what the right things are, and check in with yourself periodically about whether you are doing them. But checking in (“examining your conscience”) is a means to an end, not the end itself.
With regard to one’s motive for doing good deeds, my own opinion is that motives are important primarily because they often influence the manner in which you do whatever you’re doing. It’s definitely worth asking yourself periodically, “Am I doing this because I genuinely think it’s the right thing to do? Or because it will win me public approval? Or because it gives me a feeling of control or usefulness?” (That last is my personal favorite bad motive.) But it’s also worth remembering that, as Samuel Johnson wrote, “To act from pure benevolence is not possible for finite beings. Human benevolence is mingled with vanity, interest, or some other motive.” And I have found that when I do some good deed for imperfect reasons or with an imperfect attitude, the act of doing it often does more to change my attitude for the better than any amount of introspection would. Those experiences have helped me learn to trust that if I try to do good, however imperfectly, through doing so I will grow in my ability to discern what is good and to do it.
When it comes to “Is it better to do good deed A or good deed B?”, I also have spent far too much time asking this type of question. Eventually I realized that even if two good deeds can be ranked like that (often they can’t), the marginal value of doing slightly-better-good-deed-B over good-deed-A is generally far smaller than the cost in time, energy, and sanity of deciding which good deed is better. It’s wiser to just pick one and do it. A question I find more useful these days is whether some particular good deed is mine to do. As in, do I have some particular ability, inclination, or responsibility to do it? Or just a strong sense that “this is something I need to do”? If so, I try to pay attention to that.
I see that while I was writing this, lots of other people gave you lots of good advice. Thanks for writing a thoughtful piece that kicked off a good discussion! Hopefully you find something in people’s responses that you can use :)
I’d like to think that making a sandwich for someone who’s hungry but time-poor (or just poor), with the extra black pepper because you know they like it, would put you ahead. Slapping together a 6-inch sub to customer order for an hourly wage, on the other hand, possibly not quite as far ahead?
I say this as someone who hadn’t heard of The Good Place until you mentioned it.
From other comments, it seems that the show accounts for characters’ intentions, and maybe for identical actions with completely different unintended consequences, in some way. I’m curious enough to look into it once I finish House of Cards.
As a side comment, I enjoyed the Good Place because it lead a lot of Atheists to think about the afterlife. I’m not saying they are wrong, but pondering about the right and wrong belief system is what the show is about aka philosophy, showing you your own perspective. I believe it’s a good transition into religion, and that’s why they left it out. Because in searching for what is right or wrong, hopefully you come across what you need to.
I’ve never watched The Good Place, but your questions themselves really got me thinking.
First, let me second andybaird1’s comment about consequentialism. As ethical meta-systems go, it’s a decent place to start.
Second, let me, uh, second the suggestion that you take an Ethics course when you return to college. We only studied Mill and Kant in my ethics course (thirty years ago!), and, if you’ll pardon a computer science student’s summary, neither of their ethical systems really worry about motives — for Mill, if it improves general happiness, it’s ethical; for Kant, if it promotes the Kingdom of Ends, it’s ethical (imagine a world where everyone acted ethically only because they’re trying to keep their points up — I don’t think there’s any problem with that).
Third, it seems to be that you’re gotten yourself playing a variant of Pascal’s Wager: To summarize, Pascal argued that the risk/reward payoff is much higher if you believe in God, simply so that you can get into heaven on the off chance it exists (and have only wasted a little effort if it doesn’t) rather than act as though God doesn’t exist and risk eternal damnation and look like a fool to boot. I’ve always consider the Wager to be painfully cynical and imagines a rather small God who satisfied with people who merely pretend to believe, and it’s problematic in that it assumes that there’s only one God you could possibly worship. Having drawn the analogy, I’m not sure it’s at all helpful. Chances are it’s sort of depressing. Sorry.
But anyhow, if you’re asking yourself if you’re doing things just for points, you’re inquiring if you’re doing what you’re doing for the right reasons. That has to be a good thing, right?
The beneficiaries of your goodness are unlikely to care about your motives unless you’re very obvious about them (like glumly helping in a soup kitchen to pad your extracurriculars resume).
I wouldn’t bother diving deeply into moral and ethical quandaries. Evolution gave us an axis on which we place pure altruism on one end and pure selfishness on the other, because both are useful survival traits. We end up somewhere on that scale, sometimes moving left or right as our feelings drive us. Animals are the same. Even cells are the same. If you want to do good, you’re already positioned on the altruism side.
Consider the trolley problem. (Oh, you’ll see!)
When Jesus spoke he gave practical reasons for doing good, (such as a better place in heaven) but I think he did so solely to meet people where they are at. Like when I see teenagers who “are at” doing things because of cost-benefit to them, the reward or what they can get out of doing something.
Adults, one hopes, as I think Jesus knew, have put childish things aside… but only after first being me-me-me practical.
My favourite adults all do things out of ethics, principles and doing “the right thing” without calculation. And without points. I suppose the 12 steps of AA could be a form of growth, as in oblivious child, to considering others, (such as making amends) to being adult, where one ends up doing the “helping others” step 12.
I believe there was a character in SF who was, by all internal measures, a bad person – egotistic, uncaring, all that – and who was also a telepath. They would bend all their efforts to helping and easing a mind in pain because the thoughts hurt them, too. It’s a logical extension of no man being an island. Would he go to the bad place?
I loved the good place and how it shows all kinds of philosophical problems. Although the first season was the best IMHO.
But I’m also an agnostic who believes in God but doesn’t believe there’s (currently) a way to prove their existence. For me, it follows from that that God and the afterlife should not have any bearing on my actions. I try to be a good person, but what ‘good’ is, I feel should be determined by reason, not by a nebulous point system.
Doubting what is good and what isn’t is a part of that; it forces you to educate yourself. Some people want the easy way out, following religious texts — or orange-faced leaders — promising a simple point system, without doubting or questioning. That’s where the negative points from, in my book, not good intentions with bad results.
I say: keep thinking, keep worrying, and always be the best you can be.
I have never seen the show but understand your thinking.
In my view, considering your actions and assessing your motivations and the outcomes of your decisions is exactly how you get on the path to the good place.
Good things for anyone to consider, at any age.
I’m with you; we get one time on the merry go round, and that’s all.
Ethically, what we do in hope of reward (in this life or “the next”) is suspect. A major problem with religiously motivated behavior!
However, what I tell my own kids (who are all, honestly, better and kinder people than I) is that it is what you do that counts. If you do good while seething with the urge to do bad, you have actually chosen good. If you do good because you want the regard of others, you have still chosen doing good as the way to gain that regard. (It speaks to your moral core that you would think of doing good as a path to the desired regard).
So, if you choose to do good, you are, actually, good enough. Even if your motives are murky, or give you pain and feed self doubt. What you choose to do is who you are.
When you help someone even if you resent doing so, you have chosen to help.
When you speak kindly even while wanting to offer scathe, you have spoken kindly.
And on from there. What we do in the world has consequence; our internal chaos is our own. That my internal multitudes are bad and selfish and judgemental and ugly and self-involved matters only if they determine what I actually do. If I deny them and act to the good as I understand good, then I can lay claim to being “a good person,” if there is such a thing.
And “The Good Place” is a delight. Which I have not finished, as I’m waiting to watch the final episodes with one of my daughters.
I second Andy on the point that what you try to do is important, and why you do it is less important. You said you want to be a good person, but you worry about doing good things only in case someone is keeping a count. I think that level of introspection is something a not-good person wouldn’t be capable of. And the trying is important, thinking about what things are good. I think worrying about it being performative is less relevant. If someone is doing good things only to appear good, they’re rarely worried about that.
People here have been quoting great philosophers and scripture. I’ll go into a completely different direction. There’s a short passage in an old X-Men comic where Illyana Rasputin, who’s well on her way to becoming a demon at that point, has a discussion with Magneto, who’s trying to reform from his criminal ways. She’s struggling with herself, the evil side, and tries to explain – “I’m naturally evil. I’m only good when I try to be.” And Magneto says: “Listen to yourself: ‘I’m only good when I try to be’. That’s all any one of us can do. If you stop trying, you’ll become a demon – if I stop trying, I’ll become an evil mutant. The important thing is to keep trying.”
One thing I’ve noticed is that my motivations for doing something are seldom just one thing or another. Humans are very good at developing rationales for what they want to do, and can easily tailor their rationale to fit the expected or wanted purpose.
If I did/want to do something nice for some of my more crotchety or “I don’t need no help from anybody” friends or relatives, I can almost always come up with a ‘selfish’ reason for why I did so, or at least a reason why it wasn’t anything extra I did for them (e.g. I was getting up to go get something for myself anyway, so it’s no trouble to get you some tea or a shawl or a cookie too); and there’s nothing to say that that self-interested motivation was not as much a part of the impulse that made me get up and fetch the shawl as just seeing they were cold and knowing that getting up hurts their knees.
Sometimes I can see that both parts of the motivation aren’t equal, or at least influenced the timing unequally, but that doesn’t mean both parts weren’t part of the (subconscious) decision making.
E.g. I bought a new fridge-freezer so my 2 years old one could go to my temporarily nearly-broke aunt who needed a new one after moving house, but also because I wanted more freezer space (which is the reason I gave her). Without the motivation occasioned by her move, I’d have waited a lot more years before upgrading, but I needed that honest wish for a freezer-space upgrade to justify handing my old one on to her, as she would not have accepted the gift of a new one.
So it’s okay to think about your motivations, but it’s more important to think about the consequences of your actions.
Doing something for a good motive that has bad consequences should teach one to think about the consequences of one’s actions, not to doubt one’s motives.
And the inverse too: doing something for a bad reason which turned out to have good effects doesn’t mean one should feel encouraged to do more things for bad reasons.
Being an atheist I’ve always tried to live by the adage “do as you would be done by” *while taking into account the preferences/needs of the other person*.
Some people take that first part too literally, saying that what I would want/need in those circumstances is not what someone else would want/need. That’s not the point, and anyone who isn’t rules-lawyering can understand that.
Theoretical simple scenario: if you’re hungry and would like a sandwich but don’t have the time or the fixings, making you a sandwich is what I would like you to do for me in similar circumstances. But if I love bacon sandwiches and you’re a vegetarian, making you a bacon sandwich does not address your need in the way it would for me in the opposite scenario. So I should make you a PBJ (which you like but I don’t) instead of a BLT sandwich, fulfilling your need in the same way I would want you to do for me, e.g. holding to the rule in spirit, but not to the letter of providing the same details.
That could be reduced to a ‘selfish’ motive for everything I do, the same as for religiously motivated people: I treat others decently in the hope they will treat me decently, rather than in the hope of going to Heaven or gaining approval from the gods (or the bean-counters in the Good Place show). The end result is trying to live a good life, and trying to enable others to do the same. I think that end result is more important than nuances of motivation, which are mutable anyway.
That said, trying to become a person who does good things by default, instead of defaulting to the easiest or most self-serving action, is a very worthwhile endeavor. If the introspection as a result of watching the Good Place shows help you with developing that habit, that is a worthwhile thing too, as long as it doesn’t get to dominate your life.
I loved this show, and also I thought in the first season that they really had no sustainability, because how much can you say with this premise. And then every single season they came up with a totally new box of thoughts. Honestly, so many TV shows are just one plot over and over, and this wound up looking like they actually had a 4 season plan and fulfilled it beautifully.
As far as an actual judgmental afterlife, IF there is an omnipotent omniscient creator god, then that god is responsible for the way you were created, the way you think and act, so not your fault. I think of it as, after the play is over, both the villain and the hero are judged by how well they played their part.
But don’t use that as an excuse to be the villain in real life!
Evidently mistakenly believing that Blake Bortles is the worlds best QuarterBack doesn’t get you tons of points. Even though having to root for Blake Bortles sounds more like the Bad Place to me.
While trying to avoid spoiler territory, I can really only say that you definitely want to watch the remaining seasons, for reasons already discussed above. Also, this show is about the best continuing-ed ethical philosophy course you could hope for, and is worth watching for that reason alone.
Thinking about points, I’m reminded of the scene in Good Omens where Crowley, Hastur, and Ligur are recounting the Deeds of the Day: the old-school demons brag about tempting a politician and chipping away at a priest’s faith (high impact but narrow scope), while Crowley’s accomplishment is tying up London’s cellular network at lunchtime (low impact but massive scope). The Good Place point system in reverse, if you will.
Apologies for the double post…another relevant parallel comes from somewhere in the OSC Enderverse (which I can understand anyone choosing not to read, for Reasons). One of the characters is a psychopath, but for personal reasons wants to be seen as a good person. They constantly question every single decision they make, asking “What would an actual good person do in this situation?” Consequently, they spend the majority of their life acting indistinguishable from a good person–for strictly selfish reasons.
The way to be sure you’re doing what you believe to right for non-performative reasons is to assess your inner motivations – which it looks like you have. Congratulations on that. Most people never bother, and the results can be plainly seen in the world. The second step is to tend your internal garden in such a way as to make your motivations pure. Metaphors, sheesh! So, in a less analogous sense, you observe your internal process and shift it until you simply exist in the way in which you believe is in line with whatever your definition of “right” is. So, acting rightly becomes a fuction of your being, and is done without effort or motive. I recommend reading J. Krishnamurti – or watching his youtube recordings, (he’s been dead for nearly 40 years). You may find his talks enlightening on the subject of your concern. Good luck on your journey.
I read the OP. I read the thread. I’ve never watched a moment of the show. But I bet I can write the spoiler: the important thing is not the answers, it’s the questions.
People have been urging you to take an ethics course, which might not be a waste of time. It might even be fun! Consider also looking more deeply into the concept of “karma” in the societies where it comes from. It’s not a theory of justice.
“Just in case” someone is keeping score? Based on what you wrote, it seems like there’s very definitely someone keeping score – you! No matter what third-party supernatural consequences one does or doesn’t believe in, you’ve got to face up to first-party judgement on a daily basis.
I’d advise that you try to train future-you to be a “strict but fair” judge that takes into consideration past-you’s actions (did you cause harm?), circumstances (how reasonable/achievable would it have been to have caused less harm?), intentions (did you actually mean to cause harm?) and effort (did you bother thinking about what harm it could cause?). Strict’s good because otherwise, if you anticipate that future-you will give past-you an easy pass on being an awful person, it’s easier to become lax in your present efforts. Fair’s good because otherwise, if you anticipate that future-you will castigate past-you for even the slightest misstep, you risk being afraid to take no steps at all.
First step in such future-you-training is engaging in some healthy introspection (the second step being to make a habit of it), so it sounds like you’re already headed in a good direction!
Whenever I think about The Good Place and its incredible first season, I always mentally note that I find in immensely appropriate that the season finale aired on January 19, 2017. The night before the inauguration of Donald Trump.
Sidenote: The show continues to be amazing.
So if you do want to contemplate the question of a points system leading to an afterlife of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, this shows does provide a great starting point for this. It also answers some of the questions like about Subway and Jimmy John’s employees. And does so in the format of a 30 minutes sitcom.
It goes into way more depth of philosophical discourse than any show I’ve ever seen. And since the points system in this shows is designed by this show, it also covers questions of whether this is a good or a bad system.
Once you get back into the show (I encourage a full restart too), you’ll see more and more of the philosophical thinky bits coming out but coming out through actions versus exposition.
SyFyWire also had a very solid weekly recap of each episode the entire run of the series that I found as a great day or so after review to pick up things I missed during the weeks run.
It remains one of my favorite shows with an all time best finale.
The top reason I loved The Good Place was that it grappled with questions like this! How often does television engage with questions of right and wrong in such a direct and nuanced way? I also loved that it genuinely made me laugh and the performances were amazing. At the end of Season One, I was also thinking that I didn’t know where they could go from here. They found ways of making every season push the questions further.
I think impact matters much more than intent. Examining intent, though, helps us be more aware and creative in finding ways to have a good impact. So these are very worthy questions! Thanks for asking them and thanks for sharing them!
As however many people have said above – this show is well worth watching all the way through. The episodes are short, so it’s easy to binge through several in a row.
To me it started out as cotton candy – sweet, but no real substance. By the end of the first season it took an effort of will to take a break to the next day. It brings out all the feels and I can’t recommend it enough.
If you only watched the first season, you missed the Trolley Problem and the big reveal about how many people actually get in to the Good Place.
You need to remedy that ASAP. The Trolley Problem is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Also Maya Rudolph’s star turn as Judge Hydrogen.
I think you can break down the choice in these discussions as being between the journey and the destination. To me, the journey is what matters, and I’ve tried to act accordingly. When I do something good for someone else, it makes me feel good, not in a “hey look at me” way, but in a “I was able to help someone” way, but that’s who I am and it’s at least partly because of how I was raised. Based on what I’ve seen online of your parents, you have excellent role models. You can also ask yourself, when you post on social media, do you post so you get as many likes as you can, or because you genuinely hope the people who see what you post will be somehow better off because of it, whether that’s information, humor, or whatever? That’s really true here, because there are no like buttons on this blog, so it takes more effort to call out someone’s post as something you liked, rather than just a quick click. That said, I particularly liked the post above by B. Adams (https://whatever.scalzi.com/2020/10/13/how-the-good-place-kinda-messed-me-up/#comment-884092) and I think their advice is excellent.
If you can find it (Google, YouTube, etc.) check out Father Guido Sarducci, of Saturday Night Live fame, on “Pay For Your Sins.” Based on the Pope’s encyclical, “Vita est Lavorum”–“life is a job”–it turns out that we’re all accruing a balance in Heaven ($14.50 per day)…but we get fined for each sin. End up with a positive balance, and you’re in…but if it’s negative…be prepared for a warm welcome elsewhere…
I’m a fan of the reincarnation predicted by cartoonist Dan O’Neill (q.v.) — coming back as a salamander in the Yuba River.
Alternatively I could be a Frisbeetarian and choose to believe that at death the soul ends up on the neighbor’s roof forever …..
Oooohhhh, are YOU in for a TREAT with the rest of the show!
I’ll echo the recommendation of other folks that you’ve got a lot to look forward to in the remaining 3 seasons. There keeps being more than initially meets the eye.
I think I can talk about a few things at or near the start that wouldn’t count as spoilers, though. I think it’s the very first episode where Michael shows a picture of Doug Forcett on the office wall, noting both that he’d guessed a lot correctly about how the afterlife works, and that it was significantly different from what the major world religions supposed. That seems to me correct with respect to the Good Place afterlife that you’ve seen so far. The Christian theologians I’m familiar with are pretty clear that the judgment of one’s ultimate bad-or-good-place fate is is fundamentally *not* based on a points-for-actions system, and while I can’t claim to be as familiar with other religions, I can’t think of a major present-day religion that preaches an afterlife that works essentially that way.
A few episodes in, the book “What We Owe to Each Other” is introduced. (It’s the title of the 6th episode; I don’t recall if the book itself gets mentioned earlier.) I haven’t yet gotten around to reading it in full, though I’d like to. Having read an interview with the author, and some other discussions of the book, it sounds like it raises a number of issues and ethical ideas that also come up at various points in the series, including some different ways of thinking about what’s important in one’s existence.
I loved the series from start to finish and how it ended was a great way to go about explaining their concept of the afterlife. If only it were real…