This was an article written by ‘Bharat Ratna’ Jayaprakash Narayan in 1952 in a journal called ‘Freedom First’. It was longer than what I have presented below, and I have cut short and rearranged certain parts to suit the Internet browsing audiences (I did not add anything more, though!). I think this question of whether there are incentives to goodness, is quite very relevant now.
“In days gone by, men tried to be good, impelled by some higher moral force in which they believed; and goodness meant such things as truthfulness, honesty, kindness, chastity, unselfishness, etc. Men felt that it was the highest moral duty to be good.
The important point is that the society provided every individual with the motive to be good; it was the command of religion; of God; it was necessary for one’s highest growth, for self-realization; it brought peace and supreme happiness.
In the present society with the hold of religion gone, faith in God shaken, moral values discarded as dead weights of the dark ages of history, in short, with materialism enthroned in men’s hearts, are there any incentives to goodness left? Indeed, has the question any relevance at all to present facts, problems, and ideals of human society?
I hold emphatically that no other question is more relevant to us today.
The individual asks today why he should be good. He sees all around him evil succeed – corruption, profiteering, lying, deception, cruelty, power politics, violence…. The cleverer he is the more more gifted, the more courageously he practices the new amorality.
In spite of what may be described as the materialistic climate of the present society, men everywhere are engaged in their own different ways of creating heaven upon earth – in remaking, refining, perfecting the human society. But these efforts, even the most idealistic and ambitious, seem however to be shipwrecking on one obdurate rock – human baseness.
Its clearer today, than ever that social reconstruction is impossible without human reconstruction. Society cannot be good unless individual men are good, and particularly those men who form the elite of the society.
Here, then is the crux of the modern problem. Men wish to create, if not ideal, at least a good society. Modern science and technology make that task far easier than ever before.
But what men lack are the tools with which they can make themselves!
Is not man essentially good? Are not most men in every society decent? The answer to that question would be both Yes and No.
Indeed, the very concepts of good and bad are supernatural or super-organic. There is nothing good or bad in nature.
I feel convinced therefore, that man must go beyond the material to find the incentives to goodness.
I do not mean to suggest that all those who profess a philosophy of materialism are vicious and all non-materialists are good. But what I do want to assert is that there is no logic in materialism for the individual to endeavor deliberately to acquire and practice goodness.
Non-materialism, by rejecting matter as the ultimate reality immediately elevates the individual to a moral plane and urges him to endeavor to realize his own true nature and fulfill the purpose of his being. This endeavor becomes the powerful motive force that drives him in its natural course to the good and the true.”
PS: I think that even in the current era that preaches and adores materialism, there are incentives to goodness. Perhaps that may not be so visible, especially in the short term! What do you all think?