Who the hell wants to bear a cross? And yet it seems to be inevitable, if you try to be a good person in a bad world, that you will.
From a standpoint of personal advantage, being good is a sucker’s game. You will be vulnerable to attack and fraud from the malevolent. Being bad does not work out that great either, though. Bad people eventually piss enough other people off that they decide to put them out of business. Numerous mafia types, Pablo Escobar and Saddam Hussein are examples.
Threading some middle ground of being bad enough to get advantage, but not so bad people get fed up and decide to take you out, seems to be the sweet spot. There’s no glamor in that though. And people kind of hate that, you could be like one of the people who can’t even get into hell in the Inferno, or one of those people who gets spit out being neither hot nor cold.
That leaves being good, or attempting it. According to game theory, cooperation evolves when people find cooperation gives them overall better benefit than betrayal, or in more informal language, “screwing people over”.
Experiments show the best strategy for cooperation is “tit for tat”, or always attempting to cooperate first, then doing whatever the other player does- either cooperation or betray.
This is effective because it encourages cooperation, but does not reward bad behavior. It is even more effective because it doesn’t assume bad behavior is permanent, but goes back to cooperation when good behavior returns. The catch is it can never produce a higher score than a strategy that betrays first- it produces overall better results against a variety of players, but can never come out ahead with just one.
Most people are bad or neutral, but the presence of a certain number of good people makes the environment much better than it would be otherwise. This is what is meant by “the salt of the earth”- salt preserves meat and keeps it from going bad.
But- but-, sputters the progressive Christian, we are always supposed to love our enemies and return good for evil! First of all, this is one of those situations where when a progressive says “we” he means “you”. Second, Jesus set a limit to cooperation. Cooperation is supposed to provide a positive outcome, and when it doesn’t you are “throwing pearls before swine”.
So, you don’t need to be a martyr to bad people, but you will suffer. Choosing to behave this way is an existential matter- you can do it because you think it’s the right thing to do, or makes you feel good about yourself, or glorifies God.