Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Golden Rule

Everyone learned the Golden Rule as a child. It is the ethic of reciprocity. It may be worded different ways, but always means: "Treat others how you'd like others to treat you". It's called "golden" for the value in it's universality and simplicity. A child can understand it, because it captures all of humanity's virtues: fairness, equality, empathy, justice.

Sometimes, we take simple things for granted. We've got religions with commandments and thousands of laws written, yet consistently applying the ethic of reciprocity would encapsulate all of that. Whether you raise your child christian, pagan, or atheist... teaching a child the Golden Rule would be the only moral compass needed to see how being a cheat, hypocrite, killer, or thief is wrong.

This discussion gets interesting when you bring it into the adult world where money, power, and politics enter the equation for individual decisions. Crafty adults bend a "do unto others" justification around what they seek for personal gain. These explanations always bastardize the Golden Rule, ignoring the fact that preferences aren't universal. All people are different. For this reason, the Golden Rule is first and foremost an ethic of individual rights.

Consider examples:
  • A drug prohibitionist says "Make drugs illegal because I'd want people to stop me from doing drugs.". What does the drug prohibitionist say when his cheeseburgers are restricted by a vegan?
  • A socialist who says "We need to take from the rich, and give to the poor". What does the socialist say when his home is robbed by someone poorer than them?
  • A neo-conservative says "We need to occupy Iraq, because ...". What does the neo-conservative say when his homeland is invaded and occupied by another country?
Perhaps in each case, the advocate for "doing unto others" would attempt to justify 'indirect consequences'... such as drugs lead to violence, or a hundred other complicated reasons. The simple hypocrisy remains in each example... they wouldn't like an analogous choice being forced upon them. The Golden Rule prescribes not just 'doing unto others' but 'leaving others alone'. Some may have heard the joke "The Golden Rule = He who has the gold makes the rules". It could be retorted "He who makes the rules, takes the gold". In both cases, the real Golden Rule is being broken.

No comments: