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The darn golden rule

January 4, 2009

Everyone loves the golden rule. People of all kinds of religious and even nonreligious persuasions liken it to…well…gold.

I think it’s overrated. And it leads to annoying consequences. But heck, I wrote about this before, so I’ll just copypasta everything I wrote before.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It sounds very nice…if you believe that everyone generally wants the same kind of things. When we make constructs of humanity, we take for granted how similar we are…yet how different we are…so we easily assume, “Everyone wants food; that’s a part of what it means to be human or even any kind of biological creature.” This extrapolates to other things which may or may not be true, “Everyone wants to be social; everyone wants to be a part of a group; everyone wants to have sex; etc.,” which may very well be the norms, but which may not be absolute standards. Even then, people try to say that they should be absolute (well, if someone wants to be alone, they are just shy and they really need to fix this up! Maybe so n’ so needs to get a hormone check to increase his or her libido?)

But even these are ok, because these are at least partially biological concerns. The golden rule’s (mis)application is often simpler: in social issues alone.

Take the believer of x. He’s very happy because of his religion and it has touched his life. He wants to share this good news so that everyone feels it. Others point out, “I really don’t care…seriously, leave me alone.” The believer thinks on this and realizes that before he had this great gift, he wasn’t necessarily ready to accept it either. But due to the acts of someone who was particularly persistent (or some other incident), he eventually received the Truth ™ and now he’s much better for it.

So…a person like this would say…”I’m just treating you as I would want to be treated…how is this bad?”

Well…everyone doesn’t want to be treated the same way. Should the BDSM enthusiast treat others as he or she wishes to be treated? It would introduce a lot of kink and spice to ordinary life, but…no.

At the same time, sometimes people posit a lesser rule…a silver rule, so to speak. Instead of saying: “Treat others as you would want to be treated,” it says “Do not treat others as you would not want to be treated.” Sounds better, right? I would not want pain inflicted on me, so I do not inflict pain upon others. Even for our BDSM fan, even if he does desire this, this is not what motivates his actions…his undesire for other things can direct what he does not do, instead.

The problem with the silver rule, though, is that it requires too little of us. If we were being robbed, we would want someone else to try to jump in and stop the thief. Or do something. But this is a golden rule kind of standard. The silver rule would prevent us from robbing someone (because we would not like to be robbed ourselves), but does not necessarily beckon us to aid. Theoretically, we might say, “Well, I would not like be be ignored in a time like this, so I will not ignore others,” but this is not the catch-all intention of the silver rule.

I think there’s a better rule though…that can compel us to action…instead of doing unto others what we would have them do unto us (which is too self-centered)…why not do unto others what they would have done unto themselves? Can we not believe that people know what they want?

All that glitters is not gold, I guess. I suppose golden rule thinking can’t be eliminated…because at some people, people are going to have some kind of belief that they believe is universally true…and when they do, their actions — regardless of if their beliefs have any real justification — will be carried out in a spirit of Universal Righteousness that cannot be brushed away by relativism.

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7 Comments
  1. Very interesting critique!!

  2. As Hawkgrrrl wrote on another one of my entry’s comments (argh too lazy to seaaarrrccch), I think as well that the Golden rule makes more sense when taken from a general aspect…but at some point you just have to get REALLY REALLY general have something that everyone wants.

  3. Problem is, sometimes what people want for themselves sucks.

  4. My friend’s cousin wants to be left alone in his room 24-7 with his World of Warcraft account, and doesn’t want to be asked to bathe.

  5. :) sometimes, I’d like to be left alone in my room 24-7 (not with WoW, but still) and not asked to bathe.

    If it weren’t for school, work, etc., I think that would be pretty sweet.

    I guess this is a legitimate problem, but then it raises: if someone doesn’t really know what’s best for them, then how much autonomy can or should they really have?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Narratives and the Golden Rule | Main Street Plaza
  2. More thoughts on Golden and Platinum Rules « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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