This post is a response to anonymous questions and comments I receive via SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH) or from private messages. I love responding to these, so if there is something on your mind, good or bad, please send me a message. No subject is off limits and here is a link to previous questions or comments I’ve received and responded to, and I plan on responding to each one, regardless of the subject matter.
How do you reconcile (if at all) your personal moral beliefs with the way you view other people who don’t share those beliefs? I’m specifically referring to moral rules that when broken don’t directly harm other people, if you subscribe to any of those. Have ethical differences gotten in the way of personal relationships?
Hmm, I used to have a larger problem with this than I currently do. When I lived in Washington DC and was entrenched in the “liberty movement” I was trapped in an “us vs. them” mentality. Everyone who saw the world differently, had a different ethical code, acted differently than I thought I would in those circumstances became an enemy to be defeated. Even those who were my political allies were seen as immoral if they focused on politics instead of education, national level instead of local level, economics instead of social. I had entrenched my politics into my view of right and wrong, and I was worse off for it.
At some point, I came to realize that almost* all moral codes are very similar and come back to the principles of Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other, and party on!” We want to have a good life and be treated well. We want a good life for those we love and for them to be treated well. Peace, love, acceptance, comfort, understanding… these are almost universally pursued. The real conflict doesn’t come from having different ethical foundations but from the appropriate applications of those principles. I think, at our foundation, we all have much more in common than differences.
I do get frustrated when people seem to act in conflict with their own code or seem to hold contradictory positions. The first subject to come to mind for me is how we treat animals in our society. If you ask most people whether they think dog-fighting is immoral they would say yes, but many of these same people will then eat bacon regularly. When you break down the two issues you find that they are very similar. They both involve raising animals in terrible conditions and eventual death for the sole purpose of human pleasure and profit, the only difference is the pleasure comes through the mouth for one and through the eyes for another. Both pleasures, the joy of seeing a fight and the joy of eating food, meet in the brain and release similar chemicals. For all intents and purposes, I see them as basically the same thing. Pigs and dogs have similar cognitive abilities and bacon is in no way a dietary necessity. To find dogfighting immoral and call for the imprisonment of those who participate in it but to find no problem with the consumption of pigs and believe pig farmers should remain free is a contradictory position. Additionally, I think there is potentially a classist/racist element in anti-animal fighting laws because they tend to target a non-White, lower socio-economic class population.
That’s just one example though about finding contradictory beliefs frustration. A similar argument could be made for people who want drugs illegal but are okay with alcohol, are pro-life but anti-contraceptive, etc. So, how do I reconcile being friends with people like this? I don’t, and I don’t think I need to. My mind is the only thing I should be concerned with and my own consistency is all that I worry about (which is part of the reason I set up this anonymous submission system, so people can call me on my bullshit). When I have friends who hold positions that
When I have friends who hold positions that contridict my own application of ethics then I can either get rid of them or try to point out their inconsistencies or ignore it. I generally choose one of the latter two. The only time I can think of ethical differences getting in the way of personal relationships is when I’ve lost some old army buddies because of my anarchist views and the struggles with my family when I came out as non-monogamous, sexually fluid, and atheist. I certainly miss my old army buddies and wish we could have found a common ground, but that didn’t happen. Things with my family are much better now.
In the end, I try to head the insight attributed to Abraham Lincoln in “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. When Mrs. Lincoln spoke harshly of the Confederacy, President Lincoln replied, “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.” It is easy to put ourselves on the moral high ground and believe that we wouldn’t act as others do, but that simply isn’t true. If we lived their lives, read the books they’ve read, experienced the loss they have, grew up in an environment they did, had the genetic code they did, then we would likely be just like them. We should have sympathy and understanding for all people, and try to change hearts and minds with love and discussion.
PS: I just realized that I didn’t fully answer part of the question. I do have some moral rules for myself that directly harm other people, but I fail at them all the time. I believe that I have a moral duty to myself to maintain my health, exercise, eat well, live life to the fullest, live minimally, experience new things, and take risks. I also feel a sort of duty to minimize the environmental harm I do and spread as much joy and pleasure to other people as I can, as well as a duty to be openly and authentically myself in order to help other people. I’m not sure if any of these are a moral duty in a strict sense, but I am driven to do them.
*Admittadly, there are some moral codes that don’t believe in peace, love, freedom, etc. In my experience, those codes tend to be based on a specific interpretation of religious texts that elevate the members of the religion to a monopoly on truth and what is good, and the executor of those who disagree. Luckily, most people don’t really fall into that category.
Thank you so much for this question, it really got my mind moving. If you have a question or comment please feel free to reach out (www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH)