On Morality 1: I’m Better Than You

Morality. The big topic. The reason I put “philosopher” in the title.

For me, morality is the most worthwhile topic philosophers have tackled over the centuries. The basics of right and wrong and the infinite permutations therein. That and whether meaning in language is arbitrary, intrinsic, or both… but I figure that’s more of a niche interest. Lets talk about the more popular thing.

The true nature of morality is something I ponder a lot. My basic theory is that morality is about real world outcomes– actual effects matter more than the theoretical things we are afraid of. It’s a question of who is helped– helpless people?– and who is hurt, qualitative and quantitative. I think of this approach as “reality-based morality.”

Could I possibly be more arrogant?

When the phrase “the reality-based community” came into parlance during the W. Bush years it seemed funny. After the invasion of Iraq in a search for imaginary weapons of mass destruction (or, as W himself put it, because “that man tried to kill my daddy”) it truly seemed like Liberals had a monopoly on reality– or at least like fundamentalist* conservatives had decided to opt out. We still haven’t recovered from that disastrous era of invasion and deregulation. Our country’s objectively, statistically much better off than it was after 8 years of W, which formed a 21st century nadir for America and ‘Merica alike.

8 years later, I still feel right on a fundamental, instinctive level. Because of course I do. Having the courage of your convictions means believing you are on the side of right, goodness and Team Valor**, that every blow you strike is “For the Horde!” Almost none of us are Death Eaters in our own view; in spite of all the human race’s infighting, our guts tell each of us that we’re part of Dumbledore’s Army. It’s part of how we get out of bed in the morning.

Today, I can hear the arrogance behind the jokes. The claim that anyone who doesn’t see things my way is not just wrong, but deluded and ignorant. I hear it coming from the Bernie Bros who won’t let go on the floor of the Democratic National Convention. I hear it in their detractors’ voices.

You can’t compromise with crazy people; you can’t negotiate in good faith with the devil. These narratives have poisoned all sides of American politics, paralyzed our nation, have made many of our supposed leaders into trivial beasts, prouder of their supposed “purity” than of any real world accomplishments.

I’ve come full circle, back to reality-based morality. What have you achieved? Who have you helped? They’re just better questions to ask than “Did you show them? Show them all?” will ever be. In the first case you may or may not be a hero, but in the second you’re definitely Lex Luthor.

Not exactly the poster boy for “Reality.”

Looking at these problems, it’s easy to be discouraged if not terrified. It’s not like we don’t have genuine enemies to unite against, but we can’t stop making up imaginary crimes to accuse each other of. Genuine problems like a major presidential candidate’s apparent bromance with Vladamir Putin isn’t helping either.

So, let me end with this link to a story about cops and Black Lives Matter members having a cookout together as a reminder that our divisions are often arbitrary. We’re not enemies, we’re Americans. We’re people who love life and family, for ourselves and others. Very few of us are genuine fascists or secretly trying to promote Sharia law in rural Kansas. Let’s try to appreciate the absurdity behind our rhetoric and to genuinely appreciate each other.

There are, of course, plenty of people I personally think are stupid. Or wicked. Or Wrong. But I also believe this:

We’re better than the worst of us.

If we act like it’s true then it becomes true.

*I don’t mean religious fundamentalists here. Their reality is different from mine, but as long as they don’t try to hurt anyone I can respect that. Any ideology can have its own fundamentalists, though, and conservatism is no exception.

**Some teams are arbitrary. We still take the teams, and loyalty to teams, seriously even when this is true.

One thought on “On Morality 1: I’m Better Than You

  • Posted on July 29, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Well said Matt!

    Reply

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