Friday, June 19, 2009

Thanks Ethics Class, I still Think About You

It's difficult for me to understand those who think that life is a zero sum game. Either I win and you lose, or you lose and I win. Everything has a neat little answer. Everything is either right or wrong, no exceptions. There are hard and fast rules, that are consistent in every situation, no matter what.

One thing I've learned, in my admittedly short 26 years here, is that things are rarely, if ever that simple. It makes it easier to believe that things are that simple, because then life is way less scary- you have all the answers, congratulations! To me, this blanket absolutist ethical framework is quite scary- it allows for no evaluation of individual circumstance, of exceptions. And this is where people will say, hey, for some things, it *is* right or wrong, yes or no- when it comes to killing people, stealing, or lying they say.

But actually, sorry, guys, even then not really- we sanction killing in all kinds of ways. I know people who think war is a crime. People who think it's necessary, and not even killing. People who think it's ok to kill someone if they're stealing your T.V., people who are against the death penalty in all cases. People who think abortion is always murder, sometimes murder, maybe not murder, not murder at all. Most people would say that they would steal money if they had to buy food to feed their starving children, or just cut to the chase and shoplift it. Or back to murder, most say they'd kill someone to protect their children. If they were cold and homeless, they might sleep in places they weren't supposed to, maybe break into an abandoned building, perhaps start illegal fires to keep warm. There is a classical ethical dilemma exercise in so many intro to psychology classes, the plight of the poor man who can either steal the medicine he can't afford, or watch his lovely wife die. People are consistently split on that one. Or, ok, honesty. Really, are any of us *completely* honest? Do we tell our friends they need to lose weight? When our grandmother works hours making a sweater that we will never, ever wear, do we look into her beaming face on Christmas morning and tell her as much?

Even our hard and fast rules have little bends and loopholes in them. And hard and fast rules vary wildly across cultures, countries, and social classes. Acting like this isn't true doesn't make that fact go away. But acting like it isn't true does have a benefit- it allows us to judge others for not following our own interpretations and applications of hard and fast rules, or to be unable to understand the specifics that led them to slip into a gray area. I guess, for some people, that's convenient, safe, predictable. To me it's just judgmental and shortsighted. But that's just me. And some people would say that my view is judgmental and shortsighted. And that's ok, since I don't believe in hard and fast rules ;)

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