Sunday, October 30, 2022

Overcoming The Natural Fallacy

 Too often people cite truisms to explain behaviors they find too inconvenient to contemplate and change. "It's the cycle of life," "everyone has a right to their opinion," and "it's natural so it must be good," are among the most. The religious will fall back upon "god works in mysterious ways," or "it is god's plan."

All these are aphorisms deserving of elimination, as they simply equate to "I don't have the time to think about the horror, and I don't want to take time out my life to address it." Billions of humans have become part of a society which compartmentalizes our lives away, in part to cope with the egregious damage we are doing to the planet and to other sentient beings.

To be sure, we are as imperfect as the matter we are made from and we need to cut individuals and society a little slack for needing some time to parse the information. Still, it's important to realize we are on borrowed time and each day we should make an effort to understand the world a little better. Human beings are the apex predator and apex occupier of planet Earth, so we should also be the apex contemplator and apex steward as well.

Of course, each of us can do our own part in our own way, but only when the masses unite under a flag of progress does anything significant get done. The cycle of life may indeed happen, and yes many will be hurt in the cycle, but we as individuals can ameliorate the suffering. Others may not deserve persecution for sharing their opinions, but bad opinions should be put in their place as misinformation and malevolent when the facts contradict their arguments. Nature may be a starting point for stable existence, but human ethics should overrule nature's cruelty when it can and when it makes sense. There is no holy plan, only human plans that can be rethought and adjusted over the long-term to better outcomes, the goals of which also need constant refining.

In the end, reason, compassion and desire are the tools of humanity we need to strengthen to get the ever-changing job done. Perhaps a better aphorism to start with is one Temple Grandin suggested: "Nature is cruel, but we don't have to be." 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

The Goodness Guideline

 As discussed in previous essays, The Golden Rule, though pithy, is horribly flawed at its core. It endorses the infliction of ones ideals on another, no matter what those ideals might be. As such it is really a rule bent on proselytizing. I defined the Platinum Law (do unto others as they would have done unto them) is only slightly less pithy, but is superior in that it encourages explicit empathy, considering others feelings, before acting. Both of these ethical guidelines, when implemented with sufficient context, are fine as far as they go, but too much is left implied permitting a range of corrupt interpretation. Indeed, the Golden Rule can easily be reframed to be oppressive, while even my Platinum Rule is blind to external circumstances or the others' misinformed personal ethic.

A guiding ethic should encourage us to first suss out (both think and feel) about a situation, gather the best available information, and then act in pursuit of a good outcome that seeks flourishing and minimizes harm while (importantly) being open to new information and adjusting the inititial behavior.. Not so pithy, but oh so flexible. 

Let's term this the Goodness Guideline, partly to be alliterative, but partly to emphasize any ethical rule can only be a rule of thumb, and never can be a black and white, unfailing principle. Sorry, if you were expecting perfect insight then you are probably yearning for advice from a source of perfection, of which none exist. Gurus, gods, and any alleged source of perfect wisdom are inherently suspect, if only because they claim to be perfect in their insight. As mortal beings with abstract thought processes we have an imperfect understanding of ourselves and our surroundings, so we need to flexible in how we live. To be inflexible is to be oppressed no matter how much we want some ultimate truth to make it easy for us.

The Goodness Guideline is an honest ethic which can help not just individuals, but also families, communities, governments and societies improve their behavior. In a way, this guideline is an extension of the scientific method which seeks to improve knowledge of the universe by refining our suspicions endlessly. Similarly, doing good in the world is an interactive process that no single religion, creed or ethical treatise can ever fully describe. We humans, as the planet's dominant species, have a special place to be stewards of global health, external beauty and personal flourishing for all sentient creatures. 

No entity but ourselves can truly judge us for what we do, but the Goodness Guideline can also be focused inward to help us self-evaluate and self-correct our thinking and behavior. It is not an easy path, this journey we choose for ourselves, but together we can aspire to create a thriving world.