“It would’ve required a supernatural intervention for him to have your morality given his environment.”
–Methods of Rationality.
I spend a lot of my free time battling my own mind. There are many questionable things crammed up in there, exploding without warning and pulling me into bouts of deep, unnecessary introspections at inconvenient moments in an otherwise easy, typically privileged life. I always end up being unbearably lost in the crevices of my brain with questions about very basic things that never have satisfactory answers. Eventually, realizing how fruitless it is to wonder in metaphysical loops, I encourage myself to think a certain way for the preservation of my soft sanity.
But even though I try, or rather aspire, to be open-minded and accepting of all things morally right, I often find myself confused and astray in a labyrinth of highly contradictory thoughts and misplaced sentiments.
Due to my own inadvertent reluctance, it tends to get very complicated. When you put your own beliefs on a high pedestal, you tend to unconsciously belittle everyone else’s, ignoring the basic courtesy of granting at least the benefit of the doubt to the supposedly close-minded and by doing this, you paradoxically become a narrow-minded person yourself. Your open-mindedness becomes restricted to only the things you can comprehend and articulate. You become forever doomed to be blinded by your own self-gratification. You become judgemental and preachy. You see in black and white, and you fail to forgive.
In these scenarios of intense moral crisis, the dilemma of what is good and what is bad takes centre stage more times than not.
With reference to just fiction, consider this question: Is it okay to kill a man?
Now as a righteous, kind human being, you say of course it’s not okay to kill a man. I believe in Atticus Finch and Disney tropes. Shounen manga and teen fiction trilogies have taught me that taking a life is the ultimate ethical ordeal that is always overcome with successful self-restraint by the harassed, optimistic protagonist. A hero simply doesn’t kill by virtue of being a hero.
But then you watch a Mafia movie, where underhand murders happen like spontaneous brunch plans and men casually cheat on their wives like there was hardly any moral consideration involved. Here, in a complex world where things get grey, your degree of morality evolves to another, more multifaceted plane, where you now root for the one who kills the bad guys only.
Then you watch a war film, where killing the opponent is survival, and here you just hope for the protagonist to kill as many enemies as he can to ensure his own safety.
You pause, step back and think, and allow your brain to melt.
Of course, in real life contexts, things are hardly as exciting and conveniently direct, but it is undeniable that they are definitely as blurry. Furthermore, we don’t have any protagonists to read. A serial killer is as much the main character of his own life as a Tibetan monk is of his. We can’t just rationally answer if anything is truly okay or not. We can only believe whatever feels like it’s right.
In the end, it’s always about instinct. Screw the law. You can’t deny your prejudices, you can only work on them.
Sometimes you might want to support the infidels, the other times you might love the drug dealers and sex addicts. Everything is dark and the grey area of reality spans almost the entire spectrum of uncomfortable situations.
Having morals while claiming to be open-minded can be extremely difficult as well. An unchecked liberal mindset can lead to moral hypocrisy in certain circumstances and stubborn moral self-righteousness can make you blind to new developments.
Before deciding anything it’s imperative to consider the context and the settings. The Mafia, the Ordinary man and the Shounen hero- all have chinks in their armors. They have as much a right to make a mistake as you do.
You should not guilt yourself with your own half-ripe ethics. Let yourself decide about things, and stay true to your own thoughts above anyone else’s.
As Albert Camus said, “Those who prefer their principles over their happiness, they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.”
So then what can we do to calm our desperately high-strung conscience?
Well, we can catch the winds, hold the grounds and absorb the words and the ways of the world. We can think in relatives. Weigh out our options. Embrace the ambiguity that is life. Open our minds.
Consider shades. And, above all, give chances.
But, yeah, in the real world, it’s not okay to kill a man or to support sexual predators. This is a metaphor. Take it in the right spirit, please.