On The Golden Rule


Originally posted on Half an Hour, November 13, 2008.

Responding to this site, where it is stated:

By recognizing that the Golden Rule is fundamental to all world religions, the Charter for Compassion can inspire people to think differently about religion.

Except that the Golden Rule isn't fundamental, or shouldn't be. It presumes we all want to be treated in some sort of charitable manner, when in fact any number of people want to be treated poorly, out of some sense of self-loathing, masochism, or the like.

The Golden Rule is the foundation for any number of transparently unethical rationalizations, such as "Anyone else would have done it," or "We would all steal from a blind man, given the opportunity." It justified aspersions against character. "If I were handicapped, I wouldn't want to be helped up the stairs."

What people in fact want is not to be treated the same, but rather, to be treated as different. For one person to respect another's values and traditions, even if he does not care for them or even support them. To support the right of an individual to be treated in society in a way he would not want personally to be treated, because that's what the other person wants. To be tolerant of, indeed, to embrace, diversity.

I am by no means the first to make such criticisms, and no serious initiative on ethics can ignore them. From Wikipedia:
Many people have criticized the golden rule; George Bernard Shaw once said that "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules". Shaw also criticized the golden rule, "Do not do unto others as you would expect they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same." (Maxims for Revolutionists). "The golden rule is a good standard which is further improved by doing unto others, wherever possible, as they want to be done by." Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 2) This concept has recently been called "The Platinum Rule"[33] Philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, have objected to the rule on a variety of grounds.[34] The most serious among these is its application. How does one know how others want to be treated? The obvious way is to ask them, but this cannot be done if one assumes they have not reached a particular and relevant understanding.
The golden rule is no foundation for ethics, and people should not pretend that it is.

Via Joi Ito.
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