The Golden Rule. Treat others as you want to be treated. Love your nieghbour as you love yourself. Some form of this rule seems to be understood and encouraged in many different societies. It is often attributed to Christianity, as though Jesus was the first person to think of it (but that's a topic for another post). It is heralded by many Christians as a sort of trump rule that overrules much of the nastiness in the Bible. Don't worry about all the Old Testament, the New Testament and its Golden Rule are all that really matter. How could anyone disagree with that?
I recently watched a video showing a discussion between Bill O'Reilly and Bill Maher on religion. The video can be found here:
Now, I would hope and assume that anyone who has gotten as far as this point in having a desire to read my blog is already rolling their eyes at the inclusion of Bill O'Reilly as an embedded video. The man is incapable of disusssion, his idea of a conversation is to cut off the other person whenever they even begin to say something he might disagree with (or more likely when they say something that might legitimately challenge his own position) and speak loudly and immediately change the topic. Whether one agrees with anything he says or not is irrelevant, he is the anti-thesis of intellectual debate in which each party is given time to be heard and must back up their position rationally. However, this video does have some relevance to what I want to say about the Golden Rule. O'Reilly, at about the 3:15 - 3:30 mark of the video, promotes the "love your neighbour as you love youself" philosophy, and states that he doesn't see the downside of that. Bill Maher sort of agrees with a vague "right", but his disagreement seems to be other issues. My disagreement is with that very point: the downside of the Golden Rule.
At first the Golden Rule seems fair enough. Who wouldn't want to live in a considerate society in which people care for each other and treat each other with genuine respect? A society in which people are treated the way they want to be treated? Yet, there are major problems with the Golden Rule.
Firstly, and most obviously, how does one know that others want to be treated the same way as you do? Maybe someone I know is into some seriously devious behaviours that I find repugnant and distasteful. My assumptions that they want to be treated the same way I do is simply self-absorbed and narcissistic.
Secondly, there is the whole "he started it" routine. Children, when asked to show respect to another child, very often respond with "he started it", as a justification for their anti-social behaviour. Bill O'Reilly, I'm sure, would even extend the Golden Rule to foreign policy. Don't fly airplanes into our buildings because that's not what you would like done to you. This simple minded approach, completely fails to notice that, in the minds of terrorists who flew planes into buildings, they were acting out of revenge for a similar act against them. America started it, the terrorists would argue, by bombing and invading us to begin with. You started it, Bill O'Reilly would argue, by committing acts of terrorism that forced us to invade you so we could protect ourselves and our way of life. Like two children who both claim the other one started it, there is no peaceful solution to this approach. The Golden Rule fails massively on this account.
Thirdly, there is the problem of legislated morality. Many fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. would love nothing more than to base the country's laws on the Bible (or at least their interpretation of its laws) and to "bring back" morality to the nation. What better law that the Golden Rule if you want to base laws on the Christian message? But, how do you enforce the Golden Rule legally? Anytime you're convicted of a crime, your immediate and justifiable defence is: "Well, I would have liked it if someone did that to me, so I was treating him as I would want to be treated." You can't legislate morality. Basing a country's laws on the notion that people should just be "nice" to each other isn't going to work at all. The only thing that keeps a civil society civil is the legislation that binds us all to very specific behaviours with predictable consequences when they are not adhered to. As a nation progresses, these laws have to be modifed and interpreted as people push the boundaries. Something as simple as the law to not murder someone can become incredibly complex when you try to define murder in the context of self-defence versus premeditation versus accidental manslaughter, et cetera.
In this particular instance, in reference to Bill O'Reilly, one could hardly think of a man who doesn't put his claimed Golden Rule into action more than Mr. O'Reilly. He shouts at his guests, cuts their microphones, bullies them, cuts them off mid-sentence, ridicules them. Is that how you want to be treated? Is that how anyone wants to be treated? No, O'Reilly is just a primitive primate who likes to claim the Golden Rule as some sort of fake trump card in promotion of a softer version of his monstrous and ignorant religious views, but which he need never actually put into practice. Like a child, he is the first to point out when someone else has violated his version of the Golden Rule, all the while never abiding to it himself.
The Golden Rule fails every time. I don't know why anyone even bothers trying to pretend that it holds any value whatsoever.