I’m dealing with someone who is “morally outraged” at me, to explain what prompts this post. Not enough time has elapsed in the situation for me to have a clear picture of the logic thread justifying this guy’s latest round of alcoholic-driven douchebaggery, but to summarize, as this has actually happened to me before with another person: he considers himself to be in the “moral right” about something where he deems me “morally wrong.” Since he is offended – rather than injured – by my actions, he expects me to conform my expectations to his moral code. The end result of this, of course, is that his wife is no longer allowed to be friends with me. And while that sucks beyond all belief, that’s on her for letting him control her like that. In my stewings upon this injustice, I did come across some interesting thoughts about morality and ethics. ((No worries to those who remember the OntheRiver blog, Lionboy isn’t coming back, ever. This is a totally different round of “I’m right and you should do as I say!” bullshit.))
I of course do not follow this guy’s moral code, and I only draw upon the Christian morality teachings absorbed in my youth as necessary to function in society. While Christian worldviews ((worldview loosely determined by denomination and divisions within denominations)) are functional, I made a conscious choice to leave that set of shared assumptions behind.
No, really, bacon.
The stance in the Old Testament on pork – bacon – is what caused me to eventually transition from Christian morality to the neopagan morality I practice now.
Well, perhaps I should say that bacon and gay people caused me to rethink my stance.
My mother was quite fond of announcing at the dinner table that homosexuality was wrong. “That’s what the Bible says.” In her mind, not only was that THAT, she was mortally offended that the government was not engaging in some sort of scourge of the rising same-lovers. When pressed as to how the authors of the Bible came to that conclusion, I was told it as a “mystery I might come to understand later.”
At a time when I still accepted my mother’s words as wisdom rather than as the actual pellets of willful ignorance they are, I asked, “What about bacon?” We were eating bacon at the time. I liked bacon. I was also reading through one of my mother’s many, many Bibles at the time, and it seemed at the time that the passages on bacon were slightly more eloquent than the passages on homosexuality and that whole “don’t let his seed fall to the ground” schtick. I noticed that the whole swine thing was reasonably emphatic from translation to translation; less consistently so on the aspects that featured my mother’s hot-button Republican issues.
“Modern technology has made it so that bacon is OK again,” she said. “It was only there because of the disease factor.” I processed this as: OK, so we were allowed to go “off-book” to figure some moral practice stuff out, then.
I accepted this as basic logic and did not make inquiries as to ancient cooking technology and the longstanding basics of thorough cooking.
A later question about whether condoms meant that technology had also disrupted the whole “gay problem” led to a dinner table rant about how AIDS was God’s punishment for gays being gay. ((I look back on my childhood with a horror I blessedly did not know enough to feel at the time. I never really felt safe, but the pure internal horror and disgust came later.))
I did, however, retain an observation subconsciously that began to press at my mind as I aged: my mother, among others I knew, was very pick-and-choose about moral systems. I started watching at school how people adhered to their identified religions and moralities, and I realized that people were, as a rule, really inconsistent. The most chest pounding, no-meat-during-Lent Catholic was the one I observed lying, stealing and screwing around (no condom, of course, because that was somehow worse than the premarital sex); the Assembly of God girl who demanded I stop swearing altogether and “be more modest” applied makeup in shellac-like layers; and the former friend of mine who had a porn collection to beat them all would toss coins down my tank top as a “lesson” for showing up in public like that.
Because I was a MUCH sweeter soul than I am now, I did not make any conclusions about people sucking or pass any pronouncements on the saturation of hypocrisy in my community. ((That happened in my 20s.)) I concluded that trying to follow ALL the rules of the Bible was just way too much to be humanly possible, and people’s brains were breaking because – here comes baby’s first heresy – the Bible in its manifold translations looked to be wrong, outdated, or simply metaphorical about a lot of stuff, even in the New Testament. I couldn’t prove it and still can’t, but my gut told me that Saint Paul actively lied about a LOT of stuff for his own convenience.
Rather than go on a nihlist rampage of teen angst and shittiness upon learning people don’t stick to their own moral pronouncements, I guess what I did was a sort of intellectual-ethical hack. I read the Bible, in multiple translations – honoring the adage of RTFM – and decided that perhaps picking and choosing wisely might make a difference. Maybe all this moral struggling I heard about was because you had to pick over and over until you got the right combination of pick-and-choose. Besides, the 10 commandments and Jesus’ teachings were ostensibly to simplify the whole thing; all that stuff about gay people and eating bacon happened before the big 10 so maybe it was expected that all of that would someday change.
So I approached this and the world constructing my morality from one very simple question:
If person does action X, who actually gets hurt?
That’s how I came to the conclusion that gay = probably OK, whether it was an extension of biological function or a personal choice. I wasn’t so sure on the whole “God’s punishment” thing with AIDS; to my mind if it was anything that spiteful and specific, it was more about evening out the playing field between gay people and straight people by making sure everyone had risks to consider before getting it on. (( I was 15 when I came up with that; I don’t think it entirely reflects my view now, which is boiled down to “shit happens, and excrement does not equal judgment.”))
Over the years, this has advanced into a deeper personal morality checklist. I have found that once in awhile hurting without permanent damage is a necessity, especially when someone just needs a smack upside the head. No, I do not run around randomly smacking people, and in most cases, I’m disinclined to hit. But my teen years were also the years I tried pacifism out, and I consider that one of the worst experiments I ever attempted.
The result has been a progression from “Who actually gets hurt?” to
- Who gets hurt? (My definition of harm extends to include theft and emotional/physical acts intended to control the behavior of others.)
- If yes, why?
- Is x action taken solely for inducing fear? Was this a necessary act of self-defense?
- Is the damage permanent?
- Is this person trying to impose his/her will on others? Is there any necessary and genuinely positive (suffering alleviating) reason for doing so?
I acknowledge it’s not a terribly advanced system, but since the people around me are, if not happy with the religious and moral practices of their choice are at the very least getting something out of it whether that’s a spiritual or community connection, I don’t see any reason to go tweaking around with their worldviews as long as they let me be, too. This seems like the best method of live-and-let-live I can conjure for myself, and so far I’ve been able to practice it and behave consistently within the ethical paradigm I’ve created for myself with relative ease. I also don’t think “sophistication” of ethics makes it morally superior; the “sophisticated” ethics tend to be clunky in the end and drag people back to the whole pick-choose-how-the-hell-do-I-live-up-to-this? trap.
Which brings me back to the aforementioned alcoholic douchebag.
He is a depressive who opts to wallow in it, and his partner allows it. I suspect he might have been a good person once, but he sure as hell isn’t now. His thinking has become wholly self-centered, and he’s less than caring about his impact on others while terrified of others’ impact on him. He’s relentlessly negative, to the point where being in the same room with him just wears me out. However, there are people we both know whom I enjoy so I tolerate him as they’re all very attached.
He also doesn’t seem to care who he hurts; maybe it’s Minnesotan, but it seems like if you hurt a stranger or an outlander, you’re not as morally responsible for what you inflict. He also seems to think that “live and let live” in his translation is “regardless of what impact I may have on those around me.”
A lesser example of his attitude:
On one occasion, I mentioned that someone had approached me on a day he noticed I was drinking unusually heavily. Douchebag got hostile when I mentioned it. “Isn’t that nice that they’re so concerned about what you do?”
Well, actually yes; I genuinely appreciated my friend’s concern. If I am inebriated I have increased my potential to harm people because I am less inhibited and less in control of upper and lower brain and body functions. It goes far and beyond drunken driving – if I get drunk and light into someone I’m hurting that person and the drinking is no excuse. I’ve got the Scorpio tongue and I usually know one hell of a lot more about the people around me than they know about me. This includes exactly what to say to really gut someone. I may like my whiskey, but I’m well aware how it might turn loose my weapon.
I’ve already mentioned this person is an alcoholic. He is fond of long, loud, depressive rants and has in my presence threatened to kill two dogs, a cat and attempted to start a fight with a police officer for crossing into his line of sight. He considers making these threats embarrassing, but a natural extension of his drunken state. He does not consider threatening animals with death in front of their owners as “harmful.”
Right now this charmer has a problem with me because he saw me smack a friend upside the head. The person did not suffer physical harm, and as far as I know, has not suffered mental harm ((I have reasonable doubt about that, unfortunately but whether it happened before or after I got there…)) The smack was done in the context of play that got weird because I was overtired. I believe I apologized, but my memory is foggy. The person I smacked was obviously irritated at the time but cut me a break because I was so tired. It was a strange, but minor moment amidst a strange night where a 12 hour power failure left us to grab refuge where we could could get it. I had forgotten it by the time the weekend was over, as had the person I smacked, as had Mike.
Douchebag not only had not, but had stewed on it to the point of tantrum. Why? Because he didn’t like what I did. It made him feel weird. He was not harmed by it, he was not involved in it, he was not even affected by it beyond his personal emotional reaction. And of course, because logic is secondary to emotion in his world, because he “felt weird” about something I did, I am immediately the one in the wrong – and his wife supports him in this because a)she’s a marriage first kind of person and b)she considers anything that disrupts her home life a grave offense, even if the “offender” was in no way in control of the disruption.
It seems, according to this guy’s worldview, “It’s wrong if I find it offensive.” He seems to believe that if he finds it offensive, even if he’s not involved or affected, “it should be stopped!”
I disagree with this, and in fact, I think he’s trying to control me with this particular tantrum, and he’s definitely controlling his wife by making her feel like she can’t be in contact with me as it “puts her in the middle.” While it does, I am not the one who made this a conflict. Douchey alcoholic did – over an incident he was not actually involved in where no person or property suffered any permanent damage and his life was not impacted in any way, except that he chose to dwell on it.
So yes, I’m pissed off by a controlling douchebag – who wouldn’t be? I’m pissed that my apparently former friend is letting him control her like that, and by extension attempting to control me. I’m pissed at the people I know who will go on about how he’s “such a sweet guy,” when I’ve never, EVER seen any of the good stuff he supposedly brings to the table in a relationship or a friendship. But I’m also interested, on an intellectual level, by the divergent moral world views, and how in his morality, if he finds it offensive it is therefore wrong, whereas my internal chart uses a damage assessment.
…and I got to this place and this worldview because I like bacon.