The Golden Rule is a valuable ethics tool. No question about it. Its best feature is that it compels an ethical point of view, causing us to think about the impact of one’s conduct on others. This simple shift of perspective—that’s the other virtue of the Golden Rule: it’s simple; a child can understand it—-distances us from the powerful ethics alarms-muffling effects of non-ethical considerations, which are primarily our subjective wants and needs, and forces us to look past them to more ethical objectives.
The Golden Rule is not, however, a panacea, or even the most useful ethical system. It doesn’t work in complex systems , or when multiple inter-related interests are involved, or when chaos looms. You can’t run a successful business, organization or nation using only the Golden Rule; you can’t have a coherent legal system, or the rule of law, or a banking system. Yet there are a lot of people, many of them with advanced degrees, best-selling books and millions of followers, who continue to practice Golden Rule malpractice and preach that it will solve all society’s ills, despite the fact that the most cursory examination of history and human nature makes it blindingly clear that much as we would wish it otherwise, this just isn’t true. Some of these people are well-meaning, good-hearted chumps. Some are insane. Many are fanatics. Some of them are con-artists. All of them are dangerous.
The latter was illustrated when the fifth-graders in Lincoln, Nebraska’s Zeman Elementary School received flyers on how to deal with bullying. (To get the side issues this blog deals with periodically out of the way at the outset, the incompetent and naive advice the flyer contained is one of an endless number of examples of how the education establishment is inadequately trained, staffed and regulated to be trusted with the welfare of young children, and how any parent who blithely entrusts their offspring to public schools without monitoring them closely is irresponsible, because teachers and school administrators cannot be trusted to exercise good judgment.) The flyer contained none “rules” for bullied children to apply after and during bullying episodes. The flyer was disavowed after the Lincoln, Nebraska school system’s Facebook page melted from the abuse poured on it by shocked and disgusted parents, and so far, at least, nobody has transcribed all of what is barely readable on this photo of it, and I don’t see or type well enough to do it myself: Continue reading