Unethical Quote of the Week: Progressoverpeace’s “Fool’s Golden Rule”

“There is nothing more ethical and fair than reciprocity.”

—- Conservative web pundit “progressoverpeace,” one of the approximately 300 commenters who attempted to make the ethically impossible argument that spreading the falsehood on the internet that “Harry Reid is a pederast (or pedophile)” is “ethical and fair” in opposition to my post, Funny! But Wrong: “The Harry Reid is a Pederast” Rumor.

This is, of course, a profoundly unethical distortion of the real ethical principle of reciprocity, as embodied by the Golden Rule and its many similar ethical systems from various cultures, philosophies and faiths. The Golden Rule is benign, and urges prospective and aspirational reciprocity, advising us to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves, were we in the other individual’s circumstances. Progressoverpeace—let’s call him “Pop”—embraces a punitive form of reciprocity—I’ll dub it the Fool’s Golden Rule— that endorses retribution, and precludes generosity, kindness, forbearance, perspective, peace—and civilization.

Pop’s “reciprocity” holds that once someone has treated another human being badly, it is ethical for that person to treat him or her just as badly in the same manner, presumably on the false assumption that this will teach him better “ethics.” Of course, what it is more likely to teach him was that he was correct to mistreat that individual in the first place. Such warped reciprocity seeds a perpetual cycle of hatred and escalating feuds, because it begins a cycle that can never stop short of death, terror, or surrender.

The Golden Rule, in contrast, creates a system where we treat each other better over time, employing empathy and emphasizing integrity: we do not do what we know is wrong simply because someone who doesn’t know it is wrong has done it to us. This is, and has always been, a formula for making society better and happier, which is the objective of ethics.

Pop’s application of his perverted version of reciprocal ethics proves its fallacy. He was citing it in defense of the conservative blogger effort to spread the libel (and it would be actionable libel, were not Sen. Reid a public figure) that “Harry Reid is a pederast (or pedophile)” to punish him for his despicable claims that Mitt Romney is a tax evader, offering no evidence whatsoever. By Pop’s foolish formula, however, Reid could also claim to be ethical. Since Pop’s broad concept of reciprocity includes treating someone just as badly as he treated someone else, Sen.Reid can say that he is only  doing to Romney what many of Romney’s supporters (and Romney’s pal, Donald Trump) did to President Obama by asserting that he was constitutionally unqualified to be President based on the fact that he hadn’t released all of his birth records. The conservative birthers, though, could retort that they were also engaging in reciprocity, since progressive “truthers” and Obama allies like Van Jones made even more scurrilous accusations regarding President Bush and Vice-President Cheney following 9-11, alleging that they murdered their own fellow citizens. Thus does the Fool’s Golden Rule fuel a cycle of hate that makes a cooperative society or government futile and unachievable.

Even isolating such a distorted ethical system to single episodes, the result is ugly. Pop believes it is ethical for a husband to cheat on his adulterous wife after reconciliation. He believes that it is ethical for a physically abused spouse to return the abuse in kind, turning marriage into perpetual physical conduct. He believes that liars can be ethically lied to, and rumor-mongers should be made the victim of rumors. Thieves should be robbed. Jerry Sandusky should be sexually molested…or perhaps his grandchildren. If someone insults you, insult her: that’s ethical, in Pop’s world. Pop’s world is, you see, violent, uncivil, mean and driven by retribution. There is no integrity, because it is ethical to adopt the bad conduct of others for the purpose of revenge.

I would not bother to feature Pop’s vile ethical formula if he were an outlier, and aberration or a nut, but he is not. Based on the vast majority of like-minded conservatives who argued here for the “ethics” of spreading an obvious (but unfunny) lie regarding the Senate Majority Leader, he is part of a significant segment of the public, and I have no doubt that he has plenty of counterparts on the other side of the political spectrum. Make no mistake: these unethical people are determined to make our world into Pop’s world, and they are succeeding.

I can’t blame Pop for this, to be fair. If our culture hadn’t significantly abandoned the understanding and teaching of ethics as a priority, Pop could not exist. How can someone be raised in a family, go to school, read history, interact with others. live in a nation founded on that most humanistic and ethical of political philosophies, democracy, and be so utterly ignorant of right and wrong? It can happen–it has happened—because while America is frantic to ensure that children are thoroughly instructed on sex from the age of–what is it now, five?—it shrugs off the obligation to teach its young about ethics, leaving them to acquire their values from TV, pop culture and the street. The result is millions of Pops, and they are making the political process, social interaction and the nation less functional, less endurable, and less ethical with every passing day.

12 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Progressoverpeace’s “Fool’s Golden Rule”

  1. Let’s do a bit of a thought experiment: Assume that Pop’s Fools Golden Rule was legit: Harry Reid victimized Mitt Romney, not Mitt’s supporters. Only Mitt would have the recourse to make the Harry Reid rumor, not his supporters.

    1 lousy comment by Reid mobilized 1 million lousy comments by non-victims. I can’t wait for the 1 billion lousy comments by the next non-victims in response.

  2. POP’s reciprocity is just an old word — REVENGE — in new sesquipedelian robes, and just the opposite of the real Golden Rule

  3. That you’ve had to dedicate this much effort to an issue (“tit for tat” in simplest terms) in which a toddler could figure out the ethically correct outcome (IT’S WRONG) worries me greatly about the state of this nation. That is all.

  4. What’s hilarious about this is that on the liberal side of things, they’re saying the EXACT SAME THING (in fact, a lot of the lefty commentators I’ve read have argued that it was conservatives who started this whole “tit-for-tat” bullshit). I’d say have fun with eternal polarization and gridlock, except that this is my country too.

  5. “The Golden Rule, in contrast, creates a system where we treat each other better over time, employing empathy and emphasizing integrity: we do not do what we know is wrong simply because someone who doesn’t know it is wrong has done it to us. ”

    I’d need to see some evidence of this contention, because it has never worked this way in my experience. On the contrary the golden rule tend simply to enable the worst actors by ensuring they are never punished for their behavior. Which is not to say I agree with Pop’s idea, but frankly your response is easily just as much of a trite oversimplification as the “fool’s golden rule” you are arguing against.

    The answer is a hell of a lot more complicated than either version of the golden rule. the GR may suffice in kindergarten, but for adults the world is a lot more nuanced. Sometimes, not every time, not by a long shot, but sometimes the stick is a lot more effective than the carrot. Sometimes the stick is even more ethical than the carrot because the carrot, but sometimes it isn’t.

    • sorry for the broken sentence at the end. It was supposed to say:
      Sometimes the stick is even more ethical than the carrot because the carrot, by failing to change behavior, leads to a net increase in unethical behavior that the stick could have curbed.

    • It has has never worked this way in your experience? You have NEVER seen the Golden Rule work? I very much doubt that…in fact you are wrong.

      The Golden Rule is a governor and restraint; it prevents bad behavior as often as it encourages good behavior. All philanthropy is based on the Golden Rule. Millions of laws suits that AREN’T filed are based on the Golden Rule. Every time a driverlets another cut into line in front of his vehicle—the Golden Rule is still an essential part of social interaction.

      I didn’t say the Golden Rule applies in all situations, did I? In fact, it is limited in application, especially in zero sum situations or where competing interests are involved. It DOES apply to civility, fairness and respect, however.

      • I can honestly say I have never seen any evidence of it working, that is a situation in which I could tell that the choice to go GR ended up with better results than would have occurred otherwise. I have seen plenty of examples of it failing spectacularly.
        Philanthropy is based on the need to feed one’s ego, not on the golden rule. It is a purely selfish act, as there are always better ways to help that do not involve the publicity and self gratification of Philanthropy.
        You are creating a useless syllogism that borders on a tautology by calling every act of decency an example of the golden rule withou any attemp to prove the rule was a motivating factor at all.
        If you agree the GR does not apply to zero sum situations why are you insisting on it in a matter of politics, which hopefully you can see is the epitome of zero sum, particularly electoral politics.

        • You can believe that nonsense about altruism if you like, but it’s a self-serving fantasy for bitter cynics. And politics is not, properly practiced, a zero-sum game at all. The constituency, that is, the public, is the same regardless of which side prevails. The objective in democratic politics is the public good.

          Meanwhile, stop putting straw men in my mouth. I never said, wrote or believe that “every act of decency is an example of the Golden Rule”…but many are.

  6. A little off subject: but I get annoyed with ignoramuses (ignorami?) who claim that their Jesus invented the Golden Rule. In fact, it was preached by sources like the Hindu Vedas, the Buddha, etc., centuries before their Jesus came along.

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