The Brutal Ethics Truth About “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them”

All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.

Conservative writer John Hawkins published a post called “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them.”

If I were as cynical as he is, I might say that a better title would be “How to Rationalize Being a Jerk,” but I’m not.

However, his post does demand some ethical perspective. Most, though not all, of his truths are really constructs to justify unethical conduct. Let’s examine them:

1. The average person cares more about what he eats for lunch than whether you live or die.

Maybe, and so what? That doesn’t mean that you should emulate them.  To begin with, there is no “average person.” There are individual people, good, bad and in-between. Hawkins writes,

“You tell the average person that doesn’t know you very well that you have a fatal disease and he’ll say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Then he’ll forget about it in five minutes while he debates with his friends whether they’re going to Chili’s or the Mexican restaurant down the street. What that means is that everything you want out of life, you better prepare to earn without getting a lot of favors on the way. If you fall, you have to be the one to pick yourself up off the ground, brush yourself off and get your life back on track. You care. They don’t. So it’s up to you.”

But the a stranger doesn’t always react that way. Sometimes he gives you his kidney. Hawkins is supplying an excuse to be callous based on a Golden Rule Distortion: “Do Unto Others As They Would Do Unto You.” Don’t listen to him.  Care about other people, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. People are better than you think: they will surprise you. In the meantime, it is your job to be as good as you would like them to be.

2. Life is not and will never be fair

I’ve written about this recently: fairness is a vague and broad concept in ethics. Life isn’t “fair” because life is often random, and nobody is tending the fairness meter. Systems either are fair or are not depending on your point of view. The mainstream conservative view about fairness is that one should play the cards one is dealt and stop complaining about it. It’s facile, though not without some truth: it is better to spend time trying to overcome obstacles than to bitch about them. On the other hand, each of us has an obligation to make the world better for those who follow us. Genuine unfairness, in systems, institutions, the culture and society, should be exposed, attacked, and fixed if possible. Hawkins’ approach would have left the U.S. with slavery, second class citizenship for women, Jim Crow, straight-only marriages, age discrimination, brutal monopolies and unchecked consumer fraud. His #2 is a license to be callous.

3. Most people are shallow

What an elitist and ignorant thing to say. If one has spent any time talking to and getting to know a wide range of people, it becomes clear that the opposite is the case. Again, assuming that most people are shallow provides Hawkins with an excuse to ignore them, or treat them with contempt. Most people will tend to behave as if they are shallow because they are rushed, stressed, distracted and focused on short-term exigencies. Give them time to think, a reason to consider a topic carefully, and the respect they deserve, and frequently unexpected depths will reveal themselves. “Most people are shallow” is a crippling bias for anyone to adopt. Expect the best of people: you will often be disappointed, perhaps, but you will also allow validations of your faith in humanity to bloom.

Writes Hawkins:

“So, use the shallowness of other people to your advantage. Learn to dress like a successful person. Pay attention to how you look. Find ways to give off the appearance that you are doing well. Don’t be a phony—be you, but also take advantage of the fact that a superficial appearance will be the reality to most people.”

Let’s see: pretend to be a successful person, but don’t be a phony; be you, but try to fool people by not revealing who you are. What?

People don’t assume that people who dress well,  speak well,  have manners and behave in a civilized fashion are successful because they are shallow. They assume that because they have learned from experience that certain traits both aid success and result from it.  Hawkins is the one revealing shallowness.

4. The more comfortable you get, the worse your life is going to be

This is just bad writing. What Hawkins is trying to say is that being complacent and not striving to improve oneself leads to the  failure to meet one’s potential and to explore the opportunities innate in human existence. he writes,

“This is the dilemma of life. The more you achieve, the easier it is to rest on your laurels. But, if you rest on your laurels, you won’t be happy. That means you need to grow and improve, but the more you grow and improve, the tougher it is to make progress as a human being. The moment you start to get comfortable where you are is the moment you start to go backward. So, the moment you realize you’ve gotten comfortable is the moment you need a new challenge.”

But this is facile, one-size-fits -all  blather. There is nothing wrong with being happy with what one has, and enjoying life as it comes. Hawkins’ preferred lifestyle can lead to an exciting and dynamic life; it also can lead to avarice, dissatisfaction, ingratitude, broken relationships, unwise risk-taking and frustration.

5. The world will judge you based on what it can get out of you

That’s the world’s problem. Anyone who cares what the “world” thinks is on the road to perdition already. Many of the best people alive will leave this earth without the world having any opinion about them at all. Hawkins’ argues that it doesn’t matter how good a human being you are if you can’t deliver good and services, because apparently he doesn’t think having an ethical core and being trustworthy doesn’t make people better at what they do. Hawkins sounds like Donald Trump:

“Go screw up badly at work a couple of times and your boss who loves you may “have to let you go.” When your toilet is clogged, call a plumber and ask him if he’ll fix it for you because you’re a terrific guy. No? I guess he wants money, just like every other store out there. A politician will promise you anything you want to get a vote he needs to win; then he’ll weasel out of it if he can because he got what he wanted. You can say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” as much as you want, but the world is going to judge you relentlessly based on what you can bring to the table. What skills do you have? Do you have money? What can you do for people? What are you better at than other people? How important are you? What can you produce? You better work on yourself until you have good answers for those questions or most of the world is going to kick sand in your face like a bully in those old ads.”

Wow. What an embittered, cynical creep. Sure, you need to work on being both a productive member of society. You also have to work at being a good, trustworthy one. I worry that he’s indoctrinating some child in this toxic philosophy.

6. Nothing in life is permanent.

Well, even a blind, bitter, unethical pig will find a truffle occasionally. Yes, this is a harsh truth of life that everyone should accept, and indeed embrace. For me, the reminder comes with a picture of Katherine Ross these days, who broke my heart in “The Graduate.”

That’s life. By all accounts, Katherine is happy, in a loving, long-standing marriage (with Sam Elliot), with a daughter and ranch far away from Hollywood. She isn’t in denial of the aging process, like, say, 80-year-old Jane Fonda, who is almost a decade older…

I’ll take Katherine, thanks.

7. When you die, only a few people will continue to think of you after you’re gone

This isn’t a harsh truth, it’s something that nobody should think about at all. The duty to remember is a frequent theme on Ethics Alarms, not for the sake of the many important people who are in danger of being forgotten by the culture, bu for the sake of the culture itself. There are important things to learn from the likes of Julia Sand or Desmond Doss. But they didn’t do what they did to be remembered. Whether one is remembered or not, unfortunately, is more a matter of luck and pop culture than anything else. Live the best life you can, doing the most good you can along the way. Even if you are remembered, they will probably get the story wrong.

Don’t waste a second worrying about it.

28 Comments

Filed under Character, Daily Life, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, U.S. Society

28 responses to “The Brutal Ethics Truth About “7 Brutal Truths That Will Make Your Life Better If You Accept Them”

  1. JP

    I’m willing to bed John Hopkins isn’t a happy man.

  2. Eternal optometrist

    The fact that someone who doesn’t know you forgets about your fatal disease and worries about lunch doesn’t mean that they don’t care whether you live or die. It might explain short attention spans or detachment (who could carry the weight of every single acquaintances fate on their shoulders).

    His example is really a nomsequitur. What is a person supposed to do when they hear you have terminal cancer and then the go out to lunch later? I’ll eat anything on the menu, I don’t care, because a person I don’t know is going to die!

    Now, if he ran a test where someone walks into lunch and orders a blt, and you run up to them with a gun pointed at someone’s head and said if you have a blt this persons going to die, and you order it anyway. But very few people of any would do that. Which disproves his point.

  3. Jennifer PC

    Wonderful post, Jack.

  4. Other Bill

    Except for the fact she doesn’t dye her hair, my wife looks a lot like Katherine Ross (in “The Graduate” and now). Maybe Hawkins should have added number eight along the lines of, “Sometimes we get lucky.”

  5. I think the one that bothers me most is “Life is unfair.” I realize that, at its best, it can be a sincere reminder that railing against unfairness that cannot be changed is futile, and that your time is better spent on something that actually improves your life. But…I think that every time I’ve heard someone use it, it’s been to excuse unfairness, often by the person responsible for the unfairness. “Life is unfair” does not excuse being unfair.

  6. charlesgreen

    Excellent critiques, Jack; very thoughtful.

  7. dragin_dragon

    I gotta be honest, the only people I really care whether they remember me or not is my three sons and my grandchildren. My great-grandkids are too young yet to do so, so I leave them out of it. Otherwise, I neither expect nor desire to be remembered by anyone.

    • My worth is not measured by who or how many remember me. Like I tell my wife: when I die, I really don’t care how or if you bury me. Have a party, or don’t. I will not care!

      • dragin_dragon

        Roger that! Still, I’d like my grandkids to think of me every now and again…as I do my own grandparents.

      • Junkmailfolder

        My worth will be measured by how many people I owed money to.

        • By that standard, my mom would be sainted. She had terminal cancer and opened multiple credit accounts. As her executor, I discovered this after she passed (what were the credit companies thinking? She could not afford her medical bills!) We used to joke that Dress Barn was going to repossess one of the grandkids.

  8. JutGory

    Jack,
    Don’t make me defend John Hawkins!
    I don’t enjoy his writing.
    However, when I frequented Townhall, I saw his columns frequently. They seemed to follow a formula: (number)(thing) that (fill in the blank).

    8 differences between liberals and conservatives.

    5 things the Republicans need to do before the midterm elections

    9 reasons Clinton lost.

    You get the idea. Tedious stuff. Never does the number seem to have any significance. It’s just the number of things he needed to make his word count. These 7 things could be reduced to about 3 or 4 things, if you ask me.

    But, that’s his formula. I don’t care for him.

    But, I think you misjudged him. He is conservative in the Townhall style, if there is such a thing. But, if your interpretation does not consider it, it may be off-base. You interpreted his remarks to promote cynicism and the reverse Golden Rule. I don’t think that was his point.

    For example, people care about their lunch more than you is a Lesson in humility. Remember that the world does not revolve around you.

    People are superficial. I agree with your critique here to some extent. Where I think you may go wrong is where he promotes playing on that superficiality. It reminded me of Dale Carnegie. He explained that people liked to talk about themselves, so let them. Ask them about them and they will like you. He suggested this was not superficial or dishonest. The key is to take a genuine interest in other people. You are not being fake if you are really trying to connect. Maybe I am being to charitable, but I thought he was poorly illustrating that idea than the one you understood.

    Regarding that people only care about what you can do for them, again, it seems like a poor reiteration of an argument made by Walter Williams (which I will now poorly reiterate myself). Williams gave an example where he went to Smith to get his oil changed. The oil change person asked why he should be nice to Williams and change his oil. Williams said he should change his oil because he had mowed Marshall’s lawn. When asked for proof he mowed Marshall’s lawn, Williams produced 20 dollars that Marshall gave him to show that he had done a good deed, which he would give to Smith.

    (Now, this may be me giving Hawkins the benefit of the doubt based on the company he keeps, but, if you can say something that makes others think you are regurgitating Walter Williams, you are not doing too bad.)

    And, again, this is another lesson in humility. There are givers out there, sure, but there are far more takers. That can make you cynical, but, if true, it could also make you more wise.

    And, as far as people remembering you, this is a double-whammy. He was not even thinking about the ethical duty to remember things; that is you. Again, this is about humility. There will come a day when the name Jack Marshall is spoken for the last time. “So what?” You ask. Well, you should realize that your influence on the world is limited. Don’t focus on fame; that is fleeting. Focus on the people you love. Make a difference to them. That was Achilles choice; there are not many Achilles out there. We will be forgotten; posterity should not be our goal in life.

    There is probably more I could say; or I could get back to my family.

    -Jut

  9. Jack wrote: ”I’ve written about this recently: fairness is a vague and broad concept in ethics. Life isn’t “fair” because live is often random, and nobody is tending the fairness meter. Systems either are fair or are not depending on your point of view. The mainstream conservative view about fairness is that one should play the cards one is dealt and stop complaining about it. It’s facile, though not without some truth: it is better to spend time trying to overcome obstacles than to bitch about them. On the other hand, each of us has an obligation to make the world better for those who follow us. Genuine unfairness, in systems, institutions, the culture and society, should be exposed, attacked, and fixed if possible. Hawkins’ approach would have left the U.S. with slavery, second class citizenship for women, Jim Crow, straight-only marriages, age discrimination, brutal monopolies and unchecked consumer fraud. His #2 is a license to be callous.

    I am interested in this statement for its ‘declarative’ value. It is a group of assertions. With all respect, this is why I cannot see you as a Conservative. But then I don’t think you have made any statements about what you are, or aren’t (?) Your methods in many ways are conservative, but you seem best described as an ‘American radical’ of a Jeffersonian stamp (?) but also an intellect with definite links to progressivism, of that there seems no doubt. And the position you hold, because it seems to you the ‘best’, is what you call ‘ethics’. I have often gotten the impression that ethics and ethicalness is something obvious for you. For me, this blog has been and still is a great learning tool because, I am finding, I have to find the intellectual route to defend in many instances the precise opposite of what you assert, explicitly and tacitly. (I do not mean exactly you but rather a general ‘you’ that I feel I am up against)(and that is up against me).

    I think you nicely illustrate why it is (as I have said) that your conservatism (if you are a conservative by your own self-description) and the conservatism of the mainstream, is overall a handmaiden to the progressive. The progressive of the Enlightenment rushes forward with one innovative program after another, never to reach an end, and you-as-conservative seem only to follow behind as a sort of brake. But since the forward-rushing force of the progressive controls and directs motive movement, you are pulled along from decade to decade into the progressive’s lunge forward, and Heaven knows where that leads …

    You express classical progressive views with the statement that declares we have ‘an obligation to leave the world a better place’, and I ask myself: On what specific philosophical and axiological ground is this statement constructed? Because what you seem to mean is ‘progressive improvement’ that is bound up in ‘progressive innovation’.

    But ‘American progressivism’, if the truth were stated openly and honestly, is radically destructive just as it can also be seen as having features that are ‘obviously productive’ in certain circumstances. For example it is in no way either obvious nor decided that the provocation of the American Civil War by the North, and the war that followed, nor all the result that flowed from this action and destruction, was in reality a ‘good’ at all. Yet this ‘ideology’ that resides in Americanism as a subliminal assumption cannot see itself but in terms of ‘radical good’. And so it controls perception about what it does. When Americans and americanism go on the attack, Good Heavens! the disruption and destruction is often completely evident. But no one assumes responsibility for it. No one links it back to an essential American attitude.

    The same spirit that animated the North to destroy the South (and justify itself to itself in that process) continuously presents itself in history: one invasion after another. And the result in our present is (dare I say it again…) the terrifying destructiveness of American intentions in the Middle East for which there is no responsible agent. It just sort of ‘happens’.

    Is that what you mean by ‘making the world a better place’? If I were the one to ‘follow’ as you say I believe I would have grounds to curse your bettering. It is not evident.

    The declaration that something is ‘unfair’ arises from a progressive, restless soul. It is not that I do not understand it — in fact this spirit also lives in me (and so many of us) — but it is rather that I am not at all sure that the modernizations and the innovations that function in our present can really be said to be such if examined more closely and with a different lens. In other words, ‘unfairness’ is an axiological declaration and flows out of an activist’s mentality.

    I am frankly not at all sure that a great portion of the ‘innovations’ and so-called ‘advances’ that we all reflexively honor are necessarily such. In fact, the more that I confront the ‘innovations’ and absurdities of the progressive culture in our present — careening out of control, almost openly deranged — I see that their ideological root is located in constantly mutating activist progressivism, much like a disease or a fever. And to counter it requires locating the opposite and antidotal pole: true conservative principle. (Whatever that might be). Not pseudo-conservative, not neo-conservative, but genuinely conservative and conserving. But of what? It is very hard to define this because ‘the whole world’ is wedded to this notion of ‘progress’ and ‘advancement’. It is like a locomotive rushing forward on specific tracks …

    In the act of disrupting traditional hierarchies, though it could be argued (and is argued by progressives) that its disruptions are absolutely good, a destructive process is set in motion that turns against principles that have directed societies for a long long time. Innovation asserts itself is necessary and dismantles principles, physical and mental, which hold structures together. Revolutionary Enlightenment ideology is like a fire that burns indiscriminately. We have been trained to see its results as our very good and it takes philsophical distance, and a certain mental disposition, to even question certain assumptions about these goods.

    On the Faith & Heritage (dotcom) site I have been exploring, entire ranges of argument are put forward that challenge these progressive assumptions. I am beginning to familiarize myself with arguments that take a stand against the radical progressivism of the present which will, as time passes, reduce man to something unrecognizable and impotent even as it sells its policies and activities as ‘of the good and by the good’. I am duty-bound to question the supposed ‘goods’ that are pushed as such. In a complex system of lies how could this stance be avoided?

    The present that we see rising up and on the verge of doing astounding harm (as all socialisms and communisims seem to have done) is a direct result of innovation and progressivism as it veers away from ‘sound principles’. And sound principles do not support many of the declarations of progressivism.

    More eveidence that we are in an idea war.

  10. Steve-O-in-NJ

    8. If someone hates you, it may be his problem, but he will find a way to make it your problem.

    9. In a contest between what’s right and what’s expedient, expediency will always win.

    10. Money trumps ethics every day and twice on Sundays.

    11.God made man. Sam Colt made him equal.

  11. 1. The average person cares more about what he eats for lunch than whether you live or die.

    ““You tell the average person that doesn’t know you very well that you have a fatal disease and he’ll say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Then he’ll forget about it in five minutes while he debates with his friends whether they’re going to Chili’s or the Mexican restaurant down the street.”

    And?

    If some rando comes up to me and says they have a fatal disease, I’ll respond with “I’m sorry to hear that” also. What rando does that?

    Exactly 0 people on this planet.

    There’s going to be paragraphs more conversation with some new acquaintance before some hefty discussion bomb like that is dropped. And I would submit then that there will be considerable more empathy shared as well as memory retained. I would likewise submit that AFTER such empathy is shared and memory retained, the recipient of such news WOULD more often than not seek to accommodate the afflicted *as best as they can with what they have right then and there*.

    That being said, I doubt too many fatally afflicted individuals go around announcing their affliction while simultaneously expecting some sort of immediate material action on the part of the hearers.

    There may be a handful, and what they expect of strangers other than condolences and reasonable measures of civility and comfort is beyond me?

    I mean, does this scenario even happen? And if it really doesn’t to any great degree, then this evaluation is meaningless.

  12. 3. Most people are shallow

    No, you happen to be so shallow you can’t communicate with other people who don’t share your exact conversational interests.

    “So, use the shallowness of other people to your advantage. Learn to dress like a successful person. Pay attention to how you look. Find ways to give off the appearance that you are doing well. Don’t be a phony—be you, but also take advantage of the fact that a superficial appearance will be the reality to most people.”

    Or dress like a successful person because you have dignity.

    Pay attention to how you look because you take pride in your demeanor and appearance.

    Find ways to give off the appearance that you CARE about yourself and others.

  13. “5. The world will judge you based on what it can get out of you”

    No, but other than touchy feely notions of you having value merely because you are a human, your value to the World IS directly related to what you give of yourself to others.

    If I’m a jerk to those around me and lazy at work, then I’m of little value to the World.

    If I give the extra effort despite exhaustion and crack a smile to brighten someone’s day despite being in a bad mood and produce whatever service I provide the community just a little bit better than average, I’m of GREAT value to the World.

  14. “7. When you die, only a few people will continue to think of you after you’re gone”

    Very few of us leave this earth well known much less heroes. But we are remembered by our children and closest friends (and likely their children too).

    That’s at least a dozen people right there that WILL remember you — and even if they don’t directly think of YOU, their personality and values that YOU affected ARE a memorial to you.

    Remember that in how you behave. Not leaving the world a famous hero is no excuse not to behave like a hero.

  15. Genuine unfairness, in systems, institutions, the culture and society, should be exposed, attacked, and fixed if possible. Hawkins’ approach would have left the U.S. with slavery, second class citizenship for women, Jim Crow, straight-only marriages, age discrimination, brutal monopolies and unchecked consumer fraud.

    How do we define genuine unfairness?

    Sandra Fluke thought it was genuinely unfair that no one offered her health care coverage that included contraception without co=pay.

    Elliot Rodger thought it was genuinely unfair that no one offered him sex.

    What are the traits of genuine unfairness?

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