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.
“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.