Wednesday, February 6, 2013
My alternative to de Botton's commandments
Edit: Here is what I'm responding to http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/the-10-commandments-for-atheists-20130205-2dw83.html
Edit #2: de Botton never said commandment or atheist. He called them virtues.
I really didn't care for the set up that de Botton used here. He is an immense thoughtful writer and is a massive influence on my thinking in these areas, but 10 commandments? I didn't like it. So I wanted to point out the direction I would have gone with this idea.
I think that there is room for a return of virtue ethics in our world. I see a way to use evopsych, neuroscience, and philosophy to build a secular ethic that would help guide people who run the risk of making mistakes of judgement or execution in their lives.
But this kind of sign posting, which is one way to look at this kind of blanket advice, always happens in a context. And if you are going to give someone advice without knowing them or their situation then you should allow for the possibility that your advice might be, not only unhelpful, but make you look stupid.
And one of the things about virtues that has always bothered me is that all too often I see them in toxic abundance in my friends in loved ones. The girl who prides herself on being self-sacrificing who takes on so much care taking that everyone around her ends up helping her. The man who boastfully can put up with anything, and then does, much to his own disfavor.
So I have written a couple of pairings, that talk about virtue continuums. These are things you don't want to be too far on either side of, instead of things that you Must do, or Cant do.
Tolerance and Intolerance.
You should be able to withstand what you need to overcome in order to accomplish what you value. But you should not be so inured to discomfort that you are able to ignore serious problems.
The runner must run through pain, discomfort, early mornings, bad weather, sickness and stress. But if he runs through the pain of tendinitis then he is going to be injured. Giving up isn't the only mistake you can make.
Selflessness and Selfishness.
It is important to give of ones self at times. For your kith, your kind, or your brothers in arms. Sometimes diving on the grenade¹ is the only right thing to do.
But you must know when to look after yourself first. With airplane oxogen masks it is pretty strait forward, you wont stay conscious long enough to put the mask on your child if you don't put yours on first. But in day to day life it is more complicated. Sometimes you must put yourself first for the sake of those you care about. A dead man feeds no children.
Forgiveness and Anger
It is important to see the other persons point of view, and to understand why they have done what they have done. It is important to be able forgive and let go when you are insulted, or harmed. The effects of carrying a grudge can cause more problems than the original insults ever did.
But anger is an important motivator, and a valid emotion. Segregation was a moral outrage, and could not have been addressed without anger. And what sense does it make to forgive an ongoing assault on your freedom and dignity?
¹Important point of note, contemporary grenades are so powerful that this doesn't really help the way it used to.