Icky feelings in your tum-tum do not dictate what’s right

A few weeks ago a young feller was recalling an interweb exchange he had, in which he floored someone with a story that was meant to provide an airtight case for moral ambiguity. I don’t really remember the details of the story, but it was something to do with a man with cancer (or who had a kid with cancer?) deciding to rob a bank because he would either 1) get the money or 2) be killed and his kid would get his life insurance money. Something like that. The young feller told me, victory shining in his eyes, “So who’s wrong- the man, or the police officers who shot him?”

I can’t stand stories like this. They’re meant to guilt you out of condemning the bad action. “Wow,” we’re supposed to exclaim, “I never considered that people who do bad things may have a personal history that made them think they had no choice in the matter! Or that they could do bad for good reasons!” The Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie taps into this too. The movie gives you the context to the Joker’s background, which is so disturbing and sad that you almost cheer for him as he *SPOILER* murders all those meanies who bullied him.

But the thing is – you can understand the reasons behind someone’s evil actions.. or feel sorry for them… or see how the people they are murdering or stealing from or otherwise victimizing are also evil themselves… but that still doesn’t make their actions good or right.* Violence is violence, evil is evil, bad is bad. Other violence, other evil, and other bad doesn’t necessarily cancel it out. Even if you feel sympathetic towards them.

In the same vein – I wrote a blog post a while back begging women to not post public pictures of their bosoms while breastfeeding. I provided multiple excellent examples to demonstrate my point. Some of those examples were a little crude. They weren’t crude for crude’s sake- I used them to demonstrate points like “privacy doesn’t equal shame.” A few of my readers expressed dismay and disgust that I made those comparisons, saying things like, “Making that comparison is just.. ew.” Like a disgust reaction from them was enough to negate my entire argument. Poppycock! I’m not trying to be a jerk, seriously. But just because a comparison is upsetting, gross, weird, or triggering doesn’t mean the comparison doesn’t hold true.

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This cannot be your moral guidepost!

The point is, my fellas** and fellos, that sometimes what is right and true is upsetting, and sometimes what is wrong won’t be upsetting. I don’t like many truths, like Kesha removing the ‘$’ from her name. I’m not super bothered by other wrongs, like when a woman murders her cheating husband. Our degree of tum tum hurt, upsettedness, or anger is not an argument against.. anything. Our tummies are not our Truthometer. Just because some jerk blogger is using intentionally provocative examples to drive their point home does not mean they’re wrong.

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*I’m talking on the level of personal morality not a nation or political system. I think the United States taking out Osama Bin Laden was justifiable and right.

**I just realized what a feminine sounding word “fellas” is, even though it traditionally refers to menfolk. From now on, I demand that men be “fellos” and women be “fellas” for the sake of continuity and parallelism in the English language!

 

 

You can not speak good and still be right

I recently watched the Jimmy Kimmel interview with George W. Bush, and I recalled how everyone used to talk about what an idiot George W. was when he was president. That always annoyed me – I mean, the dude went to Yale and he became President of the free world – obviously there’s something going on up in there. Plus, anyone with that good of a sense of humor has to be intelligent in at least some capacity. Yet because he’s not very articulate, a lot of people consider him to be stupid.*

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Confession: I have a celebrity crush on the W. JUDGE ALL YOU WANT! (pic from youtube screenshot – hopefully no copyright issues there??)

Now, put this together with people’s snobbery in general towards Southerners, &/or people who don’t use perfect grammar. If you see a fb argument and someone accidentally uses “their” instead of “there,” the argument is over. That person is destroyed and must fall on their cyber sword. I’m not hating against using standard English or talkin’ fancy, especially in writing (some people’s writing is so bad that I seriously don’t even know what they’re trying to say). But there are two points here I want to make –

1) You can be a terrible speaker/writer and still be really smart, and you can be a great speaker/writer and still be fairly basic.

I don’t think this needs much explanation, but if I stuttered through my dissertation defense – wouldn’t the quality of my dissertation itself be the same? Yet if an 8 year old child memorized my presentation, took acting and diction lessons, and rattled through my defense presentation perfectly… would that kid be smarter than me, or have a superior understanding of my dissertation topic? Nope-ity dope-ity.

Okay, second point is kinda sorta loosely related to the first.

2) Using good logic or extrapolating from known data doesn’t guarantee you will come to the right conclusions, and being illogical and subjective doesn’t necessarily make you come to the wrong conclusions.

Example 1: “It’s okay for people to force inferior beings to work for you without pay. Black people are inferior to white people. Therefore, it’s okay to force black people to work for white people without pay.”

I intentionally chose something super inflammatory to make the point that the argument above isn’t illogical, but it has a very flawed assumption – that black people are inferior to white people. At the time, though, there was “science” that people used to “prove” that white people were superior. If you argued against them at that time, they could have accused you of ignoring the data, or being anti-science, or being illogical. And maybe they weren’t even trying to be sinister — I’m sure there were people who believed in the scientific racism at the time and thought it was high quality science. And truly, if you accept their interpretation of the data, then the statement above is logical. But as (I hope!) you would agree, it was an evil, wrong conclusion.

Example 2: “It’s not okay to use black people to do work for you without pay, because I like black people and I just don’t feel right about forcing them to work for free.”

The example 2 argument is not a good argument. It draws on subjective feels and intuition. At one time, it would have gone against the “scientific data.” But as (I hope!) you would agree, it’s the right conclusion.

So my point: this is not an “anti-science” post. I love science. I am a scientist. But at the same time, I just want to caution academics and other members of the intelligentsia to not be intellectually arrogant, and to at least consider the possibility that the intuitive, subjective conclusions that the uneducated masses from Podunkville have made could be right. The same applies if you’re an outsider evaluating the merit of different choices or options. It’s important to use logic and good data to draw conclusions and make assumptions, for sure. But 1) think critically about all the assumptions behind the logic and 2) at least consider the possibility that the data is incomplete, limited, or even just wrong.

Finally, also consider what incentive people have to either agree or disagree with the data. For example, if someone presented data that strongly implicated that my Dad was an ax murderer, I would be *WAY* more critical of that data than some random person in Moscow would be. And being more critical of that data wouldn’t make me less intelligent, it would just mean my life history gives me a very different threshold for convincing. In fact, rando in Moscow would probably be less qualified than me to look at the data, because this person has no personal experience with my Dad. Yes? *anyway*

Main point: don’t be a snooty-pants. ❤

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*all politics aside – I’m not talking about stupid policies. That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

FOR THE LOVE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, LIKE, COMMENT, OR SHARE! (even if you didn’t like it, I want to know! Please and thank you 🙂 )