Today I was thinking about some of the hot button issues that people seem to get so upset about nowadays. I started to notice a kind of pattern with the things people have strong opinions on: a lot of them aren’t inherently good or bad. Yet, they’re treated that way.
So, I started wondering: at what point did people decide these things were black or white? Moreover, how did inanimate objects, concepts, or ideas gain free will and choose to be benevolent or evil? If you’re not sure what I mean by this, let me take a second to explain what I’m getting at using some of the actual issues I have in mind.
Abortion. Genetically modified organisms. Drugs. Firearms. To name a few.
Aside from having the capacity to send entire groups of people into screaming matches, what do these things have in common? Well for one, they aren’t sentient beings. Meaning, they don’t have intentions or motives of their own. Abortions don’t come out at night and go on the prowl for unsuspecting women and shotguns don’t load themselves and save families from burglars. So why do people act like any of these things are inherently good or evil, destructive or constructive? To me, what these concepts and items have in common is they are all tools. Tools humans have developed over time for use by other humans. The good or evil happens when these tools are used a certain way. My current personal belief system holds that abortion is a very important tool for the early stages of an unwanted pregnancy, but a pretty shitty thing to do halfway through. It holds that GMOs are important to feeding a growing population and improving food security, but not when the rights to them are owned by one giant corporation that routinely abuses its power. It holds that drugs (especially psychedelics) can be important tools for understanding one’s own consciousness and overcoming medical hurdles, but can be a force of destruction in the hands of an addict (especially narcotics). Finally, it holds that firearms are important for both defense and recreation but not everyone is fit to own one.
Take notice that not only do these beliefs lie somewhere in the middle between something being inherently “good” or “bad”, but that I used the phrase “current personal beliefs”. I used the word current because my beliefs can, and should, change when I receive new information. The problem I see with so many activists and opinionated people, even ones I agree with, is that they pick a standpoint and then refuse to let in any new information or viewpoints on the subject. Not only is this completely unscientific, it’s just downright ineffective. When you decide, perhaps based on some burning conviction in your heart, that something is a certain way and nothing will ever change, all communication breaks down. Pretending there are only two sides to an issue and yours is the correct one is an insult to intelligent, freethinking, skeptical people everywhere. Only presenting data that supports the most extreme of your views is just going to make people question your research abilities. Deciding something is either completely bad or good and then setting out to convince everyone of this extremely narrow view has little to no impact. Yet so often do I see issues completely polarized, it’s no wonder people can’t agree on any of this shit.
So please, can we just stop treating issues like they are as easy to answer as the questions “do you want chocolate cake?” or “would you like a swift kick to the vagina?” If we could all just take a second and be honest with ourselves that the thing we are fighting about might be situation-dependent, might be a little more complicated than we’re making it out to be, and might lie somewhere in a damn GREY AREA, I think we’d all get along a lot better. Instead of latching on to a cookie-cutter “pro” or “anti” standpoint, why not try taking a minute (or even a few!) to do your own research, read actual scientific, philosophical, and ethical arguments and create your own opinion that reflects your individual judgments about the different components of a complex issue? Although this is not an obligation, I consider it mandatory to be part of a serious discussion and really to be opinionated on something at all. Although I can’t enforce this, just be aware that if you choose to remain mostly ignorant on a subject, refusing to consider alternate viewpoints while screaming from your spot in the black or white camp, I will judge you, I will not take you seriously, and I will kill you—oh whoops, went a little Liam Neeson there for a minute. I meant to say write you off. I will totally write you off.