The golden rule, AKA The Ethic of Reciprocity is at the very heart of Christian thinking. (Not that Christians actually practice it, but that’s a rant for another time). However, “do to others what you would like to be done to you” suffers from an obvious logical flaw: not everyone wants to be treated the same way! Here are six situations where treating others the way you’d like to be treated is a recipe for disaster.
Suppose one day I lost my shit and murdered someone. If, shortly after, I realized that this was a terrible mistake and was sorry, I would like to be forgiven, given a warm hug and let go. I suspect most criminals would appreciate the same treatment. You may think that you would want to be thrown in prison if you broke the law, but if you do, I suspect that you’ve never seen the inside of a federal prison. In North Korea. Empathy is crucial to our justice system, but basing the prosecution of criminals entirely on the Golden Rule would be disastrous.
Some people want to hang on to every last moment of life, no matter what the cost. Other people are terrified of becoming a vegetable, losing their independence in old age, the pain of dying slowly, or the indignity of losing their minds. Asking the family of a suffering person ‘what should be done?’ is ripe for golden-rule-failure. It’s not about what the family wants. It’s about the individual. If every day hurts, you should have the option to end those days, if you so choose.
4. Good Sportsmanship
On a different note, remember the guys in high school who always wanted to play rough? And did so, regardless of who else was on the field/court/etc.? Were you one of those guys? I believe their logic (if you could call it that) went something like ‘Sports are SUPPOSED to be rough, so that’s how I’ll play.’ Except not everyone likes to play rough. Forcing your style on unwilling partners is just as bad as facing your bullshit beliefs on unwilling atheists (more on this below).
Well-meaning (albeit ignorant) parents of out or suspected gay and lesbian children sometimes want to “cure” them because they think of homosexuality as a disease. I’ve never met a gay person who wanted to be so cured. Sending potentially gay youths, or anyone else for that matter, to Jesus Camp for rehab is more likely to instil mental disease than change sexual orientation. Going to one of these anti-gay camps would be an zealous assault on a person’s mentally and emotionally stability. But if you’re an ignorant, amoral, evangelical whackjob, you think the ends justify the means. Golden Rule FAIL.
2. Differences between men and women
At the risk of overgeneralizing, men and women expect and desire to be treated differently. If an attractive young woman walks up to a man in a bar, takes a firm hold of his ass and tells him she wants to take him home for the night, some guys will immediately escort her home, some will politely refuse, but practically none will slap her across the face and charge her with sexual harassment. In contrast, if a man squeezes a strange woman’s butt in a bar and propositions her, most women will not take it well, no matter how much of a pretty boy he is. Put more simply, imagine someone actually using this logic: “I would love it if she pinned me down and had sex with me, so I’ll pin her down and have sex with her.” Golden Rule FAIL!
These unrepentant simpletons who call themselves evangelicals actually think something like ‘If I stopped believing in God, I would want religious people to try to save me from myself, so I better try to save this atheist.’ I never met an atheist who enjoyed listening to the nonsensical ramblings of a believer trying to bring him or her “back into the fold.” Consider the opposite logic: “I’m much happier now that I’ve rejected all this supernatural, talking-snake, wrath-of-god, pro-slavery, rape-condoning theist nonsense, so I should spend my days undermining the belief systems of happy (but ignorant) believers.” Foisting your ideology onto others because YOU think they need to hear it only serves to prove that you are as dumb as a sack of headless turkeys. Golden Rule FAIL!
Treating people as you would like to be treated is like ethics for toddlers – you wouldn’t like it if Jimmy bit you, so don’t bite him! It is a rudimentary understanding of empathy. It’s ethics for SPED class. Not everyone wants to be treated the same way. (Tangent: Some people might argue for restating the Golden Rule as “treat people as they wish to be treated,” but this is equally unsophisticated. Sometimes what’s best for someone (or for society) is not what he wants, as in the Crime example above.) The so-called Golden Rule is a nonsensical basis for ethical action. It’s moral fool’s gold.