There are two ways to view right and wrong – objectively, meaning that in all scenarios irregardless of circumstance there is a clear right and a clear wrong, or subjectively, where in some scenarios it’s okay to bend the rules and do the objectively wrong thing because it is actually the right in that scenario. I think that most people view the world subjectively, and erroneously think that they’re objective.
- Killing is wrong, but war is necessary.
- You shouldn’t hate me for what I believe, but I hate Christians/Muslims/Gays.
- You should obey the law, but it’s okay to speed if I’m running late.
Objectively, those statements are contradictory. If speeding is against the law, then it is never okay to speed. If killing is morally wrong, then war should avoided at all costs, even extinction. If it’s wrong to hate people for what they believe, then you shouldn’t hate people either.
I had a friend who had said that he would remain abstinent until marriage. While we were out one day, I asked him if he would sleep with this attractive girl that was sitting across the way, which is honestly a preposterous question to pose in the first place. But he looked, before answering that he would not sleep with this girl because he was going to remain abstinent to marriage.
But he still looked. Looking only makes sense if “Yes” is a possible answer.
I think it’s a learned societal behavior. Like Ancient Greek Gods, we like to tell people that there is a morally right way to live life, and we judge them if we deviate from this path. Yet we ourselves often deviate, and make excuses for our own behavior because it was the best, or more advantageous option. The lesson that we end up teaching our children, because it was taught to us by someone else, is that it is okay to do wrong when right is not the best option.
This belief has consequences. We’ve grown used to cops killing people, and currently Ferguson, MO is under siege over the outcry that came from a policeman on duty shooting 18 year old Mike Brown. The two sides on the issue are that objectively, it is always wrong for a policeman to kill someone (or, as in this particular case, also to racially profile a youth and gun him down in the street), or that subjectively, the shooting of Mike Brown is justified because Mike Brown stole cigars (ranging from .50-$50, depending on where you get your sources) from a convenience store.
America has gone trillions of dollars into debt over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to provide democracy, stability, and peace to the region. We’ve wrestled control from parties whose goals have been to take control from illegitimate governments and give power back to the people, with the intention of overthrowing illegitimate governments and give power back to the people in the form of democracy. Objectively speaking, we believe it’s wrong for a people to be oppressed against their will, but we have made a habit of taking control of the region for a time and establishing order with an iron fist until the people are ready. In the 1980s, that plan included Usama Bin Laden.
(NOTE: At the time of this posting, America has completely pulled out of Iraq, but due to ISIS threats to the region is considering more military action to ‘stabilize’ the country.)
We heavily criticize and demonize the Nazi Party of 1940’s Germany for their role in creating concentration camps where they tortured and killed party opponents, homosexuals, and most notably, Jews, by the millions. After Pearl Harbor, millions of Japanese-Americans were interred against their will in concentration camps on U.S. Soil until the war’s end. We called this protection from the enemy.
Those in the southern United States deal with immigration on a daily basis, and there’s certainly a lot of outspoken hatred against people who have emigrated, or look like they have emigrated, here from Central and Southern American countries. We complain that it is objectively wrong for them to illegally cross the border and live here amongst us, ‘displacing’ and ‘taking jobs’ from good-taxpaying Americans. Subjectively, it was okay for European immigrants to, over time, displace Native Americans and take their land because it was our divine and God-given right to do so.
I’ve learned nothing over the years, but that people believe that they are above the law, above morality, and more often, above God, pending a religious belief. There will always be a reason that they chose a subjective wrong over an objective right. The only thing that we’ve gotten better at over time is being able to do it more effectively, and efficiently, rather than morally.