The Implication of Respecting Others

As probably mentioned before, I strongly identify as an independent, but my political philosophy generally tracks Libertarianism. Part of why I refuse to identify as a Libertarian is because most people tend to have this really skewed view of Libertarian philosophy, not least of which is a result of the most vocal Libertarians having a complete lack of even basic communication skills. Regardless, I think that part of the reason my political philosophy tracks Libertarianism is because they both stem from respecting others. I believe an explanation of the rationale for my particular political philosophy may be useful.

Because my political philosophy has changed slowly over time it’s hard to point to a single genesis, but I’m fairly certain that it’s rooted in one principle that I believe is paramount: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Although this probably seems pretty obvious, some examples of how this applies in day-to-day life illustrate not only how fundamental the principle is, but how bad others are at applying it.

How often do you do things to piss other drivers off? For example, how often to you purposefully not let someone merge in front of you? I know I get annoyed when someone won’t let me merge into their lane, so why would I purposefully block them from getting where they are going? Similarly, if you realize at the last minute that you’re about to miss your turn, do you slow down and try to change lanes, inconveniencing others? I know this annoys the hell out of me, so when I find myself having to choose between inconveniencing others to make my turn and taking an alternate route that doesn’t inconvenience others, I choose the latter.

A less silly example is trying to defer judgement when you don’t know all of the facts and circumstances surrounding a particular decision or action. For example, when someone makes a business decision that makes me raise my eyebrows, I try to ask myself whether I have all the information the person making the decision has. For example, an employer in Tennessee fired eighteen people who did not come to work for the Day Without Immigrants protest. I could question whether that’s a good decision or not, but I have no knowledge of how large the business is, how important the employees were to the operation of the business, etc. In other words, I generally assume that the business owner, who clearly runs a business that’s successful enough to even have more than eighteen employees, knows how to run their business better than I. Deferring my judgement logically follows from the fact that I have experience with people questioning my decisions without knowing the full set of facts and circumstances that went into them, and it utterly pisses me off. So why wouldn’t I try to minimize doing the same thing to others?

I am naturally judgemental and egotistical, and believe myself to be smarter and more analytical than most people, so I have a natural tendency to question others. But, I try my best to minimize this. Namely, I try to imagine possible factual scenarios or circumstances that may change my initial judgement. This is usually all that’s needed; if I can do so, I defer. Further, I would much rather be right than wrong, and understand that even if I can’t come up with something that might change my initial judgement, there very well might be. It really stings when I judge someone else and then have someone point out something I was unaware of that makes me look like a total douche. So, even if egotistical, I also have some humility inasmuch as I know there is information out there that I don’t know that others might.

How does the “do unto others” philosophy apply to political beliefs? I dislike it when people dictate that I abide by their moral, political, or otherwise subjective views. I recognize that many beliefs are subjective and, as such, reasonable minds can vary. For example, at what point the rights of a fetus (or embryo) become greater than the rights of the woman carrying the fetus is a subjective, philosophical position on which reasonable minds can vary. I fully understand the position that life begins at conception and the logical conclusion that abortion is murder. I also fully understand the position that a woman is the ultimate arbiter of whether to have a child or not. Because reasonable minds can vary on this issue, I believe that people should be able to associate with like-minded individuals and make laws outlawing abortion, while others should be able to make laws allowing abortion. In what may be considered a perverse result to some, this means that even though I am personally pro-choice, I believe that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. However, instead of being perverse, it is a natural and logical result from abiding by the do unto others rule and not liking when people dictate that I abide by their morals or views.

Similarly, I don’t like when people force me to give money to their own pet causes via government funding. An exampleis the debate over funding for Planned Parenthood. Even though I fully believe that many of the services that PP provide are useful and should be supported, and even though I am pro-choice, I do not believe that I should be forcing other people to donate to a group that believes in abortion. In other words, I fully respect the fact that a person’s stance on abortion may make them morally opposed to providing funds for a group that is not morally opposed to abortion. This would technically apply even if PP did not provide abortion services but merely espoused support for abortion.

If you’re liberal and believe that PP should be funded by the government because they provide many useful services besides abortion, consider the following. We currently live in a society in which guns are common and accessible. While you may want this to change, and you may make progress to reducing access to them, you aren’t going to get rid of them, and probably won’t even make substantive progress. Thus, gun safety courses would more than likely have a substantive, positive effect on reducing accidents and likely deaths. So, if you support funding PP because of the positive effect their services have on society, would you support providing funds to the NRA for providing gun safety courses for the public? If you believe in the do unto others rule, it would be logically inconsistent to reject government funding of the NRA because of a moral objection to guns if you support government funding of PP over other’s moral objection to abortion.

You may be tempted to argue that gun safety courses may not actually have a substantive impact on reducing accidents or deaths. This, however, is a red herring. The above is a hypothetical and the underlying point does not change regardless of the specifics of the hypothetical: if you support funding for something over the moral objection of others, you have to support funding for something over the moral objections you may have.

The specific point being made is a generalized version of the above: if you would not support someone dictating that you abide by something you disagree with, you cannot be logically consistent and dictate something to another person that they disagree with. In other words, if you do not believe that someone has dominion over you, you cannot then assert that you have dominion over them. Perhaps more importantly, if you do not like it when someone asserts dominion over you, you should not assert dominion over them. There is an important distinction between those two statements: one may believe that they have the authority to exert dominion over someone, but not like it when someone exerts dominion over them. In such a case, it would be improper for that person to exert their authority over another.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: if you do not like it when people force something on you, simple respect dictates that you don’t do the same to others. (If you legitimately try to argue “but they force things on me, so it’s just that I force things on them,” you’re either missing the point, are incapable of divorcing your emotions from your ability to reason, or are stupid. Respect begets respect, not respecting someone because they don’t respect you is clearly is going to result in a negative feedback loop that will only escalate until one person has respect for the other. Even then it can only be rolled back when both people develop mutual respect for each other.)

Do I apply this principle perfectly? Of course not, I am a human and flawed like any other human. Do I feel like I apply it more extensively than others and that this makes me a better person than people who do not apply it as extensively? Yep. Do I want people to point out when I fail to do so? Yes, anything else would violate this principle.

I fully believe that the do unto others principle is programmed into us. Want proof? The next time you’re a passenger in a car and the driver doesn’t let someone merge, ask them if they’d want someone else to let them merge in the same situation (clearly barring extenuating circumstances, like the person trying to merge is skipping a bunch of traffic). Even better is when they don’t let someone merge and days later someone does the same to them and you point it out; I will almost guarantee they’ll either admit to their actions being wrong or they will get angry because they can’t justify it. Petty? Sure, but it illustrates that we all believe in the principle, we just suck at applying it.

Now comes the money shot: adherence to this principle seems to logically dictate something *very* important: we should have a small federal government. More particularly, if you want to adhere to this principle, you cannot have a large federal government, because anything controlled by the federal government requires dictating something to another person. There are clear roles for the federal government, so this does not mean that the federal government should be done away with, merely that it should be restricted to things that can’t be handled at a lower-level (e.g., by a state government).

One of the arguments I frequently hear in response to this is “well what if a state government does something stupid!?” So? Don’t live there. More importantly, are you the sole arbiter of what is stupid and what is not? Is your group of people, even if they are in the majority, the arbiters of stupidity?

Or we can flip the script: if you’re in the minority, do you want the majority to be dictating a stupid policy to you? When decisions are made below the federal government, minorities have protection from bad policies; when they are made at the federal level, the minority is screwed.

Of course, this philosophy can be applied at lower and lower levels of government, but that’s a discussion for another day; merely moving much of the decision making to the states is a significant improvement.

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