In the course of my long-running participation in the human race, and my increasingly urgent strivings to figure-out where I’m likely to be placed in this enthralling event when old age and death finally force me to drop out of it, I’ve become increasingly confused about its rules.
At the start it seemed to be childishly simple. Obey the so-called commandments of some alleged heavenly father and earthly representatives like priests, parents and teachers, and you’re a guaranteed winner in either this life or the next, if not both.
But then adolescence kicked-in, activating not just antagonism to the rules, but a growing awareness that adults seemed to be running the human race according to not just a single set of rules, but countlessly competing and conflicting ones.
Some clearly and sincerely intended to render the race as fair as humanly possible, and thus genuinely ethical; but others designed to rig the contest in favour of themselves and their running-mates, and thus downright unethical, or, if you like, deathical to the rest of us also-rans.
In other words, there is an ethical/deathical divide in the human race that explains but by no means excuses the dismal fact that, as Aristotle wrote 2,500 or so years ago in his ‘Politics’, “man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is the worst of all when divorced from law and justice.”
And, despite the system of ‘virtue’ ethics that Aristotle famously advocated as a solution to this infernal contest between good and evil in the human race, and all the myriad other ethical systems, both ‘sacred’ and secular that have been proposed before and since, the problem is seemingly eternal.
Possibly the oldest and most widely-known ethical principle, and certainly the first secular one I recall hearing about, is the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ to do unto others what we would wish others to do to us.
But, while at first sight this is a perfectly reasonable rule for the fair and successful running of the human race, on further examination it has a fatal flaw lurking in the apparently innocent word ‘others’.
Because as has been horribly evident throughout history, the word ‘others’ has been routinely (mis)interpreted as meaning and including ‘others just like ourselves’, and thus excluding all other others.
As including only other Aryans, to cite an especially evil perversion of the Golden Rule by the Nazis, but excluding non-Aryans and even allegedly non-humans like Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and other groups thus targeted for torture and killing.
And in a perennial virtually worldwide sense, including ‘others’ of our own race, skin-colour, creed, gender, nationality or some other equally spuriously significant common factor, and excluding other others accordingly.