Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Morality is not subjective

This is an angry-ish rant. I am actually in a very good mood right now, but I have had this issue in my head for a little while.

It seems like, generally people think they're in the right. In this case, I don't mean correct, I mean morally right. This is really, really irritating. For some reason people bend morals to their whims. I hate it.

The first case I'm going to present is fairly obvious. I think most people who read this will be familiar with this stance. This idea is that 'anything that causes me to lose is not morally right.' This can be further justified in many different ways, but we'll just explain it as people who think that certain things, especially within the scope of a competitive event, are not morally right. This allows a person to view themselves as 'a winner' even when they fail.

I'm gonna use basketball as an example. Let's say your favorite team has a really big, powerful center who is really good at shooting in the paint. He is very strong, but he is bad at free throws. The opposing team decides to foul him anytime he gets the ball so that he goes to the free throw line, probably misses at least one shot, and they have a chance to get the ball back and score. This lets the opposing team come out in the end. This strategy is 100% legal within the rules of basketball. When I heard it happen (years and years ago) I thought it was totally awesome and cool that someone would think of this strategy. Most people thought it was unfair and that it was somehow against the rules, or that it was exploiting the rules. Actually, I should clarify - people that liked the team with the powerful center thought it was unfair. People that liked the opposing team obviously thought it was okay. I didn't like either team, but I thought it was okay too.

This attitude is not good. This attitude will cause you to treat all sorts of situations that are obviously legal as fair too. A good example might be blocking a shot or getting a rebound. You might claim that it is unfair that the enemy team has a guy so tall that he can easily get rebounds or block shots. You might claim that player salaries are unfair, and that bigger teams can spend more money on good players.

In StarCraft (did you guys expect it?) there's a pretty cool glitch where you can clip a worker unit through a mineral patch due to the way the game allows miners to walk through anything while they are pathing to a resource. It's kind of weird. This is a 100% universally accepted tactic. It is not used very much at high level play, but it comes into play every now and then and sometimes gives someone a pretty big edge. If you lost a game because of this glitch, you might think that it was unfair. But you might also lose to a dark templar rush, which sends stealth attacking units into your base which are hard to defend against. You might also call that unfair. You might call attacking workers unfair, or building a bunker right outside your base unfair. There are many reasons why you might assume the 'moral high ground' in StarCraft. In fact, I've heard people assume the moral high ground with stances like "well at least I haven't spent all my life on a video game."

This argument is wrong. Morality is not subjective. You do not get to define what is morally correct. It is not right to judge others on how they spend their time, especially if what they are doing is legal. I do not judge people by how much time they spend in front of a TV, or gambling, or doing whatever it is people do with their free time. It is also not right to randomly determine that someone is morally wrong for doing the best possible strategy. If you cannot beat that best possible strategy, then you lost. There is no moral victory to be had. If they had done something actually illegal, then they would not have beaten you.

But really, I didn't bring this up because I wanted to argue about silly playing to win things.

I brought this up because people take the moral high ground at any time. I used the gaming examples because they show just how ridiculous people can be about claiming moral high ground, even when they are in something as objective as a video game.

In a certain board I frequent, there was a poster who was quite disruptive. He posted highly inflammatory remarks that I will honestly not repeat. They were probably the most hostile, destructive insults I have ever seen, even on the internet. This person was obviously very smart. He was someone who was good enough at writing that he was able to craft very potent, eloquent insults that it was impossible to not be offended by them just by reading them.

When people brought it to his attention that he was being offensive, he took offense! He took the moral high ground, claiming that there was no rule specifically forbidding his conduct, and therefore he was completely in the right. His violations were so clear and obvious that people mentioned that it should not have to be said what he did that was wrong. He claimed that all he did was be more critical of 'stupid people' but also that when he did it, it was funnier.

How can you claim the moral high ground there? How is that even possible? When you claim that someone is good for nothing except being a receptacle for (expletive), you have crossed the line. There may not be hard and fast societal rules forbidding behavior like this, but it should be blatantly obvious that this behavior is NOT OKAY.

That's the more extreme example. On another board I visit, a poster tried to get forum members to behave in a manner that he wanted them to behave. More accurately, he expected everyone to be "in character" all the time. Obviously, this was not what most of the people he interacted with wanted, and naturally he was upset. He took the moral high ground in this argument, claiming that 'any sane person would want to separate IC and OOC' and that everyone was a jerk in the topic. I think he also mentioned that having rich character backstories was a value that everyone should have, and that people were wrong if they did not.

Forcing your beliefs on people is not morally correct. Sure, you can even play some stupid devil's advocate card here and say something like "but you're forcing your beliefs on people." These are not my beliefs. They are commonly accepted societal truths. Morality is not subjective. Treating other people's beliefs like they do not matter is absolutely worthy of condemnation.

If you want to say that I'm forcing my belief system on you, that's fine, but you're missing the point. Even beyond a set of values or beliefs, the things I am talking about are sure-fire ways to upset other people.

In the case of the competition example, if you are not prepared to face all techniques in a given competition, you should not participate. Your opponent cannot be expected to know what is 'okay' in your rule book. Your opponent only knows that he should do everything he can to win. You should know that too.

In the case of blatant insults and rude behavior, there might not be specific rules against it. However, we can easily say that "yes, those things are bad." If you make someone feel bad deliberately, you are wrong.

In the case of forcing your own beliefs on people, I think that, with a few exceptions - and those exceptions being common decency - we should not, because it is wrong. It is not wrong to say that stealing is wrong. It is wrong to say that listening to mixed tracks on a burned CD is wrong (you think I am making this up, but I swear I am not).

Angry rant mode disengaged.

Yay, tons of good stuff happened today! (technically yesterday)

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