Guilty as Charged

Posted: March 23, 2011 in Miscellaneous, UWO
Tags: , , , ,

It’s easy to succumb to peer pressure.  It’s easy to go along with what your friends do, think, or say just because you don’t want to be left out or shunned for behaving differently.

And our elders and the people we look up to have told us for years that we shouldn’t act like other people just to fit in.  We get told instead to think for ourselves and if we do, then we will be much the better off for it.  We’ve all heard the same spiel since we were kids, something along the lines of: “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?”

Well, my question to you is very similar: If your friends told you that voting “YES” was the ‘moral’ choice, would you also vote “YES” even though it seems ridiculous to ascribe a single morality to the entire human race?  Would you still vote “YES” if you did not believe that the “YES” option was moral at all?

This is a problem that has risen in the latest round of University Students’ Council referendums.  One question on the ballot, asking whether students would allow the USC to collect a student fee on behalf of the Student Refugee Program and World University Service Canada – Western, blatantly involved guilting students into voting “YES.”

For those of you unfamiliar with USC referendum processes, the SRP referendum was listed as a Registered Interested Party referendum.  This means that one group of people campaigns for the “YES” side and another group campaigns for the “NO” side.  The other option would be a Information-Based referendum, in which the USC would distribute unbiased information about the referendum.  With the RIP-style referendum, the two parties are treated like individual candidates and all the same campaigning rules apply.

But the rules are not at issue here.  What is at issue here is that the “YES” party in this campaign were able to guilt students into voting “YES” on the basis of it being somehow immoral or wrong to vote “NO.”

Their logic is simple.  Students not being able to go to school is bad.  People that live in third-world or war-torn countries deserve the help of people in wealthy and peaceful countries.  People in wealthy countries have the obligation to help those less fortunate than them no matter what the cost.  Therefore, if there is a student out there who needs money, then it would be wrong to withhold that money.  This is then translated into if you don’t vote “YES,” then you’re a morally-bankrupt person who doesn’t care about the fate of your fellow human beings.

Again, the key point is that voting “NO” would be WRONG.  There is nothing to say why it is GOOD or even RIGHT to support refugee students.  There is nothing to say why I should care about my fellow human beings.  It is simply assumed that I believe in the same moral principles and will jump to the same conclusions as the people telling me to vote “YES” simply because it is the RIGHT thing to do.

Society as a whole backs this up.  Society places a great emphasis on altruism and the idea that one should go out of one’s way to help others.

This is not a concrete argument.  This is not logically sound.

I do not agree that people from wealthy countries should be obligated to support people from less-wealthy countries.  I do not agree that need should be a legitimate means of acquiring money.  If you take need as the only criteria for donating your money not only will you be bankrupt within a week, but you will lose all moral agency.  You will be a slave to those with more needs and more problems than you.

And you can’t donate to just one needy party and not another else you lose your reputation as a ‘moral’ person.  Giving money to one needy party and not another makes you a hypocrite.  By setting need as your standard, you leave yourself no room to choose which need deserves your money more.

After all, you can’t put a value to a need.  You can’t make a scale from one to ten and rank needs along it.  What makes one need greater than another?  All needs are a lack of something essential.  How do you prioritize what is most essential?  Do you say that food is more important?  Shelter?  Education?  Religion?  If you ask a thousand people, you will get at least a hundred different answers.

However, there is one thing that we can value more than any of these needs: life.  Without life, none of these things have any importance at all.  Without life, humanity doesn’t need food.  Without life, humanity doesn’t need shelter.  What is there to educate if there is no life?  How can there be an afterlife if there is no life from which to pass on?

Because of this fact, I am of the opinion that our only moral barometer should be that of life.  Specifically, our moral barometer should be our own life, as it is all that we truly and rightfully have control over.  The guiding principle for our moral decisions should be whether some action will or will not benefit our own lives.  Will my life be worse if I act in a certain manner?  Will my life be better?  Will such an action by other parties have a meaningful effect on my life, both directly and indirectly?

So, why shouldn’t I help out the needy?  My life will not be any worse by helping out the needy, other than I will be slightly poorer.  In fact, one might argue that my life would be better for helping out others (although might I point out the inherent and arbitrary association of ‘better’ and ‘altruism’ in such an argument).

To make such an argument, one mistakes one of the fundamental points that comes with living in a free and democratic society: the right to live one’s life as one chooses.  The mistake lies in the interpretation of this right only as a prohibition against affecting other people in a negative manner (i.e. making their life worse).  Under this interpretation, it is perfectly okay to make someone a king against their will, because being made a king would be seen as making a person’s life better, not worse.

The proper interpretation of this right is to regard it as a prohibition against unduly affecting the lives of others in both positive and negative manners.  Both manners are intrusions and both interrupt a person’s agency over their own life.  Helping the needy is no less of an intrusion, even though it purports to give people a better lot in life that the one they were given in the beginning.  It takes away a person’s agency over their own life.  It takes away a person’s right to live as they choose.

As you can see, my moral position is almost the polar opposite of that being ascribed to me by the rest of society.  I don’t find need as a valid criteria for altruism.  I don’t find altruism inherently valuable.

The moral of this story is that I should not be guilted into voting against my moral beliefs.  I should not be pressured into betraying my moral beliefs because society values something different.  When I approach an issue, I want to be able to judge the issue through my moral filter, not have my moral filter usurped by that of either another group or society as a whole.

And this goes for all referendums, issues, and questions that I come across, not just the recently-concluded SRP referendum.  Although they are guilty of the practice of trying to guilt students into voting “YES.”


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