I have a fish nailed to a cross on my apartment wall, it sings to me with glassy eyes and quotes from Kafka. It sings to me. – Throwing Muses
The notions of right and wrong are concepts – abstract ideas – and are thus completely subjective. You often hear people speak in terms such as “everyone knows stealing is wrong”, but the only thing wrong with that statement is the statement itself. Most people believe that stealing is wrong. “Most people” implies a consensus, so we can even take this one step further and say that “most people agree that stealing is wrong”, and we have now established a fact. The fact, however, is not that stealing is wrong; it is that most people agree that it’s wrong.
Differing opinions about these two polar abstractions are at the heart of all human conflict. If someone is starving and steals food from another out of desperation, this act is motivated by survival instinct, not morality (or a willful disregard of morality). However, if the one whose rations were pilfered feels angry and violated by the theft, these feelings are motivated by a personal opinion that theft is always wrong, no matter the circumstance. So even conflict arising from an act of sheer animal survival is created by human opinion of what is the right thing and the wrong thing to do.
Our problem is that we fail to understand that most things we hold in our hearts as absolute truths are nothing more than personal opinions. This applies to everyone’s individual politics, religion, social views, and pretty much everything else save knowledge of proven, objective facts. To avoid missing my own point by choosing hypothetical examples, I will use myself as the control in this experiment, so to speak.
Here is a brief synopsis of just a small cross-section of things I’ve stated right here on this web page: 1) Donald Trump is an imminent threat to freedom and human rights; 2) Judgmental religious fundamentalists are hypocrites; 3) Whitesnake wrote the worst song ever recorded; 4) Eastern philosophy and physics have the potential to increase humanity’s wisdom; 5) Alan Watts was a brilliant philosopher; 6) Sarah Silverman is a brilliant comedian; 7) Peter Cetera is a douchebag; 8) I am virtually undateable; 9) Technology and social media are destroying human interaction; 10) Minorities in any given nation are entitled to the same rights as everyone else.
The common thread in those ten random statements is that they are all opinions. I’m guessing that some of you wonderful and compassionate readers of my humble little blog might balk at my inclusion of #10 in the above list. However, even the idea of “human rights” is a subjective concept. No other creature in the animal kingdom ever feels as if its rights have been violated, even a rodent traveling slowly and painfully through the digestive tract of a python. This is because no other creature in the animal kingdom views the world through the lens of right and wrong.
I’m sure it’s fairly obvious that I am quite passionate about some of the views I hold. This isn’t necessarily foolish (though perhaps it is overly optimistic), since I believe that a more inclusive society will lead to greater overall happiness and progress. But, as can be easily gleaned by the xenophobic and rigidly moralistic tendencies gaining rapid ascendance right here in the U.S. and other formerly “open” societies, my previous statement is not only an opinion, but one that seems to be losing its influence.
Mind you, there are indeed facts, and contrary to Kellyanne Conway’s doublespeak, there are no alternative facts with which one can counter them if the actual facts happen to be incompatible with our opinions. But if our emotions and behavior were driven purely by facts, we would not be human. And if those who disagree with my brand of hippie-esque idealism were to refrain from voicing such disagreement, they would not be human.
Or would you rather be a fish? I used to think the goofy queries posed by Bing Crosby in “Swinging On A Star” were rhetorical, but now I’m not so sure. Perhaps I would rather be a fish, but as of now, that’s merely an opinion with precious little experience to back it up. I’ll report back after I figure out how to transmogrify into a coelacanth. Though I’ll probably have very little to say at that point, as I will be mercifully free of all notions of right and wrong and the corresponding concerns arising from them. But you can join me for a swim, all the same.