Is our highest duty to ourselves? Our society seems to be greatly confused on this issue. While there is a large amount of people that would agree with the statement, there is also a heightened sense of compassion for the oppressed. To solve the problems facing our society requires selflessness. But that’s the one thing you can’t tell someone else to do, sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of another.
Do Whatever Makes You Happy
I recently saw a meme on social media that expressed a common sentiment in today’s world. It laid out this simple syllogism:
- You cannot and will not please everyone. That is a fact of life.
- By taking care of your own needs, you will sometimes disappoint or even anger other people.
- How other people react to your choices is not your responsibility.
- The greatest responsibility you have is to your own well-being and happiness.
This philosophy has a fatal flaw. The more astute among you will have already seen the problem. It’s self-defeating. Meaning, it can’t survive its own prescriptive behavior.
Far from being a good argument to stop inappropriate judging, this meme actually give license to others that want to judge us. How exactly does it do that? Let me explain.
Suppose the person in this case doing the judging reads this philosophy and takes it to heart. Should they stop judging? Well, no, not at all. After all, it makes them happy to judge and gossip. They get a thrill from it. It makes them feel good in a weird sort of way. And according to this, their greatest responsibility is to do what makes them happy.
But We Can’t Hurt Others
At this point, what’s usually slipped into the argument is the prohibition that we shouldn’t hurt anyone. “You can do whatever you want and whatever makes you happy as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. But did they get this rule from the meme? No, look carefully at points one, two and three again. We can’t please everyone, some people won’t like it, and it’s not your responsibility to care what others think. That’s paraphrasing of course.
Now, my interpretation of those points isn’t as nice sounding as the author makes them out to be. They are casually hiding just how selfish this idea is with some flowery self help jargon that make this vice try and sound like a virtue. But the essence of what is being said here is “Do whatever you want, and to heck with what people think of it”.
Well, if that command applies to the person making the decisions that are being judged, it also applies to the judger. Why should they care what anyone thinks of their judging? In fact, the person calling them out for their judging actually owes the judger and apology. How dare they try and force their views on this person? And how dare they try and get in the way of the judger’s happiness?
Do We Want Our Neighbors To Live Out This Philosophy?
I see this sort of thinking so often. People just don’t seem to realize what a dangerous philosophy it actually is. And it’s our selfish thinking that blinds us to the problems.
The underlying message being presented is that the person making the statement wants to do whatever they want without judgement. AND, they double down and say it’s the other persons problem if they don’t support your decision.
But are they as accepting of other people living out this philosophy? You see, people always dream about living in a world in which they can do anything they want without consequence. But they always envision the others around them obeying moral norms. It never occurs to them what might happen if everyone lived out this ideal.
Sometimes this might be fairly benign. What if your neighbor wants to play loud music at 1 am when you have to be up early? Should she stop doing this even though it makes her happy? Not according to this meme. They should continue in their actions, and should ignore your complaints about the noise. It’s your problem, not theirs.
Ted Bundy Did What Made Him Happy
Someone playing their music too loud is an annoyance. But what if someone took this philosophy to the extreme? Ted Bundy did what made him happy. He kidnapped, raped and killed at least 30 women, most likely more. Every sane member of our society rightly condemns these behaviors. But how can anyone with any degree of intellectual honesty say that the philosophy presented would be a good reason for Bundy not to commit his crimes?
And that would be my concluding thought. If your philosophy dictates that you can’t condemn a vicious serial killer, then it should probably be rethought.
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