Yesterday I said people who didn’t terminate Down Syndrome fetuses weren’t individually immoral, even though they were making an immoral choice. They were misguided by a broken moral system that has failed to update to changing conditions. Most people are basically good, and they’re trying to make their way through life guided by principles that all of society has told them are Good. That’s what being good means, right?
The people who actually deserve condemnation are the leaders of the broken systems that oppose fixing things because they are personally comfortable. If you tell people they are evil, you’ve simply made an enemy. If you show them they have been misguided by self-indulgent or hypocritical rulers, they may someday become allies.
For this reason I also think we shouldn’t judge the past too harshly. You know what’s evil? Slowly torturing people to death because they were accused of being witches. But as horrific as that is, the individuals were simply trying to save their community from Satan’s clutches, and help to redeem the soul of their fallen neighbor. They thought they were doing good. Likewise, slavery was an unalloyed evil. And yet poor whites in the American south fought for the Confederacy, even though slavery was hurting them. Not only that, but many black men, some of them slaves, voluntarily fought for the Confederacy. They weren’t evil, they were simply trying to do what all of society agreed was the Good and Right thing to do. As Jai says, “Almost no one is evil, almost everything is broken.”
So when people point out that America’s Founding Fathers (should that be capitalized?) owned slaves and didn’t believe women and non-land-owners should have rights or votes, and say they are bad people, I think they’re using a bad metric. They would be bad people if they believed that, in our society. But for their time they were far ahead of the average. They were pushing moral progress forward from where it was! And that is what actually makes one Good. Accusing them of being bad would be akin to saying they are evil people because they allowed their children to die of pneumonia and infected cuts instead of giving them antibiotics. Medical science had not advanced enough for that to even be an option at the time. Likewise, moral science had not advanced enough for them to have the option of our standards at that time.
It is entirely possible that two hundred years from now we may be judged evil for eating the products of factory farms, or for eating animals at all. Are you willing to call your Auntie May the equivalent of a slave-owner for eating her chicken-fried steak every Thursday?
Changing the system is hard work, and takes decades. But it’s the only way to make things better. Things don’t suck because people are evil. People try to be good. They’re just working inside a broken system.
(or, if you wanted to summarize this post into a single tweet: “Eneasz says slavery is about as bad as eating steak.” :/ )