11.24.2009

A contemporary application of the categorical imperative.

It's times like these that I wish I had just a few more followers, so maybe something I said could reach a large portion of eyes.

About three years ago when I first joined Blogger, my blog was just a place to get really, really pissed off and say how I really felt about things. I have curbed that instinct here.

Anyway, one day I wrote a post about Immanuel Kant's idea of the categorical imperative. There had been a recent news story about some lame teen outfitter selling shirts that said very inappropriate things on them, mostly things degrading women/girls, and as I read the comments on the story I was saddened and pissed off that so many people were saying, "If you don't like it, don't buy the shirts."

So I asked my readership of zero, what if that was how everyone handled things they found inappropriate/offensive/wrong/immoral?

- don't like war? Don't fight in one.
- don't like rape? Don't go out at night.
- don't like child abuse? Don't be friends with the parent(s).
- don't like the death sentence? Turn off the news.
- don't like the lyrics to songs these days? Turn off the radio.
- don't like corruption in business? Don't buy anything.

The categorical imperative is "an absolute requirement that asserts itself in all circumstances." So if you apply a thought or statement to multiple situations and it still seems "right" (makes sense), then there's a greater likelihood that it is.

Clearly, applying it in this instance reveals that if we shouldn't ignore war, rape, child abuse, and so many other things that are wrong in this world, then we shouldn't ignore anything that's wrong. Conversely if we should ignore apparel that urges young men to treat their counterparts as objects, then we should ignore everything negative.

This does not mean that every single individual has to take up a flag for something. But when someone does, it should be recognized as illogical when another person tells them not to worry about it.

Because again, logically, ignoring a problem does not make it go away. It does not suddenly, magically make the problem a good thing. It does not make someone forget that there's a problem.

The only people who say "don't like it? Ignore it" are people who are not only okay with the problem, but are allowing for that problem to be universally accepted, for it to become mainstream, and hoping for all opposition to the problem to vanish and quite passively so. People like this are also parrots, who say things they hear without ever thinking about what those things actually mean. Enter the prevelance of the ridiculous slogan I've been picking apart.

I mean, really? Do none of these people ever stop to consider if someone said the same thing to them about something of which they disapproved? No, because they assume the world is exactly like them, that their viewpoint is the only one that matters, and so they have little experience seeing more than one side to an issue, let alone the weighty task of walking in someone else's shoes.

If you couldn't tell, I find a slogan like this to be utterly repulsive because of how totally and inherently illogical it is. And the fact that it is so obviously illogical, and so obviously harmful when put in practice, makes it worse.

Now, I know that at some point someone could say, "There's a big difference between war or rape, and silly shirts with questionable sayings on them."

And I'd say that's true. There is a difference. However, consider the criminal justice system. There are crimes that in some states draw a death penalty; some crimes that garner a life sentence; some that result in twenty years, some that result in paying a hefty fine, some that result in probation, some in just a five-dollar ticket.

But you wouldn't say, "There's a big difference between raping and murdering eighteen women, and robbing a corner drugstore of fifty dollars. Therefore, the latter is not a crime."

So you would not say to ignore the impact of teens walking around with sexist comments on their shirts just because it's not war or child pornography. The underlying principle remains the same.

However, I'm also not saying that any one person has to be affected by any of these things. But what's crucial to remember is that a person's indifference to something does not affect its actual right or wrong quality. Now, if you want to pull out the old yarn of "don't tell me what to believe," that's fine, but just realize that it takes a badass to stand in public and say that murder is moral, or rape is moral. No matter how advanced your liberal ideology, there are still some things that you'd have to be crazy to think are okay.

In the end, indifference to something looks almost just like acceptance of it. So I'm tired of people playing the indifference card. And in the end, telling someone else to be indifferent to a problem which they've already decided bothers them, is mind-bogglingly arrogant.

As someone once said, it's a free country. People can, for the most part, do and think what they want. I agree with this.

I also, however, understand the nature of cause and effect, and the nature of consequence. If we continue to breed a nation, or a world, of indifferent people, then it will be those few left who remained passionate who have all the power.

And it starts by ignoring something as "silly" as sexist T-shirts.

3 comments:

Don said...

Did Kant formalize the idea of the "slippery slope"? What you allow as inconsequential becomes the new norm?

Some mountains are worth dying on. Others deserve something short of outrage: perhaps an offended look? an angry blog? (Or are you playing into the hands of the T-shirt terrorists by giving them a broader audience?) Nice job on not repeating their blasphemies on your blog. (But it also left me wondering what atrocities would spawn such a response from you...)

;-)

Saphron said...

I don't think Kant and the slippery slope are related, but it is a well-recognized informal fallacy.

Ayn Rand said, "The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow."

What made me write this post is the response to Adam Lambert's antics at the AMAs. Love Adam, hate the illogical defenses by some people of what he did.

Don said...

"In the end, indifference to something looks almost just like acceptance of it."

Your blog entry was worth the second read. And your line, quoted above, is stellar.