Be a clone and kiss conviction good night
Cloneliness is next to godliness, right?
— Steve Taylor, “I Want to be a Clone”
I was furious when I saw the woman smoking. I had stopped for gasoline Sunday night and the only employee on duty was stocking some merchandise outside — maybe 10 or 12 feet from where I was pumping gas. And she was smoking.
The odds of a spark igniting fumes from that distance are tiny. It was highly unlikely anything bad was going to happen. But it made me feel unsafe. Isn’t this against the law? Doesn’t she have better sense?
The world would be a better place if every one of you thought exactly as I do. Acted as I do. I’m sure of that. We wouldn’t have to argue about risks. You would all agree with me.
You would agree with me that it makes sense to be vaccinated. You would believe the right things about politics and religion and culture. You would make the right decisions for your own life. I would never have to silently judge you — because you would agree with me.
Whether you realize it or not — and whether you would admit it or not — you are unconsciously programmed the same way. You think everybody else ought to be like you.
To one extent or another, we all assume that others should think and act the way we do. It seems to be such a deep assumption that we don’t even realize it’s there. It just seems obvious that whatever we think is correct — and that our way of acting in the world is right — so others naturally ought to think and act as we do.
I learned this very early from my father, but he was also the reason I eventually learned to question it. As I grew up, he constantly asserted that “everybody” thought some particular thing — always what he believed. When confronted with evidence that others thought something different, he might modify his assertion to say that what he believed about this thing was naturally what everybody ought to believe — because it was right.
As he pressed his thoughts and beliefs and ways of acting on me, I eventually learned to question that way of thinking. When I became old enough to be confident in my own beliefs — some might say arrogant in my own beliefs — I learned that his assumption that others were mostly like him was a serious error.
Then there was a period when I was arrogant enough to make the same mistake on my own. My father had been wrong to believe others ought to think as he did, but I had obviously come to the right conclusions — so everybody ought to agree with me.
It took me years to realize that I had slipped into the same error that I had seen my father make.
I’ve tried to overcome this unconscious programming that I’m right and that others ought to agree with me, but I’m not always successful. The tendency to assume we’re right seems deeply embedded in human nature — and it’s mostly invisible — so it’s really hard to overcome.
Most everything in human society is based on this assumption that others should agree with us.
In politics, we put together groups of people who agree to some extent about various issues — and then we give those people the right to force others to obey them.
Most of our religious groups have long histories of trying to force others to worship their gods, accept their doctrines and behave as they preach. For most of human history, people have killed each other for the “crime” of believing something different about God — or gods or even no gods.
(This still goes on today. Different Muslim sects hate each other and try to kill one another. Some Christian groups would still like to kill each other. Jews have been mercilessly persecuted by many just for being Jews. And the atheists of China’s Communist Party are still trying to exterminate people with the wrong religious beliefs and practices.)
Whatever you believe about vaccinations today, you probably believe that others should share your views. It seems obvious to you that you’re right.
Whatever you believe about politics — that government is evil or that government ought to be champion of the poor — seems obvious to you. You know you’re right and you are angry that so many evil idiots disagree.
You even think you know what other people ought to do and be in their personal lives. You judge your friends and acquaintances for the things they do which are obviously the wrong decisions in your eyes. You might not call it that, but you know you’re right. (I know I’m right, too, of course.)
The truth is that we’re never all going to agree. I can’t even prove that my ways of looking at the world are correct. The only rational thing I can do is to set my life up to be as much like what I want as possible — and to accept that others have the right to make what I consider to be mistakes.
And there’s the rub. I’m telling you what I can do — and I’m implying that this is the best thing for others to do, too — but you might be positively convinced that you’re on a mission from God to force everybody to be what you want them to be.
If you agree with me that we ought to leave others alone, my thoughts will sound obviously right to you. But if you believe it’s up to you to force others to “do the right thing” — as you see it — then my thoughts will sound like nonsense to you.
For me, the only rational and moral thing is to allow others to do and be whatever they want, as long as they don’t try to force me to obey them. That seems like the rational — and peaceful — solution to this long human drama.
I want to live and let live. I want you to leave me alone to live my life as I please. I want you to leave others alone. I want you — and everybody else — to allow others to make voluntary decisions for their own lives.
But I know that very few of you are going to do this — because of what I think I know of history and human nature.
I can say all this — and I can fervently argue that we all ought to live freely and make our own voluntary decisions, without being coerced by others. I can even try to accept that other people might be right and that I might be wrong.
But the fact that I’m a flawed human being means I’m going to continue to smugly believe I’m right, though. And you are, too. We’re all hopelessly human.