Ethics Are Not Opinions

Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I am going to be talking about human rights in context of our friendships. Something that I have been seeing a lot on social media is a phrase that goes something like “How about we accept that we can be friends with people who have different opinions about rights.” And my response is: No. This is not correct. I cannot be friends with someone that is in favor of stripping away human rights from anyone. This is not a difference of opinion, but rather a matter of ethics.

The first thing to keep in mind here is that this isn’t a matter of opinion, but one of ethics. This is a huge difference. A difference of opinion is when a friend likes first person shooters while I personally don’t. And you know what? I absolutely have a bunch of friends that have differences of opinion when compared to my own. I have friends who like eating pineapple when I feel its only proper place in the kitchen is in the bin. But the question of human rights is not a matter of personal preference. Opinions are areas in our lives where we express our personal preferences for the things we enjoy. Human rights doesn’t fall into this category. It falls into the category of ethics. This is the part of human thinking that regulates what we believe to be right and wrong. Stealing is a matter of ethics not a matter of opinion. See the difference? Because it is a really important.

Let’s also take a moment here to mention that ethics are something completely different then religion. Ethics is the set of moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of their activities. Religion is a system of faith and worship. While there are many people who use their religion as a guide for determining their ethical values, they are two separate things. This means that you can have people of multiple different religions that all share the same core ethical values. It is also true that those who do not follow a religion still have an ethical core set of values. They simply use a different source to determine what those values should be. Ethics and religion are two very separate things.

Regardless of the topic, the core principles of ethics include: beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice. It is important to note that these are the core ethics that have been used for thousands of years by philosophers and they are the core ethics that America was founded upon. So let’s look at these ethical principals a little closer.

The principle of beneficence is the obligation of those is power (the government, parents, doctors etc.) to act for the benefit of those who do not have the power (the citizens, the children, the patients etc.) and supports a number of moral rules to protect and defend the right of others, prevent harm, remove conditions that will cause harm, and rescue persons in danger. It is worth emphasizing that, in distinction to nonmaleficence, the language here is one of positive requirements. The principle calls for not just avoiding harm, but also to benefit those in positions of less power and to promote their welfare. The basic idea here is that those in power are expected to act in ways to help those that don’t have the power.

Nonmaleficence is a very similar ethical value, but there are important differences. It is the obligation of those in power not to harm those who do not have power. This simply stated principle supports several moral rules – do not kill, do not cause pain or suffering, do not incapacitate, do not cause offense, and do not deprive others of the goods of life. The practical application of nonmaleficence is for those in power to weigh the benefits against burdens of all actions, to eschew those that are inappropriately burdensome, and to choose the best course of action for those who are not in power. The basic idea here is that those is power are expected to also ensure that their actions are not causing harm.

Autonomy is the value that all persons have intrinsic and unconditional worth, and therefore, should have the power to make rational decisions and moral choices, and each should be allowed to exercise his or her capacity for self-determination. The basic idea here is that people have the right to choose things for themselves.

Justice is generally interpreted as fair, equitable, and appropriate treatment of persons. Distributive justice refers to the fair, equitable, and appropriate distribution of resources determined by justified norms that structure the terms of social cooperation. The basic idea here is that all persons should be treated equitably and it is the community’s responsibility to ensure that justice is being met.

This is just the very basic idea of these principles, because their full complexity is beyond the scope of this blog post. What is important for this discussion is how very different these ideas and values are from opinions. After all, an opinion is a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. Clearly, ethical principles are not in the category of opinion. These ideas that help us govern our moral behavior are not matters of opinion, but heavily weighed upon ideas that have been held for thousands of years. Plato wrote about these things and that was back in 428-347 B.C. so clearly these are not new nor fleeting ideas. Ethics are the bedrock upon which we have be building our societies for all of written history.

When someone is against human rights, it is not a matter of them having a different opinion than mine. It is a matter of them having fundamentally different core values. It means that they are standing on a completely different rock. This is a huge issue. It is not petty like the differences between cats and dogs or tea and coffee. Your ethical values dictate what kind of human being you are and what kind of decisions you will make when you are faced with conflict or dilemma.

When I am considering whether or not I want to include someone into my trusted circle, one of the first things I try to determine is if their ethics align with mine. Do they value human life? Do they believe that murder is wrong? Do they believe that abusing people is wrong? It is important that the people I invite into my life share my core ethics because this is how I will know that I will be safe in their presence. Their ethical values will tell me if they believe that I should be kept safe or not. It will tell me if they believe that I am of equal worth as them or not. It will tell me if they believe I can be sacrificed for their benefit or not. See how that is different then having a difference of opinion?

I am pro human rights. If you are not, we cannot be friends. This is not because we have a difference of opinion. This is because we have a fundamental difference in core value set. If you do not believe that gays should have the right to marry, then I have to question how you feel about my bisexual self. If you do not feel that women should have medical autonomy (such as having the right to an abortion) then you do not feel that I should have medical autonomy which means that you believe you should have the right to dictate what I do with my body. If you feel that certain groups of people are lesser than other groups of people, than I wonder if I fall into any of your lesser categories. Because being female, being disabled, bisexual and being neurodivergent puts me in four groups that are often seen as being less than other people. If you do not value human rights, how could I possibly feel safe with you? Without a sense of safety, there can be no friendship.

In fact, I wonder how anyone can feel safe with someone that doesn’t believe in the fundamental importance of human rights. 26% of Americans have some kind of disability. How could they feel safe if you don’t believe in human rights? 21% of Americans have a mental health diagnosis. How could they feel safe if you don’t believe in their rights? 40% of Americans are neurodivergent. How could they feel safe if you aren’t interested in protecting their rights? 51% of Americans are female. 22% of Americans are children. 14% are people of color. At least 6% of Americans are lesbian, gay or bisexual. At least 5% are transgender. How could anyone possibly feel safe with you when you don’t believe in the value of human rights? Because the truth is that the majority of Americans have been fighting for their human rights since this country was founded.

So, no. I will not normalize having a different value set when what is being valued is the undermining of the basic human rights that every American should be entitled to. And I will not be friends with someone that isn’t interested in making sure that everyone is kept safe and that everyone’s rights are protected. Those that do not value human rights are people that do not value human life. I cannot be friends with that kind of person. Now, if you like pineapple or first person shooters, there is still a chance that we can be friends. Because I do believe in having friends who have different opinions. Let’s just be sure that we remember what is an opinion and what isn’t.

Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!

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