Sunday, March 11, 2012

Humanist Corollaries to Wheaton's Law

Wheaton's Law goes something like this: "Don't be a dick." It's a pretty good rule and it will get you by in most situations, which is why it's often quoted in humanist circles; it's essentially a modernized Golden Rule. The trouble is that this is based on intentions, and as Brandon Sanderson wrote in Warbreaker, "Every man is a hero of his own story." The difficulty in humanism comes from its greatest strength - there is no objective morality except that which man has wrought, and ideas must stand on their own - a double-edged blade because variety often begets confusion. Outside of codified diety-given rules, we are left with morality in context. Most are pretty easy, there are few contexts which would allow the taking of another human life morally, but it's our day to day interactions which demonstrate to others the kind of moral fiber that binds us - and this is where it's easy to get so caught up in being the heroes of our own stories that we trample someone else's attempts at heroism. When this happens, egos flare and things escalate, and that's when rules of engagement go out the window.

This is why I offer these corollaries of Wheaton's Law to help prevent and deal with conflict:

  • People generally don't act like dicks on purpose. Forgive them their dickishness and lead by example.


  • If someone accuses you of being a dick, don't be a dick about it, else you'll prove them right.


Apply this in your day-to-day interactions. If someone's being a dick to you, before you invoke Wheaton's Law, consider the larger picture and realize they might have just been caught up in trying to win at life. If someone has accused you of being a dick, you should first ask the honest question of yourself "Was I?" with the full understanding that the answer may be yes. My father once told me the measure of a man is how well he takes criticism, and I'm inclined to believe him. 

Let's all add these to our subconscious and become better for it. Remember, part of being humanist is being human.

*I've not heard the entirety of Wheaton's talk which coined this law, so it's likely he covered this already. Due to much recent discussion in humanist circles I felt it necessary to highlight these ideas. 
 ** Edit: As a quick note, I'll say this - the idea of "Deep Rifts" among the atheist/skeptic community is at once true, misleading, and irrelevant. Lots of people have different ideas on what is the best way to achieve the same goals.

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