Prejudice and the Golden Rule


"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" is an easy to understand precept. If you wouldn't like it happening to you don't do it yourself. Many moral issues can be clarified by thinking through the consequences of actions in this light.

A similar formulation as applied to the forms of government was outlined by philosopher John Rawls in his book "A Theory of Justice". You postulate any form of government you wish: Monarchy, Oligarchy, Democracy, Theocracy, etc. The limitation in this model is that you are not allowed to choose the role in society that is assigned to you. You might be king or you might be a slave. Obviously, to maximize your life's prospects the best society for you to be in is an egalitarian democracy. Another variant on the Golden Rule.

So if equality is the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people how do we explain prejudice? Most forms of prejudice are directed against inherent characteristics of people such as race or ethnicity. They didn't pick their parents. So despising a person for being a member of a certain group violates the Golden Rule. As a practical matter it is also counter-productive. Putting people into an inferior social or economic position narrows their options in life. It makes them less able to earn a living and thus more likely to turn to crime or become a burden on society.

People in weakened economic positions have less spending power. So it would be better for society if these people were more able buy the products and services produced by society. So business and citizens benefit from removing prejudices against people.

OK, so bigots believe the discriminated class is "inferior". What do they want these people to do about it, disappear? What's the motivation for this type of behavior? One can only speculate, but it would seem that those who are least tolerant are those most insecure about their own status in society. They must secretly believe that there is something so inferior about themselves that the only way they can disguise it is to push some others down below them.

Hating doesn't work. It raises the stress level of the bigots, wastes their energies and damages everyone's economic outlook. Shame on them and the societies that tolerate or condone this behavior. (You know who you are).


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Copyright © 2004 Robert D Feinman
Feel free to use the ideas, but the words are mine.