Friday, April 19, 2013

Preferring The Inconsequent

When we  go through life, it’s difficult to do so without developing certain preferences. We find that we like things a specific way, and much like a fingerprint, our set of preferences are unique to us. This set is comprised of little things like which side of the plate we prefer our beverage to be on, to much larger lifestyle preferences: like who we love or where we want to live, whether we want to have children, etc. (For the sake of this argument, I’m going to do a bit of equivocating and use the word preference to include sexual orientation. I’m not suggesting that it is something that we choose or develop like a taste, but it is still a preference nonetheless.)
Being that we are a judgmental species, one should not be surprised to learn that people often have something to say about other folks’ preferences. Most clearly in the cases of homosexuality or gun ownership. But the judgments are not limiting to large scale issues like these. We needn’t look terribly far back to remember the great Coke v. Pepsi debate. There are even current debates, commercials, and campaigns on the topic of which Search Engines we use (I’m am not Bing man, man. btw). So why get worked up by which type of music someone listens to or other seemingly insignificant opinions?
That is not to say that there aren’t certain preferences that do negatively impact us. For example, Adolf Hitler preferred his “Aryan Race” to that of the Jews. Clearly, that particular preference harmed a great number of people. A resounding majority therefore hold that view to be detrimental and judge holders of it accordingly. Likewise, if a person prefers to imprison and torture innocent people for kicks, that is a problem. You don’t have to do much to convince others that your judgment of this person is justified.
What I suppose that I am saying here is that there are times when it is appropriate to harshly judge people for a particular preference. But there are also times when their preference is of no consequence to us, or anyone else, and we are not justified in our judgment of them. Before we can make that distinction, we need to show why one’s preference might be cause for our criticism. The onus is on us here, the person who will be criticizing someone else’s preferences.
In the case of Hitler, it is rather easy to show how his views were harmful to us or others. When it comes to the cases of Gay Rights and private gun ownership, the responsibility falls to those who oppose these things to show how they are, or can be, harmful to ourselves personally, or society as a whole. It may be difficult to in some cases, but it is still the duty of the person who dislikes someone else’s preference to ask themselves: “Does the fact that Eric prefers men harm me, or others,  in any way?” If the answer is “no,” then Eric’s preference is inconsequent, there is no ill consequence that comes from it. If the answer is “yes,” then our criticism of Eric is justified. But either way, it is up to us to ask this question before we act on any criticisms.
Likewise, we should be asking ourselves this question for small things as well. “Does that fact that Teresa prefers a Toaster Oven to a Toaster affect me, or anyone, in a negative way?” I realize we are not robots, sometimes we subconsciously make judgments before we realize we have. That happens, but be aware of it. We owe the courtesy of asking ourselves this question to our fellow humans.
(Insert your favorite interpretation of the Golden Rule here...)