The Death of Eccentricity

Recently, I was reading Jonathan Haidt’s dissertation from 1992 entitled “Should you eat your dog?” A paper that covers an issue very important to many people on the spectrum. It focuses on the morality of harmless offenses that are considered offensive. Now, I will avoid using the term harmless in favor of the word eccentric since harmless implies a lack of physical harm. The question is whether odd and eccentric behaviors should be accepted or tolerated and questions of civic duty and personal betterment of ethical codes like classical virtue ethics are mostly absent from this question. The question isn’t much concerned with whether civic apathy is immoral.

Insofar as virtue ethics and the higher ideals of morality do play a role in this question is whether mild eccentricity should be considered as superficial a trait as race, gender, or sexual orientation while the grander forms of ethics take a more important place. When autism is talked about, and the acceptance for it is, there is almost universal support for ostensible “acceptance” but when it actually comes to accepting someone despite a surface-level weirdness the results are quite varied and often end in vicious bullying, shaming, or punishment for the person, in question. Now, my least favorite philosopher, Foucault, made the relatively accurate point that eccentricity was more tolerated in traditional communities and only with modernity did society become, ironically, less tolerant. His conclusion was that psychology was a fictional social construct which is bat-shit crap but the point remains that traditional communities generally accepted their local eccentrics as opposed to removing them or being overly offended by them.

This isn’t, I think, a question of what should be moral as much as how much weight do we place on various forms of morality. Foucault didn’t think in terms of macro and micro morality. Should someone eat their dog? I won’t answer that question except to say that if it is not permissible, it’s less bad than many things that are socially accepted. I will answer, actually: I don’t think it is immoral. However, that’s beside the point. The greater point is that marginalized groups that are considered uncouth are the regular victims of mainstream social mores and the enforcement of what should be venial offenses violates the greater moral point of defending the weak and empathizing with our fellow humans. It furthermore negates the credit owed to the asinine violators for the macro benevolent traits they may possess. It turns petty crimes into felonies and honest people into monsters.

It is not the binary value of morality and immorality but what we consider important in terms of morality. People shouldn’t be offended by eccentric behaviors because the sins of and caused by being offended undoubtedly outweigh whatever misdemeanors caused the being offended. As our society becomes ever more demanding of a sanitized world. As the metaphorical and literal gentrification of society brushes away its undesirables, it is important we try to make a safe world for the slightly broken because if we don’t, they’ll break much more.

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