When determining what positions I hold, one question I ask myself is whether I look like the bad guy in history and whether my position aligns with the direction of human progress. Barack Obama supports capital punishment and I do not for many reasons but it is curious for a man as rounded as himself that the position that most countries more progressive than America have abolished capital punishment does not seem to be the future to him. Seldom does one have the chance to look into the future to see where more enlightened opinions will fall but on that, it seems clear. Whatever one’s rationalizations and feelings, it seems apparent where the march of progress is going on that issue.
During the era of Jim Crow, perhaps, it was not obvious to scientific racists that anti-miscegenation laws would be viewed so poorly by posterity since they believed there were actual biological differences which, had those differences been real, may have vindicated them to posterity but I cannot imagine how someone like Ben Tillman would have believed posterity would have judged him for extrajudicial executions by vigilante mob. I have to ponder if he ever thought “Shit, I look like the bad guy, here.”
John Rawls had his “Veil of Ignorance” but, perhaps, a better thought experiment, one borne of ethical intuitionism, is “Do I look like the bad guy, here?” I remember, back during Occupy Wall Street the anarcho-communists, with whom I shared many ideological sympathies, their flag and color theme was black and red. I thought to myself “I agree with most of Emma Goldman’s beliefs but y’all look evil. Like who did your people hire as a PR consultant?”
The general theme becomes a “theory of positive value”, as I term it. In terms of capital punishment, one, more or less, knows it is too dark to show to children and despite this one thinks we should do something so viscerally ugly that it is inappropriate for children. Arguably, so is sex but the reasons are very different. For the death penalty, it is not the loss of innocence, per se, as children know people die, but the moral value of the subject matter.
The pro-slavery people knew during the debates about slavery that getting enslaved was a fairly dark fate. They may have thought it was morally permissible but they knew it was something bad to happen to people. Even cultures with no abolition of slavery who knew nothing else regarded being enslaved as a fate tantamount to a living death. If one, in history, chooses the most positive feeling and seeming position, one is almost never wrong. It is far easier to predict the moral direction of human progress than it is the stock market.
If a result is negative or must be then the next answer is to work hard to make it positive. For example, incarceration is an obvious negative so all alternatives to it in the legal system should be exhausted and it should be as rehabilitative as possible and whenever a scientific development allows us to turn a negative into a positive, in that instance probably something in the psychological sciences or maybe sociology or maybe economics, then it should be put to use.
In my last article, I talk about trying to keep good terms with people. From a utilitarian position, I have argued that grudges are immoral as they often manifest in harm to their subject and if there is a general rule against them then suffering is reduced and that the inducement of suffering in another is counterproductive to extracting data about a situation to rectify it since anything punitive is likely to cause dishonesty in the subject of the punishment or revenge. From a deontological, ethical intuitionist position, and another argument I believe in, grudges are negative things to have. Love is good and hatred is bad. I know what the right side of that issue is.
It is one of the simplest and more certain moral guidelines. Maximize positivity, minimize negativity. It is a position in which you cannot go wrong, for the most part. As much as revenge against a criminal, for example, may feel right, forgiveness and grace shall make posterity see you as a saint. At best, revenge will make you look average and, at worst, a villain of history. It is why, in part, I have no tattoos. You cannot go wrong not getting one. No one complains about non-tattooed skin and it is always in style. I do not and can not know what fads in aesthetics the future shall hold but I am certain that non-tattooed skin shall be in style. If you hate someone, you might be proven wrong at some point, they may be exonerated, mores may change and the misdeed may lose gravity, psychology may advance and yield a hitherto unknown diminished capacity excuse, but forgiveness is always noble and you can’t go wrong with it. There are many ways history can judge your hatred harshly, it will never judge forgiveness as anything but good. We know what positivity is, we know what it feels like, and, in history, it is the right position the overwhelming majority of the time.