No Serenity in the Conventional Wisdom

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

In the process of explaining why she works when she doesn't have to, "Evil HR Lady" Suzanne Lucas points out the folly of making important decisions based on what others think. "[T]here is no way to win that battle," she warns as she ticks off examples of the kind of contradictory and ill-informed moral judgements disguised as "advice" that many parents receive unsolicited and free of charge:

  • If you work when your spouse could support the family, then you are a bad mom. (This never goes the other way. I've never heard a dad being accused of being a bad dad because he works.)
  • If you work because otherwise, your family wouldn't have sufficient income to survive, you should have planned ahead or not had so many kids.
  • If you stay at home and have a college degree, you wasted that expensive education.
  • If you stay at home and don't have a college degree, don't you think you should go back to school so you can set a good example for your children?
  • If you stay at home when your kids are in school, you're lazy.
  • If you go to work when your kids are in school, surely you know that older kids need a stay at home parent more than younger ones do.
This list reminds me of the time I got yelled at for "child abuse" while crossing a street with my son when he was an infant. I've heard some of these before and plenty like it, and I'm sure I'll hear plenty more of that kind of noise in the future.

But beyond momentary annoyance, this has never bothered me or factored into my thinking. Why? Because morality isn't an easy field and judging others has additional difficulties. There are no actions that can be evaluated as good or bad without context, and, given that I know my context and why I do what I do, such snap judgements tell me far more about those who make them than they do about me. Whatever the source (such as intrinsicism, second-handedness, or context-dropping, to name a few), I remain serene in the knowledge of why I chose a given action, and the fact that I can't make another person think. I am hardly claiming to have lead an error-free life here, nor to be immune from sometimes suffering the unjust consequences of other people wrongly appraising me. But reading the Lucas piece has helped me realize that one reward of actively thinking about morality over the years has been a sense of serenity that people who take refuge in the conventional wisdom can never have. I am grateful to Ayn Rand's clear thinking on the subject for that, and many, many other things.

-- CAV

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