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Commentary: The Golden Cruel

Do unto others as they would have them do unto you. It seems simple enough doesn’t it? The golden rule is found in the Bible, as well as in the teaching of many other world religions, but should we still follow it today? After all in North America we live in a society mostly devoid of religion. Humanists may argue that rather than being an external edict, the golden rule is in fact an evolutionary part of what makes us human; that treating our fellow human well is simply a matter of self interest, especially when that fellow human could potentially help you in the future.

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by Jed Minor (Production)

Do unto others as they would have them do unto you. It seems simple enough doesn’t it? The golden rule is found in the Bible, as well as in the teaching of many other world religions, but should we still follow it today? After all in North America we live in a society mostly devoid of religion. Humanists may argue that rather than being an external edict, the golden rule is in fact an evolutionary part of what makes us human; that treating our fellow human well is simply a matter of self interest, especially when that fellow human could potentially help you in the future.

While this does sound appealing, does a morality that evolved when people were living in small isolated groups still apply when we are living in a globalized world? What reason do I really have to help a starving child in Africa when that child is highly unlikely to help me in the future? People would like to believe that human society requires the golden rule in order to function but there are many examples in history that show otherwise.

The Roman Empire was one of the most powerful in history. In addition to refining the Greek concept of democracy, they furthered science and philosophical thought while ruling over one third of the known world.

The Roman Empire was also largely powered by slave labour. While we champion their accomplishments as society we tend to ignore the colossal cruelty upon which Roman society was based. Would the Coliseum or the many other Roman archaeological treasures scattered throughout Europe exist without the backbreaking slave labour that built them? Probably not. Though Roman society seemed to function just fine without the golden rule, or maybe they just modified it to their own uses.

One of the leading political thinkers of their time was a man called Cicero. Cicero was a lawyer and orator who campaigned tirelessly against the possibility that Rome would become a dictatorship. In his mind the highest form of government was democracy, or the rule of the people, but those who could vote at that time included only a few men from the wealthy families that formed Rome’s political elite. Cicero argued that if “the mob,” or people in general, were to have their say there would be chaos. Clearly they had an idea of democracy far different than that of today.

Judeo-Christian principles still have influence on our attitudes, despite the fact that we are a modern secular society, and people still seem to think that the golden rule is a good idea. Our society is built largely on the wage-slave labour of foreign workers however, and we would not be able to maintain our North-American lifestyles without it.

It appears that we only tend to apply the golden rule within our own perceived communities like the Romans of old. Living in a globalized world however, demands a wider application of this principal. I believe that people are intrinsically good and do want to do right by their fellow humans, but without a concerted effort we tend to fall into the status quo, and the status quo is now, and has always been, the opposite of the golden rule.

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