Imagine your worst ideological enemy– the people whose blog posts you read and go “why are you WRONG about EVERYTHING.” For many transhumanists, it might be bioethicists; for a disability rights advocate, Peter Singer; for an effective altruist, a philanthrolocalist; for a feminist, a social conservative.
Now, imagine that a mad scientist has invented a device called the Enemy Control Ray. The Enemy Control Ray is a mind-control device: whatever rule you say into it, your enemy must follow.
(Let’s pretend for a moment that the moral problems of mind control don’t exist. This is a thought experiment.)
However, because of limitations of the technology, any rule you put in is translated into your enemy’s belief system.
So, let’s say you’re a trans rights activist, and you’re targeting transphobes. If you think trans women are women, you can’t say “call trans women by their correct pronouns”, because you believe that trans women are women and transphobes don’t, so it will be translated into “misgender trans women.” If you are a disability rights advocate targeting Peter Singer, you can’t say “don’t advocate for the infanticide of disabled babies”, because it will translate as “don’t advocate for the death of beings that have a right to life”, because you think babies have a right to life and Singer doesn’t. And, for that matter, you can’t say “no eugenics” to Mr. Singer, because it will translate as “bring into existence people whom I think deserve to exist.”
You might be tempted to say “what a useless device!” But the thing is that you have to be clever.
For instance, here are a bunch of things you can say to your friendly neighborhood transphobe:
- Do not do violence to anyone unless they did violence to someone else first or they’re consenting.
- Do not fire people from jobs for reasons unrelated to their ability to perform the job.
- If your children are minors, you must support them, even if they make choices you disapprove of.
- Do not bother people who are really weird but not hurting anyone, and I mean direct hurt not indirect harm to the social fabric; you can argue with them politely or ignore them but don’t insult them or harass them.
- Try to listen to people about their own experiences and don’t assume that everyone works the same way you do.
That’s, like, half of transphobia right there.
One of my favorite sketches is the Are We The Baddies? sketch from the Mitchell and Webb show.
Second Nazi: Have you noticed that our caps actually have little pictures of skulls on them?
Hans: I don’t… er-
Second Nazi: Hans… are we the baddies?
I think one of the most important rules of ethics is that you might be the baddies.
Everyone thinks they’re on the side of good. Outside of comic books, no one wakes up in the morning and says “ah, yes, I am evil, today I am going to evilly take over the world while evilly stroking an evil cat.” Some people have managed to shock children for not obeying [cw: psychiatric abuse] and not realize that they’re the bad guys here.
So one of the things I want out of my ethical system is that it fails gracefully. If it turns out I’m wrong about everything– if future generations will look at my morality in horror, if people like me are going to be used as the caricatured villains in TV shows– I want to cause as little harm as I can.
For this reason, I think to myself: what rules would I want the people whom I think are evil to follow? What rules would I say into the Enemyphone? And I use these rules to bind myself as best I can. I don’t support firing people for what they believe in. I don’t deceive people or lie with statistics or misrepresent my opponent’s views to try to get people on my side. I read things by people who disagree with me (I have an entire comment section of people who disagree with me) and try to be open-minded. I support leaving people to make their own decisions as much as possible, even when those decisions are ones I disagree with.