Here is a fascinating article that explores the pros and cons of the adage traditionally called "The Golden Rule." It got me thinking about how the characters of B&B interacted with each other, and how the writers presented various (often conflicting) ethical models for audience consideration. While earlier in this thread objections were raised regarding my decision to apply my own ethical standards to a 1980s story, I am actually more interested in holding the 1980s storytellers accountable to their own ethical standards. I think B&B contradicts itself too much, even to the point of becoming hypocritical in some cases. I also think the story tries to promote The Golden Rule in theory, but all too often fails to follow through.
I take particular issue with Catherine's character because she constantly fails to consider her impacts on others; she often forgets that she is a peer to others who deserve comparable consideration; and she frequently impacts others negatively, treating their interests as secondary to her own, when she bothers to think about their interests at all.Bill Puka wrote:“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This seems the most familiar version of the golden rule, highlighting its helpful and proactive gold standard. Its corollary, the so-called “silver rule,” focuses on restraint and non-harm: “do nothing to others you would not have done to you.” There is a certain legalism in the way the “do not” corollary follows its proactive “do unto” partner, in both Western and Eastern scriptural traditions. The rule’s benevolent spirit seems protected here from being used to mask unsavory intents and projects that could be hidden beneath. (It is sobering to encounter the same positive-negative distinction, so recently introduced to handle modern moral dilemmas like abortion, thriving in 500 B.C.E.)
The golden rule is closely associated with Christian ethics though its origins go further back and graces Asian culture as well. Normally we interpret the golden rule as telling us how to act. But in practice its greater role may be psychological, alerting us to everyday self-absorption, and the failure to consider our impacts on others. The rule reminds us also that we are peers to others who deserve comparable consideration. It suggests a general orientation toward others, an outlook for seeing our relations with them. At the least, we should not impact others negatively, treating their interests as secondary.
The Silver Rule is very important to me: Do no harm. That is the heart of the problem I have with a positive view of a character who "does something," anything, rather than nothing, in a problematic time and place like 1980s NYC. Yes, Catherine does lots of "somethings" throughout the range of episodes in the show, but her "somethings" are not automatically "better" than nothing. Catherine excels at either doing or triggering harm. When the story claims that she is "doing good" by doing harm, my ethical instincts rebel.Bill Puka wrote:We must acknowledge that the golden rule is no longer taken seriously in practice or even aspiration, but merely paid lip service. The same feature that makes the golden rule gleam—its idealism—has dimmed its prospects for influence. The rule is simply too idealistic; that is its established reputation. Note that over-idealism has not discredited Kantian or Utilitarian principles, by contrast, because general theory poses conceptual objects, idealized by nature. They focus on explanation in principle, not application in the concrete. But the golden rule is to be followed, and following the golden rule requires a saintly, unselfish disposition to operate, with a utopian world to operate in. This is common belief. Cloistered monasteries and spiritual communes (Bruderhofs, Koinonia) are its hold-out domains. But even as an ideal in everyday life, the rule is confined to preaching, teaching, and window dressing. Why then make it the object of serious analysis? The following considerations challenge the rule’s blanket dismissal in practice.
First, the silver component of the golden rule merely bids that we do no harm by mistreating others—treating them the way we would not wish to be treated. There is a general moral consensus in any society on what constitutes harms and mistreatments, wrongs and injustices. So to obey this component of the golden rule is something we typically expect of each other, even without explicitly consulting a hallowed precept. Adhering specifically to the golden rule’s guidelines, then, raises no special difficulty. Its silver role is mostly educative in this context, helping us understand why we expect certain behavior from each other. “See how it feels” when folk violate expectations?
The gold in the rule asks more from us, treating people in fair, beneficial, even helpful ways. As some have it, we are to be loving toward others, even when others do not reciprocate, or in fact mistreat us. This would be asking much. But despite appearance, the golden rule does not ask it of us. Nothing about love or generosity is mentioned in the rule, nor implied, much less letting oneself be taken advantage of. Loving thy neighbor as oneself, or turning the other cheek, are distinct precepts—distinct from the golden rule and from each other. These rules are not stated or identified with the golden rationale in biblical or Confucian scripture. Nor are they illustrated together, say in the parables.
We may wish we loved everyone and that everyone loved us, but a wish is not a prescription or command—“Do unto.” And we cannot feasibly love on demand, either in our hearts or actions. (Can we learn to love others as ourselves over a lifetime?) But we can certainly consider how we need or prefer to be treated. And we can treat others that way on almost all occasions, on the spot, without needing to undergo a prior regimen of prayer, meditation, or working with the poor.
I like the way the article points out that the original "Golden Rules" were meant to encompass only local, immediate community relationships. There is an intimacy involved in treating others as we want others to treat us: we assume that we can know how the other person in fact wants to be treated. Extending The Golden Rule beyond our present scope of understanding requires us to change our level of understanding; to get to know the Outsiders beyond our local group of people. We must think of Outsiders as Insiders in some way, before we can begin to tolerate, respect, or love them.Bill Puka wrote:“How would you feel if?” puts the golden rule’s peer spirit in a mother’s teaching hands when urging her egocentric, but sensitive child to consider others. As a socializing device, the rule helps us identify our roles within mutually respectful and cooperating community. How well it accomplishes this socializing task is another crucial mark of its adequacy, perhaps the most crucial. The prospect of first engaging this rule typically captures childhood imaginations, like acquiring many highly useful social skills. (Fowler 1981, Kohlberg 1968, 1982)
Putting these considerations together allows us to identify where the golden rule may be operating unnoticed as a matter of routine—in families, friendships, classrooms and neighborhoods, and in hosts of informal organizations aiming to perform services in the community. Isn’t it in fact typical in these interactions that we treat each other reciprocally, as each other would wish, want, choose, consent or prefer?
The theme of abuse in B&B sometimes takes the high ground route, and sometimes gets swept under the proverbial rug. Mixed messages galore. I find it interesting (and sometimes infuriating) that Catherine wanders all over the place in her morality. Sometimes she reconsiders her abuse of others, although usually this happens only in light of circumstances in which she has herself been abused (i.e. "Down to a Sunless Sea"). Other times, she/her writers ignore Catherine's participation in abuse and exploitation. For example, in "Nor Iron Bars a Cage," Catherine rebukes Professor Hughes's absurd rationalizations for his high-risk behavior and his dismissal of Vincent's needs as a living being.Bill Puka wrote:There is one area where the golden rule extends too far, directly into the path of a turning of the other cheek. When we are seriously taken advantage of or mistreated, the rule bids that we treat them well nonetheless. We are to react to unfair treatment as if it were fair treatment, ignoring the moral difference. Critics jump on this problem, as they should, because the golden rule seems designed to highlight such cases. Here is where the rule most contrasts with our typical, pre-moral reaction, while also rising above (Old Testament) justice. In the process, it promotes systematic and egregious self-victimization in the name of self-sacrifice. Yet, is self-sacrifice in the name of unfairness to be admired? Benevolence that suborns injustice, rather than adding ideals to it, seems morally questionable. Moreover, under the golden rule, both victimization and self-victimization seems endless, promoting further abuse in those who have a propensity for it. No matter how much someone takes advantage of us, we are to keep treating them well. Here the golden rule seems simply unresponsive. Its call to virtuous self-expression is fine, as is its reaction to the equal personhood of the offender. But it neither addresses the wrong being committed, nor that part of the perpetrator to be faulted and held accountable. Interpersonally, the rule calls for a bizarre response, an almost obtuse or incomprehensible one. While a “forgiving” response may be preferable to retribution, why should just desert be completely ignored? It can certainly be integrated into the high-road alternative. In this type of case, the golden rule sides with its infeasible siblings. It bids us to play the exemplar of “new covenant” morality—the morality of love for all people as people, or as children of God. And this asks too much.
These criticisms have merit, but can be mitigated. When dealing with cases of unfairness and abuse, critics assume the golden rule requires us to “take the pain” uncomplainingly. There is no such proviso in the rule. As the Gandhi-King method has shown, it is perfectly legitimate to fault the action—even condemn the action—while not condemning the person, or taking revenge. The practice of abusing or taking advantage of someone does not define its author as a person after all, even when it is habitual. The wrongs anyone commits do not eradicate his good deeds, nor our potential for reform. And the golden rule has us recognize that. But the spirit of silent self-sacrifice is found more in the sibling principles than the golden rule, and should be kept there. In the current case we can readily respond to our oppressor by calling a spade a spade—“You took advantage of me, I noticed.” That would be a first response. “You keep taking advantage of me: that was abusive. I don’t like it; it’s not OK with me.” The abuser responds, “It seems like you like it. Why else would you take it and respond as if it’s OK?” We reply, “Why should I let your abuse drag me down to your level, compounding your offence?”
There are nice and not so nice ways to make this point. If Yeshua is our guide, not so nice approaches are acceptable. To treatment from those known as most righteous in Jerusalem, for example, he responded, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites all..you are like whited sepulchers, all clean and fair without, and inside filled with dead man’s bones and all corruption...yours is a house of desolation, the home of the lizard and the spider…Serpents, brood of vipers, how can any of you escape damnation?” (Matthew 23:13-50 as insightfully condensed by Zefferelli.) If this be love, then it is certainly hard love, especially when we note that Yeshua faults the person here, not just the act.
We must also see these cases in social context to see how far the golden rule bids us go. If we are sensible, and have friends, it is unlikely we will place ourselves in the vicinity of serious abusers, or remain there. The social convention of avoiding those who hurt us also must figure into the rule’s understanding. The defense our friends will put up for us against abuse must figure into the rule’s feasibility as well.
Most morally important, these abuse cases do not illustrate the golden rule’s standard application—quite the contrary. Fair-dealing with unfairness and abuse, in particular, call for special principles of rectification, including punishment, recompense or reform. When used in this context, without alteration, the golden rule poses an alternative to the typical ways these practices are performed. But it remains this sort of special principle. Among its aims, the rule certainly seems bent on goals like rectification, recompense and reform, but indirectly. Arguably the rule has us exemplify the right path—the path the perpetrator might have taken, but did not, thus demonstrating its allure, its superiority. This includes, for observers in the community, the superiority of fairness over retribution (“’Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.”) Teaching this lesson is aimed at raising moral consciousness, especially in the perpetrator. As such, it resembles the practice of “bearing unmerited suffering” in the Gandhi-King approach, aimed at piquing moral conscience in those oppressing us (King 1986).
Ideally, a perpetrator will think better of his practice, apologizing for past wrongs and making up for them. At least it might move him to abandon this sort of practice. And if moral processes are not awakened, then at least placing the offender in a morally disadvantageous position within the group will bring pressures to bear on his behavior. Exemplifying fairness in this way also shows demonstrates putting the person first, holding his status paramount relative to his actions, and our sense of offense.
Exemplifying a moral high road, so as to edify others does not show passivity or weakness. It is normally communicated in a strong, positive pose. Standing above a vengeful or masochist temptation uplifts the supposed victim, not making him further trodden down. Indeed, its courageous spirit is key in working its effect, an effect achieved by Gandhi, King and legions of followers under the most morally hostile conditions. Aside from giving abusers pause, high-minded responses bring loud outcries of protest in one’s cause from outside observers, making reform prudent, and practically necessary.
Hughes: "There’s more at stake here than you think....My whole career, my reputation, the respect of my colleagues."
Catherine: "Is that worth the pain [Vincent] must be suffering?"
Hughes: "There’s still so much to learn from him, so much we don’t know."
Catherine: "Who gave you the right?!"
And yet, when it's Catherine who is taking big risks and uttering absurd rationalizations, the story lets her rationale stand. Catherine's high stakes are indeed supposedly worth the pain Vincent must be suffering. For example, in "The Beast Within," Vincent (whom Catherine has already identified as the one who does the dangerous work of keeping her safe always) says he wants Catherine to stop risking her life in her pursuit of a violent criminal.
Catherine: "I can’t! I have to see this through."
Vincent: "If I ever lost you—"
Catherine: "Vincent, you’re the one who taught me to face my fear and to find courage. I can’t pull back now. It would compromise everything! Me, the case, even what you think of me. I have a chance to bring down the men responsible for all of this. I have to."
Vincent: "A life without you would be unbearable."
In this and other scenes, she is clearly not understanding or listening to what Vincent thinks of her. She, like Hughes, is not overly interested in Vincent's needs and desires. And then when Catherine inevitably bites off far, far more than she can chew, it's Vincent who lovingly picks up the pieces of the woman he loves and knits them (and his own heart) back together again. As a character, Catherine consistently overestimates both her own power and her right to wield her power over others. In Puka's positive sense of the phrase, Vincent takes the moral high ground with Catherine, and exercises fairness and patient endurance over retribution or denunciation. Vincent does not respond to Catherine the way her Topside lovers Tom Gunther or Elliot Burch respond to her, for example. He is never dismissive or argumentative, never aggressive or manipulative, but respectful, even deferential. However, Vincent remains at a distinct disadvantage in his relationship with a woman who believes she is entitled to engage in violent confrontations that require a preferentially nonviolent Beast to act violently on her behalf to keep her alive. Catherine breaks both the letter of The Golden Rule, and the spirit of The Golden Rule, but the story rewards her with Vincent's ongoing support and continual legal validation...
At least until the Season Two episodes that tackle the honest and realistic consequences of Season One's patterns of violence.
I admire Vincent so much when he defends and deflects with as much understanding as can be summoned (i.e. "The Alchemist," "Dark Spirit," "Promises of Someday," "Down to a Sunless Sea," "Ozymandias," "A Happy Life," "Remember Love," "A Fair and Perfect Knight," etc.). But alas, his moments of defense and deflection are usually short, and Catherine almost always gains a victory in their ethical disagreements. Because she is perfectly willing to force her will upon other people, and Vincent is extremely reluctant to force his will upon other people. In fact, he will do so only to protect the lives and livelihoods of people who are being harmed by others. Vincent takes the Golden/Silver Rule seriously; Catherine, however, seems to believe that others should do unto her as she wants to be treated, but that she is not responsible for obeying the rules herself on anyone else's terms. But the show praises and rewards Catherine for her attitudes. It's a murky business, being a damsel in a warrior's guise, and also being a poet-warrior who must rescue his damsel or else stand aside and watch her die (which Vincent simply cannot bear to do). Ultimately, Vincent's adherence to Golden Rule ethics renders him terribly vulnerable to the antics of a woman who only employs the Golden Rule when it happens to serve her own interests and purposes.Bill Puka wrote:But what of the lingering “doormat problem” for those who are especially dependent and masochistic, all but inviting victimization from abusers? No full mitigation may be possible here. The golden rule, if not exacerbating the problem in practice, at least serves to legitimatize it. Its rationale has been exploited by many, including some Christian churches and clergy who suborn victimization as a lifestyle, especially for wives and mothers. A rule cannot be responsible for those who misuse it, or fail to grasp its purposes. But those sustaining the rule bear a responsibility to clarify its intent. It certainly would be better if the rule itself made its intentions clear or included illustrations of proper use. Currently, it relies on the chance intervention of moral teachers or service organizations—those opposed to, say, domestic violence. Even Yeshua’s disciples complained that the parables, supposedly illustrating tenets like the golden rule, were perplexing. Confucian writing was definitely not geared to rank and file Chinese, much less children learning their moral lessons. This is an intolerable shortfall for an egalitarian socialization tool.
Consider a second corollary (the “copper” rule?) that might address such difficulties. “When misused by those do unto [un]fairly, do not quietly bear the offense, instead defending and deflecting if with as much understanding as can be summoned.” Notice that defending does not conflict with praying for those who shamelessly abuse us. (The “summoning understanding” proviso is meant to forestall reversion to a more pragmatic alternative such as “by any means necessary.”)
I think the Tunnelfolk apply this level of reciprocal accountability. I'm reminded of the rule Father/Koslow introduces in "A Children's Story": "To give help and support to those who need it, and to accept help and support from those who offer it to you....It’s a very important promise. It’s how we exist."Bill Puka wrote:In small-group interactions what would normally be tolerated as diversity of opinion and practice can be legitimately identified as problematic instead. Being like-minded, most often group members have expressed commitment to common beliefs, values, and responsibilities. But more important, the rule is vastly more detailed and institutionalized here than it seems because of its guidance by established practices, conventions, and understandings. One’s reputation as a group member depends on holding up one’s end of approved norms, including the golden rule, lest one be considered unreliable and untrustworthy. In such contexts, one can imagine a corollary to the golden rule that would make sense: “Show not consideration to him who receiveth without thought of rendering back.” This seems contrary to the golden rule due to our mis-identification of the rule with sibling rationales of forgiveness and unconditional love—letting others abuse and take advantage of us. Moreover, this corollary may not sanction an actual comeuppance of offenders, in violation of golden-rule spirit, functioning instead as a threat or gentle reminder of joint expectations. Such expectations are a commonly accepted part of “doing unto each other” in a neighborhood or co-worker context where conventions of fairness, just desert and doing one’s share go with the territory.
And this is why/how I believe the writers/producers of B&B failed to comprehend the identity and nature of a modern heroine. Being unable to authentically imagine (or being prevented from authentically presenting) the perspective of a woman in transition, they offered a caricature instead of the genuine article. Not Catherine Chandler and not even Diana Bennett could match the moral clarity and authority of the male characters in the tale. The show advocates empathy, but has to gloss over, explain away, or outright ignore its female protagonist's failures or refusals to successfully empathize with people who live too far outside her everyday norms. The writers never managed to stand inside Catherine's skin and walk around in it. Catherine never got to be a "real girl," to bring up the Pinocchio metaphor again.Bill Puka wrote:We can scoff at the obtuseness of these renderings, but even sophisticates may know less about others’ perspectives than they typically assume. Many have great difficulty imagining strangers’ perspectives from the inside, instead making unwarranted assumptions biased to their own preference. (Selman 1980). Otherwise well-educated and experienced folk can be remarkably unskilled at such perspective-taking tasks. Indeed, feminist psychologists demonstrate this inadequacy empirically in psychological males, especially where it involves empathy or spontaneously “feeling with” others. (Hoffman 1987) (In class, when I’ve fully distinguished empathy from cognitive role-taking, many of my brilliant male students confess, “I don’t think I’ve ever done or experienced that.”) Recent empathy programs designed to stop dangerous bullying in American public schools have acknowledged the absence of empathy in many children. Schools have resorted to bringing babies into the classroom to invoke hopefully deep-seated instincts for emotional identification (or “fellow-feeling”) with other members of our human species (Kohlberg 1969).
Hence why I cannot endorse an argument that defends a barbaric ethos within 1980s America. I.e. Discussing the issue of consensual sex in terms of the authoritarians who historically exonerate and absolve themselves of wrongdoing is morally invalid. In this vein, the needs of the victims are always subordinated to the interests of their oppressors, even when the oppressive party is (sort-of, kind-of) trying to see things from the victim's point of view. Audre Lorde perfectly describes how this works and what we should do about it.Bill Puka wrote:Where the ethics or ethos of a society is barbaric, and its hierarchies authoritarian, taking perspectives within roles legitimates these characteristics. How should a slave and her/his master reciprocate? How should a superior race reciprocate with members of a near sub-human race? This inequality problem is egregious also in adhering to prevailing social reciprocity-conventions applying to roles. Neither ethically skilled role-taking nor empathy can set matters right.
Great summary there.Bill Puka wrote:Like most key tenets of ethics, the golden rule shows two major sides: one promoting fairness and individual entitlement, conceived as reciprocity; the other promoting helpfulness and generosity to the end of social welfare.
Thus Vincent is wrong in "Siege," when Vincent/Peckinpah tells Catherine that generosity cannot be taught. It can be taught, and learned, or else why do we try to influence people to behave in positive ways rather than negative ways? On the other hand, there does come a point when "faking it till you make it" can become an end in and of itself, and then one begins to engage in things like fraud, hypocrisy, and deception (including self-deception). "By whatever means" is a dangerous impetus in our attempts to behave in a morally positive way.Bill Puka wrote:Social psychology has discovered that the single best way to create or change inner attitudes and motivations is to act as if one already possessed them. Over time, through the psychology of cognitive dissonance reduction, aided by an apparent consistency process in the brain, the mind supplies the motivation needed (Festinger 1957, Van Veen, and others, 2009). These processes contradict common opinion on how motivations are developed, or at least it does so long as our resolve does. Unless one keeps the behavior going, by whatever means, our psychology will extinguish the behavior for its lack of a motivational correlate.
There exists more than one path toward goodness, beauty, and love. But the path we take must, in fact, be leading travelers in the right direction if we are to have any hope of arriving at our desired destination.Bil Puka wrote:Here, as elsewhere, the golden rule can act as a conceptual test of whether the group reciprocity conventions of a society are ethically up to snuff. As a means to more morally direct simulation, those interested in the golden rule can try alternative psychological regimens—role-taking is one, empathy might be another. And these can be combined. Those who assume that exemplars must have taken these routes in their socialization may prefer such practices to conventional repetition. However, each is discretionary and but one practical means to it. Each has pros and cons: some routes serve certain personality types or learning styles, others not so well. In certain cultures, mentoring, mimicking and emulating exemplars will be the way to go.
Deep Thoughts: Perhaps one can also try the way of humor: “Before you insult a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way you’ll be a mile away when he gets offended, and you’ll have his shoes.”—John Handy