Morality. It’s pretty fucking simple. It works like this: whenever an action you perform causes suffering, that’s immoral. Easy, right?
Well, you’d think so. But there’s all this static. Religious dogma. Jingoism. Ignorance. Misinformation. Misdirection. Resentment. Revenge. It’s a mess. Living a moral life is like rowing a tinfoil canoe through a river of landmines.
If you think about it, you’ll likely discover that everything leads back to the so-called ‘golden rule’ — that is, treat others as you’d like to be treated. This doesn’t mean be perfect or pious or self-righteous; it means behave as you expect others to behave. If you think our military should be blowing people up, maybe don’t act surprised when other people think they should blow you up. It’s a simple transaction.
Similarly, it makes no sense to limit someone else’s happiness because you buy into a given doctrine. Let me be clear, by way of example [too-soon callback alert!]: it is no one’s right to tell gay individuals they cannot be married. When you vote to deny a given group of people protection according to the law, you are causing suffering, often only for a belief that is not universal. It is your right to disagree with it and believe that this group of people is going to your concept of hell, but that’s about it. Civil rights should not be limited on the grounds of belief alone. Religious convictions do not constitute public policy. You can tell this because the law has allowed for the practice and holding of any number of religious convictions. It works both ways. Fairness is an element of morality.
We all make mistakes, but mistakes notwithstanding, the more negative energy you put into the world, the more attention you draw to yourself from negative sources. It’s not strictly karma, but come on. If you’re a rotten bastard, you’ll eventually be surrounded by rotten bastards and rotten things will happen to you. It’s only a matter of time.
Bodhipaksa, a self-proclaimed skeptical Buddist, offers this about resentment, which is directly related to your treatment of others. We all hold grudges, especially when we feel that we’re justified in doing so. Which is fine; hold grudges if you want them to also be held against you. That’s a choice you make. You know about right and wrong and still choose wrong. That’s human nature. But, at the end of the day, you should be trying as hard as you can to choose right.
One thing that I think helps is to live not as one book would have you live, but hundreds. Instead of taking your code of conduct from an anachronism that has proven to be dangerous in almost any context, it makes sense to read hundreds and hundreds of volumes, of all kinds, to develop a texture of experience. Get different viewpoints and play them off of one another. Comparison shopping for the mind, I guess.
One of the key aims of successful art is to re-contextualize truth so that we might reflect on it. So, if you’re reading hundreds of books where characters are making questionable moral judgements, you start to get an idea of how we as people interact. It’s not going to give you all the answers, but combined with our personal experience, you can develop a pretty serious moral code. Do the right thing not because a singular book tells you that a singular being wants you to do the right thing, but because it’s the right thing to do.