Religious people are usually handed a set of opinions by their pastor. Since early childhood they are indoctrinated to just accept a batch of ideas that are already packaged together. Each person is expected not to analyze each of these ideas too carefully. After all, a closer and more careful examination might reveal inconsistent attitudes, double standards, and contradictions. As nonbelievers, we should strive to do better than that. Instead of blindly accepting some ready-made package of ideas, we should examine each of our opinions and carefully evaluate whether there are any contradictions or clashes between several of them.
Some contradictions are so obvious that I’m impressed how believers even manage to compartmentalize their minds to such an impressive degree. God is loving and almighty, yet he allows evil to exist. Sex is filthy, therefore you should only do it with the person you love and cherish the most. A man who has many female sex partners is a virile role-model, a woman who has many male sex partners is a sinful slut. When my country commits war crimes, that’s fine; when another country commits identical or very similar war crimes, then that’s atrocious.
Never mind that some people engage in plain old hypocrisy. This is how we get politicians who publicly oppose gay marriage while hiring male sex workers in secret. Or politicians who talk about family values while having a plethora of girlfriends. Or female activists and politicians who speak in front of large crowds about how a woman’s place is inside the kitchen.
And then there’s also all the bigotry. People treat entire groups of humans differently based on whether they belong to said group. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc. are all prime examples of double standards. What is allowed for a white cis man cannot be allowed for a black trans woman. Would you like to be stopped and frisked? No, then how can you possibly support a stop-and-frisk policy that targets people of color? Answer: double standards and a dislike for darker skinned people: “I am white, this policy doesn’t target and hurt me, so I shall approve of it.”
A core trait of double standards is applying different principles based on personal likes or dislikes. I like alcohol, therefore it should be legal; I don’t like weed, therefore it should be banned. I like Ten Commandments monuments on public property, but I dislike Satanist monuments, so the former should be allowed, but the latter should be banned. I like heterosexual sex in the missionary position, but I dislike gay anal sex, so the latter must be a perverse abomination.
Of course, when it comes to principles, it should be irrelevant what you like or dislike, the principle should always be applied in the same way. Sometimes double standards are blatantly obvious, however the problem can be also very subtle and hard to notice.
Let’s consider this example from a blog post written by Marcus Ranum:
That’s the problem – stop-and-frisk was something that Bloomberg defended and expanded for over a decade. It was a racist, unfair, and unconstitutional practice from the beginning…One cannot defend a practice like that and then suddenly flip around and say “… and I just now realized that it’s been evil all along.” What I’m trying to get at is that being a good person is not a position one can adopt late in life, after decades of support for bad actions.
I agree with Marcus’ conclusion here: Bloomberg is a nasty person, and I won’t buy his apology.
Yet I disagree with the reasoning. The problem is that people should be allowed to suddenly flip around and say “… and I just now realized that it’s been evil all along.” Would I like to live in a world where people aren’t allowed to change their opinions? What if I were the one who used to be wrong in the past? Would I like to be punished for all those stupid things I said 10 years ago? Do I really want to accept a general principle that it is right to condemn other people for having been wrong in the past? No. Often people cannot be blamed for having been wrong. Some children are raised in racist, sexist, homophobic families. It’s not their fault that they took some time to realize that everything their parents taught was wrong. Some people are wrong about something, because they were too busy to invest time into researching some topic. That’s life. Changing opinions is normal.
Thus my overall principle is that, in general, people should be free to change their opinions upon realizing that they had been wrong. The reasons why I don’t buy Bloomberg’s apology are different: he doesn’t appear to be sincere; he is apologizing only now that his past misdeeds hinder his electability. He also isn’t doing anything to ameliorate all the harm he has done. “I hurt you, but let’s just forget it and move on,” is a problematic attitude.
I have routinely disagreed with other Freethoughtblogs bloggers is a similar manner. I agreed with the conclusion that some action is either good or bad, but I had a problem with some general principle that appeared in their reasoning. Upon examining said principle, I realized that it is not something I can universally endorse, because I wouldn’t be willing to apply said principle equally in all imaginable situations.
My insistence upon applying the same principle equally in all situations has lead to numerous heated discussions over the last two years. Some people found it hard to believe that I can agree with their overall attitude and conclusion while simultaneously disagreeing with some point in their reasoning that lead them to reach the same conclusion I hold. For example, on one occasion I was accused of being a libertarian (actually, I’m perfectly happy with socialism), because I refuse to accept every single argument somebody might use in order to condemn capitalist billionaires.
So, yes, I do have a tendency to argue about principles, and I want my opinions to be logically consistent and free of double standards. This doesn’t mean that I’m a troll trying to defend your enemy.