On a winding, single-lane road always drive slow enough that you could evade yourself coming from the opposite direction.
The same can probably be said for how we act in everyday life. How about:
Always act in such a way that you would get along with yourself.
The Golden Rule Issue
Obviously, this has the usual drawbacks of any “Golden Rule” type statement. Being able to get along with yourself does not make you a good person. No less than driving slow enough to avoid yourself guarantees that you won’t have an accident.
But as a minimum requirement I think it is incredibly tangible.
- Would you put up with your own behavior?
- Would you ask yourself for an apology right now?
- Would you feel treated unfair by yourself?
It is certainly not the silver bullet of moral behavior, but it’s a nice and quick self-test to check whether you are being an asshole.
Turtles all the way down
By power of habit we get stuck in our own view of things. Because it would be unrealistic to question every single assumption on a regular basis, we have to take thousands of things for granted, and this habit makes us closed-minded towards alternative views.
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.
At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”
The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?”
“You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”
—Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1988
We shake our heads at the world views of other people, but so rarely do we question our own.
Of course it is completely insane to believe that the world is “turtles all the way down”.
But is it really so much less insane to believe that there was absolutely nothing and then with a loud bang suddenly the world appeared out of said nothing, that space consists basically of nothing, that the atoms in our body came out of exploding stars, the the universe consists to a large degree of invisible “dark matter” and even more invisible “dark energy”.
We shake our heads at the turtles, but who shakes their head at the “series of explosions” model?