The Beauty And Simplicity of Moral Clarity

My novel, The Breaking Dawn, opens in the voice of a man who believes himself to be the luckiest man ever born. He explains a bit about his gifts, then points the reader to the greatest of his blessings, that of clarity. He asks the reader to imagine living through their life a second time, knowing in advance when all the traumas would erupt, and experiencing far less fear than everyone else. This, he says, might give them a sense of how things were for him. He concludes with this:

So, a constantly healthy body and an exceptional mind were tremendous gifts – for which I am deeply grateful – but they were second to the blessing of clarity.

The one type of clarity that is open to us all is moral clarity, which happens to be the most important kind. To gift our children with moral clarity is to clear a path through life for them… a path that eliminates the thorns, weeds and underbrush that hinders most men and women. Said differently, by gifting our children with moral clarity, we save them from the life-long pain of confusion and uncertainty.

Moral clarity makes us happier, and it makes us better. In fact, if you want to make humans behave well, job number one is to help them see clearly… to give them moral clarity.

What’s also crucial to understand is that attaining moral clarity is not complicated. It’s actually very simple, provided that you value it more highly than its primary obstruction.

How Simple It Is

In the face of the shelves full of books on ethics, law libraries and the like, the idea that morality is simple can appear ridiculous. What I’ll tell you today is that nearly all our difficulties with morality are artificial, resting upon primitive and outdated dogma.

More or less every great moral teacher, over thousands of years, has come to the same basic formula for morality. It has been championed by the Greeks, the Chinese, the Hebrews and the Christians, as well as many others. And it’s a supremely simple dictum to live by.

This moral formulation, of course, is the Golden Rule. And as we know, this rule is almost trivially simple: What is hateful to you, do to no one.

Or, you may prefer a slight variant: Treat your neighbor as yourself.

These simple statements can solve 99% of the moral questions humans face, and living by them would additionally solve nearly all the practical difficulties we face.

Now, before I get to the reasons why people can’t just use the Golden Rule and make their lives simpler and better, I’d like you to imagine living by the Golden Rule alone; without weaseling away from it:

With moral clarity, we wouldn’t magically know the absolute right and wrong in every situation, but we’d have a simple tool for dividing right from wrong. Deciding what was right or wrong would merely be a matter of comparisons. In the vast majority of cases, we’d cut right through the now-normal confusion and arrive at a decision we could confidently rely upon.

In most cases, we’d divide between wise and foolish conclusions in mere seconds. It wouldn’t be entirely effortless, but it wouldn’t be taxing either.

Human life is complex, of course, and so crafting best responses to our situations would remain challenging, but we’d almost immediately define the moral pivot of any given situation, and we could move forward into responses both confidently and comfortably. In actual practice, this would improve not only our judgments, but our intellects. (You can see FMP #100 for background on this statement.)

The Difficulty

You’ll notice that I’ve said moral clarity was simple, but I didn’t say it was easy. And that’s because, at present, it can sometimes be frightening.

In a neutral world moral clarity would be easy, but this, unfortunately, isn’t a neutral world; it’s a world featuring a hard bias against moral clarity. Here, bluntly, is the crux of the matter:

Once you remove the position of “the ruler,” most of our struggles with ethics and morality collapse into the Golden Rule.

This is the difficulty. To attain moral clarity, we must ignore that which refuses to be ignored.

Those who refuse to be ignored demand that we reference outside standards and follow them without questioning. We are pushed into this with fear and with confusion.

The Golden Rule, then, remains available to us inside our homes, but relying upon it in the public sphere is a punishable offense. Politics is almighty in public, and politics stands as an open violation of the Golden Rule… the operative statement of the political realm being, Do what we say or we’ll hurt you.

I’m not going to spend time defending the statement above from all the knee-jerk responses it triggers. I’ve made my point, and whoever wishes to can wrestle with it himself or herself.

There are substantive challenges to the Golden Rule, but they revolve around wildly unlikely scenarios involving lifeboats, railroad switches, and choosing between who lives and dies. These are impossible choices that almost no one ever faces. To take them as some sort of over-arching concern is silly. They are tragic exceptions that one in ten million of us might face. They are nothing to base a life upon.

There are other desperate challenges, such as, “So, is it okay for a masochist to hurt you, since he likes hurting himself?” These are, again to be blunt, attempts to remove the Golden Rule, by fixating upon a single, imagined flaw, amongst hundreds of clear and beneficial applications. The Golden Rule obviously assumes a sane human being.

Last Words

I’ll close with a brilliant comment from Erich Fromm, in his book You Shall Be As Gods. I think it’s worthy of careful consideration:

The person whose conscience is essentially autonomous does the right things, not by forcing himself to obey the voice of the internalized authority, but because he enjoys doing what is right, even though often he will need some practice in following his principles before he can fully enjoy his action.

This is what we give to our children, and to ourselves, by daring to choose moral clarity.


Paul Rosenberg

One thought on “The Beauty And Simplicity of Moral Clarity”

  1. No man needs morality than the lone man on a desert isle. One’s moral code is his set of concepts of deciding what is right or wrong for him to do. If he is on a desert isle and makes an immoral decision or decisions, he perishes. Ethics does not necessarily have anything to do with relationships with others. That is one’s politics. Everyone has to have a philosophy of life in order to live. The word ‘philosophy’ means love of knowledge. Every philosophy, and every religion, has 5 branches – metaphysics, epistemology, politics, ethics and esthetics. Every religion is a philosophy but not every philosophy is a religion. In my humble opinion, every religion is a silly, irrational philosophy. For instance, who in his right mind can believe in an immaculate conception between a god and a woman to produce a perfect son who will be persecuted and murdered, come back to life 3 days later, and be used as an excuse for deliverance from one’s sins, which might consist of violations of 10 so-called commandments.
    And who can accept the metaphysics, the study of the nature of the origin of the universe and all that is in it, of genesis? Metaphysics seeks to answer the question, “What is?” Epistemology is the study of the nature, methods and limits of knowledge. It seeks to answer the questions of, “What do I know, how do I know it and what can’t I know?” Politics is the study and practice of proper human relationships. It answers the question, “How should I relate with all others?” Ethics, morality, is the study and practice of the nature of right and wrong. It answers the question, “What should I do in this situation?” And, finally, esthetics is the study of the role of beauty in one’s life. It answers the question, “What should I value in life?” A value being anything you act to gain or keep such as freedom.
    In ethics, some con artists seek to confuse people to take advantage of them. For instance, a real moral code teaches you to always act in your rational best interest because that is likely to cause you to survive and be happy on your desert isle until you can get back to relating with others in a political setting where you can continue to act in your rational best interest by properly relating with others by trade rather than force. But some people use a substitute for a moral code called ‘altruism’ to confuse their victims. For instance, altruism is a doctrine that the moral is to live selflessly for others rather than in your own interest. Instead of judging an action or decision to see if it is right or wrong for you, it substitutes the ‘beneficiary’ of the action or decision and asserts that any action that is intended to benefit the self is evil but that any action that can be declared to benefit others is good. This reverses morality and is a highly useful process for all politicians. They can say, “Yes, I am robbing you blind but I’m not doing it to benefit myself, I’m doing it for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the downtrodden, the Ukrainians, etc.” That is handy for virtue signalling – “I am more virtuous than you capitalists because you act selfishly in your own interests while I am helping the world’s needy, with your money, not my own because I only force others to be altruists. Altruism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Altruism is ‘the New Clothes’ covering up the naked evil of the Emperor in The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersson.
    All leftists and most rightists profess to be ‘altruistic’ because we were all taught that as children in all our institutions to make us suckers for every crooked politician who wants to extort from us. The old saying was, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” That was handy when raising loot for fighting wars. But the real truth is that capitalists always live by helping the needy, but that is not their motive, it is their means. “I’ll help you solve your problem if you’ll help me solve mine.” Capitalists live by trading solutions to each others’ problems on a voluntary mutually beneficial basis as equals.
    Let me give you an example of the evil of altruism as a substitute for morality. Jaime Raskin is a Harvard educated lawyer and a member of the House January 6 investigation into capitalist former president Trump whom he hates. Raskin is a leftist who professes to be a selfless public servant and his wife Susan is a leftist who was seeking to be a high officer at the Fed. Both of them profess selflessness as the ideal but practice power lust and greed. They had a son who was a law student at Harvard like his father but apparently he couldn’t resolve the contradictions between what his parents advocated and what they actually practiced so he committed suicide. His parents blamed Trump as always but I think it was they who murdered their son just as surely as if they had held the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. They are evil people and they know it. But, as my philosopher Ayn Rand said, “The evil mind cannot face knowledge of its own evil.” I think you would enjoy her paperback book, “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

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