A Quick Philosophical Critique on "You be you" Morality
We live in a culture that has bought into the lie that we are autonomous beings. “No one can tell me what to do or who to be!” “I just need to be true to myself!” While the world celebrates these “beautiful’ statements of “freedom” and “love,” we must look critically at what these beliefs will draw us to in our social and moral landscape.
The desire for autonomy and the belief that “no one tells me what to do, that “I’m me, and I need to be true to myself and no one else” is also a statement (whether we know it or not) of “you be you, do whatever you want.” Again, while this is heralded as fantastic declaration, the implications of it are teleologically terrible. Each of these statements, when questioned, ultimately lead to a clarification of that sounds something like this: “Yes, be you, and do whatever makes you happy… as long as it doesn’t impinge on other’s autonomy and happiness.” This is the horrific banner statement of our culture, that has many philosophical problems, but in this space, I’d like to look at two significant issues we must be aware of with this ideology:
1) “…as long as it doesn’t impinge on other’s autonomy and happiness.” The problem here is: all we do is interconnected. We can never distance ourselves completely from others; meaning all that you do, in some way impinges on other’s freedom. If I am crossing the street and my street crossing impinges on the driver's desire to get where he wants, whose autonomy is more important? If he hits me and kills me so he can get to a sports bar for the start of a game is that okay? If he hits me and bruises my shin so he can get to a job interview he needs to support his ailing daughter, is that okay? I’m not seeking an answer to these ethical dilemmas, but merely trying to highlight that the statement “as long as it doesn’t impinge on others” is an impossible standard. Everything we do has residual effects on others. This brings us to our next problem:
2) Who then determines how much impingement is allowed? Left to our own autonomy and vices we become the judge in the most arbitrary way. Things that the culture may say are grotesque and inappropriate are no longer morally wrong, just a social taboo. Therefore, even our statement of “as long as it doesn’t impinge on other’s autonomy” is also only a social taboo, which, with enough support, can actually be overthrown based on the current social desires. This is crazy. Things like pedophilia, slavery, sex trafficking, all of which our culture would agree are abhorrently evil, must be looked at with the question of “why is this evil?” If we use our cultural standard of autonomy, we will find the basis of our distaste is the pedophiler’s, slave owner’s, and sex trafficker’s enforcement of their autonomy on its victim, not the actual crime. What then does that say about the intrinsic value of the victim and the true moral disgust of the crime? Does it not misplace the evil to “overstepping your autonomy” instead of properly placing it in the immorality of the act itself? What then do we do with willing victims? We must either say “Well, in that case, it is not wrong,” or “They (for whatever reason) don’t have the reason enough to make the correct choice.” The first of these options is disgusting, and the second forces your autonomous thoughts about what is reasonable onto the victim, making you as guilty as the slave owner... Who are you to say they don’t know enough? Doesn’t this also mean that anyone smarter than you has the ability to tell you what is right and wrong because they are more enlightened? What about the "smarter" criminal?
You must now see the problem: Our self-made morality in “you be you” is also self-destructing. It sounds good because we are gods of our own lives, confident in how we see and navigate the world, but a bunch of little gods with different perspectives reveal how ungodly, unwise, and messed up we are. Here we need a real God, whose supreme knowledge, power, authority, and love can be the Truth that we live under. This can bring us to see God’s critique of our sin in a different light- the light of true eternal, absolute right and wrong. It is not swayed by the current culture or motivated by selfishness. It does not allow the majority, or the most powerful, to dictate morality because they are not the keepers of it. It does not buy into the lie that “you be you” but calls us all to the truth that “we are created in God’s image, under God’s authority, to be who God created us to be.” The beauty of God’s True morality is that we can be confident that, being God, He has the correct, all-encompassing, and righteous perspective.