Self-awareness and its role in online ethical discourse

In the following shortpost, I use the word “Redditor” several times. But it’s a term that doesn’t strictly limit itself to actual users of, and in fact it excludes a pretty significant portion of Reddit’s population. What I mean by “Redditor” is the archetypal Reddit personality, characterized by:

  • Browsing online forums
  • Focusing on “intellectual” topics such as morality, public policy, world news, religion, science, etc.
  • Not having a substantial background in these “intellectual” topics but constantly engaging in “debates” about them regardless
  • Often describing himself as “intelligent,” “logical,” and “scientific”
  • Generally lacking a sense of self-awareness

One reason why online armchair morality is so bad is because too many people think that ethics = decision-making. They believe in some unfounded principle that if you rationally choose something, that must mean that you think it’s moral. But there’s no reason why this should be the case. People rationally choose to do immoral things all the time. When I use the word “rationally” in this sense, I do not mean 100% word-of-God divine rationality, but the average amount of rationality that a reasonable person would employ in his or her day-to-day actions, free from direct physical and mental coersion.

Sometimes I commit an act of littering by dropping chewing gum wrappers on the ground. I am fully aware that what I am doing is wrong, but I choose to do it regardless. Sometimes (actually, almost every day) I eat meat. I know that this is wrong, but I do it anyways, because meat is a very convenient source of protein and pretty tasty at the same time. There’s no reason to conflate human decision making with human morality. If anything, it should be intuitively obvious that because humans strive to live up to some ideal morality that the average human would, therefore, be at least a teeny little bit immoral.

And this is why Reddit ethics debates are so terrible: Redditors just want to design a moral framework that justifies everything they do. Redditors think that an ethical system that doesn’t provide a convenient excuse for their everyday actions is a bad system. It’s a point of view that is characteristic of people who haven’t really thought critically about ethics, and even worse, of people who are dangerously self-unaware. Any virtuous person who lives in this fallen world (Redditors: I use this term metaphorically) should at the very least be able to list his or her own flaws. A good moral system doesn’t come after-the-fact.