Action follows fact-based opinion
Have you ever noticed how we seem to endlessly ponder which wallpaper colour to choose for the living-room, yet approach some vital ethically-charged decisions with a do-first-form-justification-later strategy?
Research-driven, solid opinion precedes our decision to purchase this particular air-conditioned-box-on-wheels, carefully picked out from all the gazillions of metal-boxes-on-wheels out there after having compared technical specs and brands.
Yet when it comes to ethically-charged matters (like LGBTQ+ and trans rights or abortion laws), we seem to flock into emotionally-based-decision-making, which we then justify post-fact into some sort of opinion-like rhetoric. This gets dangerous, fast.
Form follows function
There was this Architect, Louis Sullivan, who coined the now famous ‘Form follows function’ notion. It’s a pretty common-sense concept, as seen from the actually-living-in-the-thing end of the building experience: it first has to be functional, i.e. have its end-user and end-function in mind — and then, and only then, will I care if it’s also pretty.
You also see this in biology. Nothing about the way species on Earth have evolved is random; there is a need, a vital survival adaptation, a function, preceding every trait that we observe today as having taken form. This is true of everything, from the colour on flowers and butterflies to giraffe necks to exploding duck penises. None of that shit is random, however weird some of it might seem.
You have opposable thumbs, because over millions of years our species has adapted to the need for better dexterity. That increased dexterity unlocked increased chances of survival.
We were not ‘given’ opposable thumbs that we then figured out how to use to create farming equipment. We evolved to possess said thumbs because we needed them to survive. The form (thumbs) follows the function (survival via better access to food). I get that what you really wanted to know is why the duck evolved to have an exploding penis, but please, stay focused.
Action follows fact-based opinion
That ‘form follows function’ concept sounds reasonable when it comes to decision-making as well. Especially if we’re buying an outfit for that wedding we were invited to — or a new dishwasher for our recently renovated kitchen. Our opinion is first solidly founded with Internet research, question-asking, meeting sessions with close friends and family, and lots of back-and-forth.
The shoes have to be comfortable enough to dance and walk around a lot in, but they also have to look good and match that particular shade of navy-blue, and everything has to fit the wedding theme. The dishwasher has to be big enough to fit that pot I use to make mac-and-cheese, but it also has to fit in this space here. Then there’s budgets, brands to choose from, until finally we reach An Opinion. We know what we’re looking for, and why we’re looking for that particular thing. Our feelings on the matter have been briefly considered, but the main focus of Our Opinion has been on all the rational factors we need to take into account.
Now imagine being the only one in nine-inch heels at a wedding on the beach where the bride is barefoot in the sand, because you bought the outfit before you ever bothered to look into the venue and dress code, taking only your own feelings on the matter into account. That’s madness, right? Or buying that huge dishwasher that will finally solve all your marriage problems and finding out it misses the fit in your new custom kitchen furniture by a lightyear, in part because you never bothered to consult with your partner who happens to be an Engineer. Who would do that?
Well, that’s pretty much how we tend to naturally want to handle emotionally-charged decisions: we let that emotional charge (the form) dictate our decisions (the function). We choose how to design that building entirely based on the emotional-wow-factor, without ever stopping to consider who will be using it later and fuck-if-I-care how they achieve that. Then, I slap around some basic function, like those bathrooms where you don’t have an actual window or those kitchens that were never meant to witness putting together anything more complicated than a salad without your entire family smelling like steak for a week.
Religion is like a penis
We often use religion as a shield to bounce any critical comments off of when it comes to enforcing our views on others. Often, people will feel as if they’re fighting a noble battle while doing so. But whichever God you may believe in, they are not your fucking scapegoat, so stop that, you are not doing ‘the good work of the Lord’, you are being an asshole. I’ve met enough of both to tell the difference.
I’m an atheist. However, I try my hardest not to be the obnoxious type, that dude who is ironically just like the ‘do you have a minute to talk about our Lord’ people, but with lack thereof. That’s a job for the highly educated evolutionary biologist and author Richard Dawkins (if you want a good dose of atheist fun, look into Dawkins reading his hate mail, which he refers to as ‘charitable correspondence’).
I’m not ‘in the closet’ about my atheism, either. I just happen to think that, for the most part, religion is like a penis: it’s amazing if you have one (or if you don’t) and it’s awesome if you’re proud of your genitals. But it’s not okay to randomly wave your penis out in public, nobody needs to see that, unless it’s specifically that kind of party. And it’s all-the-more not-okay to shove it down people’s throats. Especially if those people are children.
I’ve never once mentioned my atheism in face-to-face conversation at random, unprompted, where it was not absolutely necessary to do so in order to forward the point. When the situation had called for mentioning it, I did so respectfully, sans smugness. And I have never, in my life, ever, tried to ‘show the light of atheism’ to anyone who had not specifically, clearly asked that I share my views on the matter with them. In fact, unless you are literally Richard Dawkins, who has earned the right to share his views through a lifetime of education and research, I fucking hate it when atheists do that thing where they’re all obnoxious about it in public. Put that back in your pants, sir, we’re trying to enjoy lunch.
I also hate it when people do the opposite: try to coerce me into religion after I’ve respectfully suggested we establish healthy boundaries on the matter and basically just agree to disagree.
I don’t get why either team has any beef in it. The information is out there, both ways, for anyone to start digging into it. If I have questions, I’ll question an authority figure on the subject. Religious people think they’re saving us atheists from hell; atheists think they’re saving people from living in Plato’s proverbial cave. Personally, I think everyone would be saved a lot of time and trouble if both parties would just shut the fuck up.
Want to atheism? Then go forth and atheism. Want to religion? Then go forth and religion.
Want to gay marriage? What the fuck’s that got to do with me, unless I’m the one you’re asking to marry? Go forth and gay marriage.
Want to abortion and I think you will burn in hell for eternity, but you think it’s the best decision for you and there’s a legitimate surgeon willing to perform the surgery safely? Then go forth and abortion, because it’s not my life and I have no right to interfere unless I’m your doctor making strictly-medical recommendations (nobody’s putting a gun to a doctor’s head saying they have to perform abortions, it’s an opt-in system). Want to ‘save an innocent baby’s life’? Get off Facebook and go adopt an existing, orphaned baby, or donate to an institution for orphans, or volunteer for one if you can’t afford to donate. It’s that fucking simple, but more on that in a minute.
We have (somewhat) understandable trouble getting over how we feel about things. For instance, a highly devout Christian might feel they have a right, a moral duty even, to enforce their strict anti-abortion views on the entirety of the human population in the name of a hypothetical salvation, even if said salvation is calling for the ritual human sacrifice of the life one is living right now.
More bluntly, such a person might feel like it’s okay for them to force motherhood on an 18-year-old who was brutally raped throughout the process of partaking in the miracle of child-making. But your feelings on the matter don’t make that decision ethically valid.
More simply, the popular notion of ‘if you’re against abortions, then don’t get one’ brilliantly sums-up where your jurisdiction on another person’s life ends. To generalize, if you’re against the thing people do to their own bodies, don’t fucking do the thing — it’s as simple as that and nobody has a right to force or otherwise coerce you into doing the thing.
You’ll notice this revolutionary notion applies to a lot of things which only affect the person that is doing them.
I’ll name a few controversy-cult-favourites: tattoos; cosmetic procedures; make-up; body hair; gay marriage; sexual preferences with consenting adults, in general. This can pretty much go on indefinitely, so here’s the best rule-of-thumb: does it involve you dictating how and/or what other people should do with their own bodies? Unless those people are your own underage children (which is an entirely different topic), then stop dude, don’t be fucking weird. Or: unless you work for an actual substance-abuse rehabilitation clinic, you have no right to interfere with adult-on-self decisions.
When emotion-driven action precedes fact-based opinion
So now that we’ve come this far into treacherous conversation, let’s look at what happens when we, for example, need to decide what our stance on abortion is. What does the majority of the population do to reach such a conclusion? This, by definition, is an emotionally-charged topic. Wherever you may stand on that, there’s a 99.9% chance you also have pretty strong feelings attached to that viewpoint.
But a feeling, is not an opinion. We may sometimes display feelings in a glass encasing labelled ‘opinion’, however that doesn’t make them actual opinions. They’re just mislabelled feelings.
A strong moral decision on an ethically-charged subject does factor in both the reason and science, as well as the empathy. However, empathy is not ‘feelings’, or more specifically empathy is not your feelings — empathy is showing compassion for other people’s needs.
A well-thought-out building factors in both the reason and science (technical aspects like the thing not collapsing in over your head, modern-day facilities, etc.), as well as empathy (people like large well-ventilated kitchens, humans feel good in spaces with plenty of daylight, etc.). Similarly, you need to factor in both when building a well-thought-out stance on an ethically-charged matter.
Notice how when talking about decisions that involve other people, this equation is missing a third factor, your own particular emotions. Just because a certain architect has a preference for a specific shade of electric-orange, it doesn’t make it okay to force everyone to live in electric-orange-dominated apartment-buildings.
You can’t enforce that which feels right for you on everyone else — that’s lack of empathy. See also: children; marriage; obsession with the accumulation of wealth; your favourite sports team — all examples of things you cannot and should not try to enforce on everyone you come across, regardless of where you stand on them.
The paradoxical relationship between abortion and death
‘But abortion is, like, murder.’
Yes, it can be and no, it usually is not. Your feelings aside, science has a general consensus, consisting of strict guidelines, for when it stops being ‘an abortion’ and starts being ‘murder, unless medically mandatory in preserving the life of the mother’. Notice how the safety of the individual who is, you know, already a living, established individual, takes precedence in this drastic circumstance over the hypothetical individual the child could have become. Because women are not birthing machines, they are complex individuals (shocker, I know).
The standard practice is to preserve the life of that individual who has already gone through the complicated mechanics of getting to the ripe age of motherhood, and whom we cannot ignore in favour of a colony of cells that have not yet become an established individual with needs, aspirations, limitations, fragility, mortality, feelings, just like you. When the tough calls that I cannot even imagine how much any obstetrician dreads need to be made, that choice will standardly favour the individual of-the-here-and-now.
In cases of elective abortions, we have strict guidelines for when a pregnancy stops constituting of a colony of cells and starts constituting a human baby. This is a civilized-society-level scientific consensus. My point: when in doubt about what to vote for on other people’s lives, fall onto the scientific consensus.
I happen to live in a country (Romania) that has quite recently in its history experienced a no-abortions policy. Abortions were illegal under the communist regime for 24 years. From 1966 to 1989 (the year I was born), it was illegal for medical professionals to perform abortions — there was jail time for both the doctor and the woman who would have dared, under ‘Decree 770’.
There was no contraception available and there was not nearly enough sexual education.
Over 10.000 women died getting unsafe, illegal abortions that caused them to bleed to death. Read that again, slowly.
My own mother underwent such an illegal procedure to prevent the birthing of a child she could not at the time have afford to raise.
Those 24 years of hell produced an entire generation of orphans, whom we today refer to as ‘the Decree generation’, or ‘the Decrees’. It baffles me how anyone could consider doing this to their own people or even consider contributing to it in any way.
Turns out, when looking at the death toll of this 24-year-nation-wide-rat-experiment banning abortions, that abortion does most killing when it’s illegal.
As I will never stop saying over and over again, emotions are not information. Feelings are not facts. When it comes to another human’s life, have the humbleness to put your own feelings on the matter aside, and look at the facts as the foundation for your decision-making instead. Because your feelings do not equal their feelings, and your truth does not equal their truth. You have no right to enforce either upon any other living adult but yourself.
Post-fact justification for impulsive action does not constitute an opinion
The reason why we have trouble sticking to this simple logic, is because we throw around votes and wave anti-abortion banners now — and think about the facts later, if at all. We create justification for our actions post-fact. We design the house with form in mind foremost, in detriment of function. We blame and wave around entitlement first and then figure out ways of framing reality so that it fits our impulsive, emotion-driven judgement.
We rationalize having told our gay daughter her girlfriend is not welcome under our roof, by pinning it all on saving her hypothetical afterlife from damnation, at the cost of condemning her existing here-and-now life to increased chances of suicide, act which ironically goes against the same book.
We spit insults in the faces of women walking into abortion clinics and rationalize the damage we do via some sort of moral high-ground that implies enforcing our belief system and our feelings on the entirety of the human population.
If evolution had done the same, you’d have had your genitals on your forehead.
I fall into instances of this myself of course, not the genitals on the forehead but the action-first-justification-later fallacy, so don’t think I’m sitting on any high horse here. I too have feelings related to stuff. Everyone does. The trick is to examine yourself and put in effort to stop and look at the facts first, with a healthy detachment from your feelings. Every time you put in that effort, it gets a little easier, just like sticking to a healthy diet or to an exercise regime feels impossible at first — but becomes gradually bearable to the point of being enjoyable after you stick with it for a while.
Give it time, give it patience, give it love
My spine is twisted from about 3 different places (an x-ray of that looks like a lazy snake), so I put in quite a lot of effort to stand up straight, or as straight as I can. For years, I didn’t put in that effort, which was obviously making the entire thing worse. I just full-on abandoned myself to the process of becoming the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I guess, for years, I just didn’t realize how bad it was. I ignored the nearly-constant backpain trying to tell me that it was serious, in order to keep not having to put in the effort.
Then, merely months ago, I saw myself in a candid shot. Not one of those Instagram pics where I know my picture is being taken and I assume the Insta-pose. A candid, didn’t-realize-the-camera-was-there picture. And I suddenly saw it. In a seconded, I realized how bad it was, and how bad it had been for years. So, naturally, I used that new-found enlightenment towards the facts to do something about it, because that shit can’t be healthy, and it looks bad on me.
At first, sustaining that level of effort just to keep my back in a quasi-straight position for the rest of my waking life, felt daunting — like not difficult-daunting, im-fucking-possible daunting. I had to practice virtually constant awareness of my body in order to maintain that position, while also trying to work and go about my business. Awareness is not my forte. I-bump-into-furniture-walking-around-my-own-house not my forte.
I felt like breathing in this new position was off and effortful, my back muscles were sore in new places, it felt awkward and forced, I hated it and I wanted to go home. But, after a few weeks of ignoring all my emotions on the matter and keeping at it, which basically meant just failing over-and-over-again and hunching back to my old ways before becoming aware of it and straightening back up, I noticed it got less and less difficult to maintain. It doesn’t come naturally yet. But it doesn’t feel impossible to carry on for the rest of my life, either. I’m even starting to notice how I’m breathing better — and I’m sure I look tons better.
With time and perseverance, this will become my default — it won’t require conscious effort anymore, because people without back issues don’t call it ‘standing up straight’, they just call it ‘standing up’.
Putting your feelings aside and showing empathy and compassion for other people’s complex realities will come naturally with practice, too. Even if at first you feel like it’s impossible to breathe in this mindset, you’ll notice with time that it’s rather freeing, empathic, and humble in the face of our impossibility to predict what’s best for anyone else (as some of your dating history can certainly testify, we sometimes suck at assessing for our own selves, let alone other people).
No matter the justification we try and fabricate post-fact, enforcing ourselves on other people’s lives cannot be justified. Not in the name of religion, not in the name of emotionally-driven arguments, not because you disagree.
Opinion must precede action — and in order for something to qualify as an opinion it must be based in fact, not feeling. The consequences of enforcing your feelings on everyone and everything you come across range from ‘being an ass’ to ‘potentially deadly’.
Leave the emotionally-driven decision making where it belongs: in your own personal life. Proceed onto others with awareness of their status as an individual and our limited rights when it comes to interfering with their decision-making. And for fuck’s sake, keep that penis in your pants, both the literal and the proverbial one, unless it specifically says on the invitation that it’s that kind of party.
Later edit: changed/removed some mood pics.
Thank you for taking the time to debate with me today.
I’d appreciate it if you’d share this with someone who needs a bit of debate in their life, too. But I’ll love you even if you don’t. You could consider a clap though.
Until our next debate, stay safe, nerds.