You make art, right? And I bet you find your work being infringed. You (probably) get upset about someone taking your work and using it without your permission. That’s totally rational. Then you get into your Uber, with its underpaid driver without any benefits or job security and go home where you listen to music on Spottify which hardly pays the artists or, worse, stream or download it from some free service, ripping off other artists just as you have been ripped off.
You’ve just blown your moral high-ground for your infringements. But worse than that, you’re contributing to the cultural acceptance of “the world is a shit place and if you don’t do it someone else will.” Stop. Now.
Here’s the deal: even when other people do spectacularly shitty things to you, that never justifies you doing the same to them or (yikes!) to others. Civilization (particularly its laws) only works when people refrain from doing the wrong things even when it makes things harder for themselves or when others won’t or don’t. If it were easy to always do the right thing, we wouldn’t need to regulate things with laws. But laws only work when we respect them, even when it doesn’t benefit ourselves.
This rise in ethical failings is one of the great harms of the Trump administration: Trump flouts the law, over and over. He does horrible things, breaks the law, and the senate doesn’t hold him accountable (as it should under its constitutional mandate). He gets away with it. We all get screwed and frustrated. For people who follow the law and act ethically regardless of the law, it seems so unfair.
Then, we are faced with a much smaller moral choice and it becomes far too easy to think things like “Why should I suffer when he gets away with it?” or “Well, the corporations don’t have to pay taxes so why should I?” or “It costs too much to rent the movie on iTunes—I can watch it for free on this other site.” We choose to do something that is objectively wrong, like buying our kid’s way into an elite college rather than making the kid actually earn that entrance, and justify it as not being as bad as, say, ripping kids from their parents at the borders. “My bad isn’t really that bad; look at what other people do!” we justify.
No matter how horrible the horribles are that are done by others, choosing to cheat or steal or lie (etc.) is still wrong.
Long story short, every day we get to make choices. Every day we’re faced with problems and often the solutions are not very pleasant, unless we cheat somehow, like so many other people do. Regardless of politics, regardless of income or social class or race or gender or anything at all, there is right and wrong. We all know this—we just have to stop being willfully blind to our own actions that fail the test.
Moreover, we have the power (if not the moral obligation) to choose to do right.
A friend of mine (and, full disclosure, a client) recently announced that he is quitting all things Amazon because of how that company is abusing its workers. He noted that it will cost his family more and it will be more inconvenient, but it is the right thing to do. Bravo. Facebook has and is contributing to the rise of white nationalism, anti-LGBTQ groups, and the general thwarting of democracy. We can choose to quit it (I did quite some time ago). We can choose not to use the music “services” that pay the artists virtually nothing—claiming poverty while buying penthouse offices in NYC and partying on mega-yachts in Cannes. The list goes on and on.
Of course, doing right isn’t always easy or convenient; do it anyway. You want a better society? You want more decency? Then do the right thing as often as you possibly can, regardless of what is done by others or to you. Treat others with more humanity than they treat you. The more of us who do these things (like quitting Amazon), the better the world will be for us and generations to follow.