Playing the choose-your-own-adventure MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic gives one the opportunity to amass "light side" or "dark side" points which affects one's alignment, and ultimately, gameplay. When partied up, my son and I often review the possible responses together, and discuss reasons for our potential choice - as they are often not as black and white as one might expect. Sometimes the alignment is affected by choosing a path which goes against what an authority figure expects us to do, while other times it comes down to our own moral code on what we believe the correct action should be. In some cases, doing what we're told goes against what we feel is right. Much like in the real world, we have to live with the consequences of our actions. Unlike the real world however, an unknown mediator levies real-time judgement upon us at every interaction. Who indeed has the ultimate authority to point our moral compass, and why?
In discussions with my son - especially when we disagree upon a course of action - we seek to understand each other's point of view for making disparate choices. What constitutes a "right" or "wrong" choice? Sometimes its as simple as not wanting to be rude - marginalizing someone different than ourselves or endeavoring to make ourselves appear better than someone else at their expense, or a desire to help someone less fortunate than ourselves. Other times however, its not that simplistic - We may be motivated by our own interests; elevating ourselves. But making short-term morally suspect decisions in order to fulfill a larger "end to a means" morally sound outcome is an age-old argument which limits creativity, so when, if ever, is it acceptable?
Moral absolutists may consider moral relativists nothing more than undisciplined (or liberal) absolutists perhaps because they have a singular starting point of origin and no usable process in which to decouple that belief. Similarly, relativists may eschew absolutism as archaic without perhaps a solid understanding of the universal concepts encompassing both - not that I would dare attempt to simplistically air both sides of an ages-old argument. Some believe applying absolutes more broadly will lead to peace on earth while others believe that can only be achieved through less dichotomous thinking. One might in fact take time to ponder the inherent complexity of the two sides as to why disagreement exists rather than just assuming their upbringing instilled a special understanding in themselves and everyone else is wrong or evil (or that evil is the only true path to moral absolution). Confirmation bias is a powerfully magical ingredient in personal empirical studies when one is trying to prove themselves correct.
So my son and I end up doing what every one does, we weigh the variables in a sort of equation. Address our own needs, compare our altruistic goals against our selfish desires - look at the costs and rewards of our actions - ask ourselves if we are acting out of doing no harm or avoiding harm, and deciding how far out of societal norms or our own comfort zone we wish to extend ourselves, look back to see if there is a pattern of outcomes from previous choices we've made before acting.
Because it is a game, we can give in to, or dismiss empathy. We can allow ourselves to respond to emotion over reason depending upon our mood with far less consequence than in the real world. The important thing, I think, is that we do acknowledge it is a choice, and strive to make the best one with the tools we've been given, just like in real life.