Unsolicited Dick Pics, The Golden Rule, & Pithy Moral Sayings

The version of The Golden Rule most commonly discussed in English is the one from the Bible: Do to others as you would have them do to you. There are assorted versions of it across many religions and cultures which lend credence to the assumption that it is a good and universal rule.

To that, I present the problem of dick pics (but not the dick pics themselves, since I have a better understanding of consent than the men who sent me theirs unsolicited).

Give and Ye Shall Receive?

I have by no means done a scientific study on the matter, so don’t @ me, but I’ve asked as many dudes as will answer me if they have sent anyone unsolicited pictures of their genitalia, and, if so, why. I’ve even asked more than one man why he had sent me one right after he’d sent it to me (and right before blocking him). I’ve also talked extensively with other people who have talked to men who do this.

The sender’s answer starts, almost always, with “I thought you/she/he/they would like it.” If the answer continues, the sender will muse that he would be absolutely thrilled to receive nudes whether he asked for them or not. Why not give that joy to someone else? Indeed, to withhold it would practically be a misdeed! Asking the other person if they would want one would be like stopping to ask them if they wanted some money before sending them a thousand dollars, no strings attached.

There certainly exist men who send unsolicited dick pics for the thrill they get from the idea of frightening or violating the receiver. As admitting this is something they are unlikely to do, those men will verbally cite The Golden Rule as a justification for their actions.

This cuts directly to the heart of the problem intrinsic to The Golden Rule: It’s easy to twist because it’s too damn simple. It doesn’t ask you to consider that your needs and wants might vary wildly from another person’s. It sets up a reciprocal exchange without considering the consent of the person with whom you are quietly setting up the transaction. It demands that you act but not that you take context into account. It assumes a level of equality and empathy that is simply non-existent in most human interactions.

Like so many other pithy moral sayings, it sounds great but isn’t because it asks both far too little and far too much of people.

Don’t Be A Dick

“Don’t Be a Dick” is the simplified morality that fellow atheists posited to me when I was in college, especially when they wanted to mock my entire field of study. Who need an entire branch of philosophy called ethics when you could just not be a dick? Problem solved!

Except, what exactly is a dick, and what constitutes dickish behavior? Anatomical jokes aside, most colloquial definitions of the term “dick” rely on the idea of disruption. Only a dick would insert his unasked-for junk into someone else’s own face eyes. Only a dick would take candy from a baby. Only a dick would block traffi–

A line of people block the traffic on a freeway from moving. It's evening, so they are lit up by headlights.
Black Lives Matter protesters block the 405 Freeway in Inglewood, CA on July 10, 2016.


And here we arrive at the problem with “don’t be a dick”. Disruptions are not always a bad thing. People disrupt for very important reasons, as with the Black Lives Matter protesters. Sometimes, actions perceived as disruptive are valid reactions to an untenable status quo. I am hardly the only teased, mocked, and bullied person who was scolded when I finally broke and fought back in a way that authority figures found less agreeable to them than my silent feelings of pain. Complicity is “nice”, disruption is being a “dick”.

The Alternate Versions

There are dozens of variations on the basic Golden Rule besides “Don’t be a dick”. Appeals to niceness, kindness, compassion, gentleness, and reason abound. All of them assume a consensus about what is good and disregard context. Worse, they are far too easily weaponized.

Even if you personally have a wonderful, far-ranging interpretation for a pithy saying, that hardly forces everyone else to agree with it. Disagreements are inevitable when discussing morality and ethics, but when these differences in interpretation are disguised as agreement with a pithy saying, the disagreements can’t be adequately identified and addressed.

What Is The Alternative?

First, stop relying on pithy moralizing sayings. Those quotes are the pop-lite version of universal moral principles, which are very difficult to successfully posit, not to mention hard to apply to all situations. If the work of dedicated moral philosophers across millennia couldn’t do that much heavy lifting with such few words, your favorite little saying can’t, either.

Instead, start learning about basic moral and ethical concepts, not as an academic exercise but in everyday life. Talk about what it means to be good or bad for you in different situations. Discuss consent, which is one of the few ethical concepts that is as close to universal as could be and doesn’t solely apply to sex. Assume less, converse more. Learn what others’ inner life looks like. Pay attention to context.

Otherwise, I’m sending you some problem child foster kitties to overrun your house and poop in your hallway, since that’s the kind of thing that makes me happy and is technically selfless volunteer work.

Unsolicited Dick Pics, The Golden Rule, & Pithy Moral Sayings

5 thoughts on “Unsolicited Dick Pics, The Golden Rule, & Pithy Moral Sayings

  1. 1

    I’ve long seen the appeal in the simple and the obvious, tried to keep things on that level, had moral or existential crises when it didn’t work. By now, I dig that reality and morality are more complex (and sometimes contradictory) than any words we can bring to bear on them.

    But I still want to bring the pith. Not just that, but I feel like it’s necessary to combat the social climate that’s given rise to the orange reich. Can one come up with slogans and bumper-sticker simple sayings to encourage people to be thoughtful, skeptical, and compassionate, while still admitting that everything is so complex it should be judged situationally and flexibly instead of by blunt edicts?

    Probably not, but that sucks bc it’s hard to imagine getting through people’s heads without making this digestible. People are intellectually lazy as hell. I’m thinking of two specific people I know when I say that, but I’m sure you can think of dozens.

    BTW, I don’t know how sure-footed you are about your return, but if you like, I can try to send some traffic your way from my bloge. I’m asking because I know I wouldn’t want to be promoted unless I felt ready to receive the masses. Not that I have masses.

    1. 1.1

      The one slogan-friendly concept I can think of is consent. While some might act like it’s weird to ask for consent in many contexts, it’s still a good idea.

      I don’t mind you linking me, and appreciate the ask.

  2. 2

    The thing about Wheton’s Law (“don’t be a dick”) is that it is accurate and it is a good thing to strive for. But far too many people seem to think that that’s enough, when it so obviously isn’t.

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