Recently, Lutheran scholar John Bombaro wrote a powerful article for 1517.org here. Within, he argues that those who are justified in Christ have had their superficial and shallow identities replaced with the historical occurrence of their own baptisms and are free to love as Christ loves. Pursuits that aim to re-justify a self-image of virtue, therefore, are expressions of a Christian seeking to shackle themselves again to a law that does not fit and will not acquit. “The Christian is free from asinine, self-defined religion, of course, but also the dictates and pressures of every political, social, and ideological agenda the world has to offer.” Amen and amen.
Virtue signaling justifies nobody (as Bombaro’s title states), and it only serves to point the finger at yourself while judging others. At best, you find out how little people cared about you to begin with (like Ashton Kutcher crying on Instagram); at worst, you throw gasoline on a fire (like kneeling whilst wearing an Ashanti slave-trader stole). It’s the modern version of saying, “I have a black friend.” You know, that soft virtual signaling that I grew up with in the 90’s. Back then, I viewed racism as this terrible thing of the past, a relic of ignorance, and I still do. Back then, if you were cool enough to be friends with a minority, you could prove how not-racist or bigoted you were, and for some reason that was really important to us. I remember telling my mom in second grade about Brad, my new black friend—turns out he was just really tan.
At some point in my teenage life I grew out of this immaturity. Partly due to the actual black people I got to know, partly due to my steady diet of black sitcoms, I settled into the foolish notion that all men were created equal and that hard work, responsibility, and self-control would make anyone in America succeed at life. I booed along with the audience when Shirley got a job only because she was black. I wished I had an Uncle Phil when Will’s dad abandoned him again. I was proud to be an American when the Huxtables watched Dr. King’s speech. I laughed until I cried when Dave Chappelle’s Clayton Bigsby became the first ever black white supremacist because he was blind and thus didn’t know he was actually black. That last scene summed up the idiocy of blind racism, and hilariously mocked an old social reality that was in its death throes. Grant Park on November 4, 2008 was supposed to be the nail in the coffin.
But we forgot about the Platinum Rule.
Aha, you expected something else, didn’t you? You expected me to admit that racism was still a big problem in America, didn’t you? You expected me to check my privilege and admit I didn’t know what it was like to be black, didn’t you? If you did, you didn’t realize that the entire previous paragraph was an intentional virtue signal, a sleight of hand to point my finger at myself with all the subtlety of a backfiring pistol. You have been trained to salivate over such virtue signaling as the previous paragraph, even in measured and reasonable doses. If you thought the other shoe would drop on the side of “we still have a long way to go,” then you are a victim of the Platinum Rule, which is the source of all virtue signaling and the ultimate bane of our formerly-free-thinking society. No, I do not believe we have a “long way to go” on racism. I believe that America remains the freest (now!), most equal (legally!) country in the world, since it is based upon ideals instead of culture, recognized-rights instead of race. Any movement from this position will only be downward, but the reason is not systemic racism—it is the Platinum Rule.
The Platinum Rule was a term coined by sociologist Milton J. Bennett in 1979. (Nowadays he is known for the Bennett Scale, a six-stage model aimed at intercultural sensitivity that only a graduate student in sociology or an HR director would take the time to study.) The Platinum Rule is obviously modeled after the Golden Rule spoken by Jesus in Matthew 7, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This, however, has one major problem: “the Golden Rule … does not work because people are actually different from one another.” Thus, a sort of Platinum Rule is needed, namely that you should “do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” It was echoed again in Dave Kerpen’s 2016 bestselling book, The Art of People: 11 Simple People Skills That Will Get You Everything You Want.
From a business standpoint (toward which the latter book is written), this makes sense: I don’t use pizza as bait when I go fishing, but I consider what the fish wants. Likewise, applying the Platinum Rule to human relationships means I consider what the other person would want and seek to apply it, since what I want is not necessarily what they would want.
Sounds woke enough to opiate the masses, doesn’t it? The sentiment is admirable in understanding intercultural relationships, but human nature has quickly weaponized the notion. While the Platinum Rule may be fine for the “customer is always right” model of capitalism, it simply does not apply in the real world to an unwilling party without brewing violence. If I think what you said was hateful, then you have harmed me with hate speech and you must repent. Even though I cannot point to a law that systematically discriminates against minorities, I can yell that the whole system is broken and needs to be overthrown by Marxism. So there is no data to support widespread police racism; a black man has a target on his back. Also, I want you all to call me Loretta, and you better damn well get my pronoun right.
Note the irony of Kerpen’s subtitle, and it seems the proper use of the Platinum Rule is to use people to get what you want. This is what virtue signaling within the Platinum Rule does to human beings: it self-justifies one’s identity based on what that individual thinks another wishes to hear or see, and so does harm not only to the self-justifier who grapples with a false identity, but it also harms the other by training them to control people with their demands. To wit: I don’t want to be hateful, so I’m going to create safe spaces that single you out as someone who is clearly too weak to stand up for themselves, too fragile to cope with life. I want everyone to be treated equally, so I will overcompensate for you because your life was more challenging than mine. A repeat offender of violent crimes and drug use was tragically killed by a poorly trained cop, so we need to defund and disband the entire police department. You don’t agree? Then we will raze the statues of emancipators and burn our cities to the ground. Vive la Platinum Rule: do unto me what I would have you do unto me. Now kneel.
The Platinum Rule is the tragic cause of all social disorder in 2020. From racism to Covid restrictions, the Platinum Rule dictates that you can and should place demands upon my life. Abiding by this rule, I have the right and expectation to foist my feelings upon you in order to “educate” you. You need to change because I am feeling bad. You are the problem because I am suffering. You need to check your privilege because I grew up at a disadvantage. You cannot possibly understand me, so I am the one with the conch shell. But what happens when the table is turned? If the Platinum Rule is available for all, then we are at an impasse and there can be no coexistence because no one is listening to anyone. But if the Platinum Rule is available only to the most marginalized (or the one with the highest intersectionality score), then it is a race to the bottom. Then those who have no voice make way for the next oppressed group, and the cycle begins anew with a newly-trained force of Thinkpol.
The Platinum Rule is so harmful to race relations because it is predicated on difference, and those differences are highlighted instead of bridged. As Bennett’s article clearly articulates, an individual can only empathetically communicate with another if they recognize that the other is an other, equal but different (sounds a bit like separate but equal). In this way, the Platinum Rule is inherently racist (and sexist), searching for differences instead of commonalities. For the disciple of Christ, Romans 3:23 makes it plain that all mankind are fallen and in need of a savior, and Galatians 3:28 makes it plain that in Christ all are equally saved. Circumcision or no, vagina or no, melanin or no, everyone who has been baptized into Christ has clothed themselves with Christ. The old distinctions of class, ethnicity, and social standing have no bearing on the Christian. You are my brother/sister, and I will do unto you as I would have you do unto me: forgive me, love me, respect me.
The Golden Rule is the only axiom worthy of a civilized society. Not only is it predicated on human equality, but it is set in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the section of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus teaches his followers how to live as one who was poor in spirit but is now alive in Christ. As someone alive in Christ and dead to the law (Romans 5-7), live as one who is free to love. You would not want people to murder you, steal from you, cheat on you, or lie to you. So do not do it to them. If someone has murdered, stolen, cheated, or lied, forgive them their trespasses as yours have been forgiven (also in the Sermon). The benefit of the Golden Rule is that it recognizes responsibility for the self, especially winking at the notion that you cannot control others. Take the log out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in your brother’s (also in the Sermon).
Parts of American history are evil and mortifying. But living as though every mistake of the past were unforgiveable is the surest way for the Visigoths to sack Rome. The Platinum Rule is inherently racist, selfish, self-defeating, and therefore antithetical to Christian doctrine and any civilized society. I do not believe that any human being should be mistreated for any reason. Why is that not enough? Because of the Platinum Rule, that’s why. Check your priviledge.
Kill the Platinum Rule, and you’ll kill “systemic racism”. Barring that, please just leave me alone and get off my lawn.