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No excuse for moral relativism

| Monday, January 25, 2016

Warning: Spoilers for season one of Bojack Horseman

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince my friends to watch Bojack Horseman. It’s not because it’s hilarious (though it is), or because it features my Hollywood crush Alison Brie (though it certainly, certainly does), but because it makes a really good argument for being a decent human being to a generation that has embraced moral relativism.

This argument comes to a head at the end of the first season. The first ten episodes of Bojack Horseman follow a washed-up horse through hedonistic and nihilistic shenanigans while recounting his life story to his ghostwriter, Diane. At the end of episode 11, a distraught Bojack fresh off a terrifying, revelatory drug trip begs Diane to confirm that he’s somehow still a good person, “deep down.”

“I don’t think I believe in ‘deep down,’” Diane eventually responds. “I think that all you are is just the things that you do.”

In today’s world, where many messages that are meant to be positive — be yourself, all you can do is your best, and so on — can be skewed to rationalize just about any action and lifestyle imaginable (for example, “This is just who I am,” “I just can’t do X”), Diane’s message is a much-needed one.  Religion isn’t exactly thriving among today’s youth for a plethora of reasons, and while that might not be conclusively bad in itself, that means there are less strict principles and values guiding most young people’s lives. I sure don’t have a set of values and principles that feels stable, and I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit reflecting, “Wow, I feel awful for doing X, and I don’t know why” and “I should feel awful for doing or feeling X, but I don’t and I have no idea why.”

But what does feel like a stable and sensible conclusion is that people “are” how they act. Sure, everyone has bad days, weeks, even months, but in the end, there’s no excuse for not being a positive influence in the world. Destroying the destructive “I’m a good person deep down even though I consistently do these bad things and make no effort to change them” mentality is the first step in moving towards a better life. We all have control over our own actions. Learning that from a talking horse may not be the standard procedure, but it sure worked for me.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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