First, in proper explanation fashion, what is “moral absolutism”: Moral absolutism is an ethical view where every action is inherently good, or inherently bad, regardless of the context or situation around it. ***This is the shortest way to describe moral absolutism.***
Now, onto the meat of this: While it is a fair assumption that some actions cause more harm than good in general (rape, cold-blooded murders, terrorism, etc.), it is hard to see all actions as “bad” or “good”. You may think you’re helping someone, thus doing a good action, but in reality, you are not, and are fueling their misery. Let me illustrate with an example, and why it is a touchy subject to discipline kids:
A son comes home, after skipping a class. Parents wait at home, looking angry. While mom gives a stern scolding, and grounds him for a week, the father removes his belt, and uses it to spank his son, trying to scare the desire to skip class out of him. The spanking can be seen as inhuman, but by the end of the night, the pain will be gone, and while the memory remains, it will make the son think twice about skipping school. The grounding will surely have at least some effect on the son’s social life, but spreading the word that skipping school = getting grounded, that will help the other kids perhaps decide to not do that willy-nilly.
Now, as to whose action was justified: The parents were understandably livid. And disciplining their kid, that’s good. But nowhere in that story did anyone ask why the kid skipped school, they just saw “he skipped school, and that’s bad, so he has to be punished.” The kid, however, was skipping class because he’d received a threat, potentially a death threat, from another kid: “If you come to class, I’ll stab your throat with my scissors.” And even after notifying a teacher, it was brushed off as a baseless threat, and that nobody would do that. ***Sure, the kid skipped school, but it was through sheer fear, that nobody even asked about, and all the kid remembers is that he got punished for running for his life.***
That may seem like an extreme example, but… That is something that happened in my class. The next day, the kid came to school, apologized to the teacher for skipping class, and a couple days later, lo and behold, the kid who skipped class a few days before had to be carried to the infirmary with a pair of scissors stabbed in the cheek.
Not everything is clean cut. Some people have reasons to do things that you would otherwise label as bad, and some people have reasons to ***NOT*** do things that you would otherwise label as good. Your reality isn’t the same as someone else’s, and while I don’t expect you to always try to understand their reality (god knows that would be impossible), if you condemn someone based on your own morals, and are absolute about them being evil because you disagree, you’re just throwing oil on that wildfire.
***Additional note: The reason that I have written this post, is because I have noticed that several arguments on the internet (be it reddit, facebook, tumblr, or what-have-you) can be boiled down to someone is a moral absolutist without desire to understand situations, and whomever disagrees is inherently evil.*** This has left me feeling panicked, because critical thinking is a thing that should be taught to kids in school (importantly, high school), but isn’t for some reason, and as critical thinking is an important skill to avoid moral absolutism, it’s important to try and reinforce that it should always be about the situation, and never the action. That’s why we have laws that protect people who act in self-defense. That’s why we have laws that make exemptions and lowers the severity of a crime, if it was done for preservation. I have several opinions that a lot of people highly disagree with, and yet I’m always trying to listen to their side of the argument, if I hadn’t already considered it, and am always open to hearing new logical arguments (not fallacies, just arguments).