Mihir Choughule

Moral Absolutism

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of an Internet connection, must be in want of a fight online”  – Jane Austen

So this article has been a long time coming. With DiCaprio being in the press for his Oscar win, his recent speech about climate change at the UN finally gave me some ammunition to put into words in the following paragraphs.

If you somehow weren’t already aware, the world finally let out its collective orgasm as Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar at this year’s awards. What followed was the highlight of this year’s awards and any other award show ever in history; DiCaprio actually used this platform and opportunity to address climate change and the urgency with which we need to come up with solutions to tackle this threat. It’s almost as though DiCaprio wants our crushes to reach biblical proportions – every social media he operates is devoted solely to climate change facts and initiatives. Even in his speech, his acceptance of his award lasted hardly 5 seconds, before he switched tracks to the cause he has dedicated his professional career and stardom to. It was a speech that, for want of a better phrase (or a less of a cliché) restored your faith in humanity and reassured you that there were people out there who were using their fame for something good.

Less than 2 months later, he reiterates the same message on Earth Day by giving an impassioned speech about how our environment is being exploited for our own commercial and material needs and how urgent action is necessary. Bear in mind that he is probably the most sought-after actor in the world: taking time out from a busy schedule to raise awareness and take action about a topic as enveloping as global warming takes dedication and huge amounts of perseverance. For that alone, he’s a league apart from his fellow celebrities.

However, as is the case with almost anything online these days, people queued up like a London Underground service during rush hour to take down DiCaprio’s philosophy. Apparently, you have to live a pseudo-Amish lifestyle if you’re a famous environmentalist and even then some people will complain that your exhaling releases carbon dioxide which is warming up the planet – so please just stop breathing, you hypocrite.

Let’s take a look at the accusations levelled against DiCaprio by our aforementioned trolls: this puerile article sums it up succinctly. The crux of the complaint is that DiCaprio takes trips in private yachts, flies around the world in private jets and cavorts around with blonde models (how this last one is anything to do with his commitment to climate change is anyone’s guess). I have to admit, when I initially saw these defamatory headlines and articles, I was shocked. The instinctive response to this supposed ‘hypocrisy’ is to lambast all associated and take the moral high ground. But it’s worth looking at and exploring some of these allegations in depth.

Firstly, the private jet issue. On paper, I completely agree that it looks bad. However, he is a massive movie star, who has to be in multiple locations all around the world in a single day. If you were in his position, would you undertake the ordeal of checking-in, going through the security procedures multiple times a day just for the public to be satisfied that you are, at all times, whilst awake and sleeping, in sync with your persona?

Whilst less defensible than the private jet situation, the yacht scenario is just as ludicrous. It’s not even his yacht, which the article points out and the author has seemingly completely overlooked. In fact, what that tells me is that DiCaprio isn’t insufferable company – he has his set of principles and his friend has his. And with his busy, relentless schedule, some alone time in the middle of the sea sounds like the perfect therapeutic solution and is understandable if not wholly excusable.

And this is before we even begin to circle the key message which I hope you will take away from this article: despite all his contradictions and whichever side of the fence you fall on, he’s not wrong; he’s still doing a ton of brilliant work to bring about the necessary solutions and attacking him doesn’t absolve us of any responsibility towards the common objective. The guy owns electric and hybrid cars in an age where celebrities splurge their cash on gas-guzzlers; has installed solar panels on his roof; donated $1mn to the Wildlife Conservation Society and operates the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which has granted $45mn to climate change projects around the world since its inception in 1998. Therefore, despite his excesses, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch that his actions have more than negated any one-off trips on yachts or private jets.

It is probably our insecurities, our underlying guilt, which makes us instinctively tar any good deed done by anyone with an opposite and negative act to counterbalance it. This is true for DiCaprio and it is true for some of the most (im)moral people in history. The one HONY post that has stayed with me throughout all the years encapsulates the sentiment perfectly. Even the most heinous characters in history, like Hitler, whose evil and moral compasses are beyond ambiguity, have been subjected to the same treatment. Any acknowledgement of Hitler’s good traits and the alarm bells start ringing. The compulsive need to deny even Hitler’s good thoughts shows the insecurity seeping through all of us. Moral absolutism completely misses the diversity and richness of human thought and effectively condemns us all to operate within a narrow stricture of morality and hypocrisy.

Consequently, the issue here isn’t how much of a hypocrite DiCaprio is or how contradictory his actions are: all human beings have, do and will continue to display those characteristics for as long as humanity exists. Despite anything DiCaprio has done, what he is proposing and his charitable initiatives are undeniably for the improvement of the planet. So do we, as a species, put aside our insecurity, reflect on what Leo is saying and strive to do our bit to make this world of ours a more stable place to live? Or do we, like our troll friend, refuse to drop our inherent irresolution, concentrate on the petty details and (fatally in this case) miss the bigger picture?

Article by Mihir Choughule.

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