There is not one golden rule. There are many, which can be divided up into two groups, one negative and one positive. A core problem is that the first does not go far enough in providing a moral base, and the second goes too far. Lurking in the background is the presumption that we can actually agree about when things are the same or equivalent; and, going further, that we are somehow, at heart, all the same such that morality involves submission to this principle.

The negative formulation is that one should not do unto others what one would not wish for oneself. The positive that one should act towards others as one would wish them to behave towards oneself.

Before we continue, I have to steady my nerves. Allow me to light up, with my favorite brand, Gold Leaf. Yes, please help yourself, here are some matches and an ashtray. Well, if you don’t want to smoke right now, please yourself. I am an easy-going and tolerant person. It would not occur to me to object to someone else smoking. As a man of principle I don’t impose on others anything I’d not accept for myself, though I do sometimes wish others would match my generosity... Stop giggling... (Already young Goldilocks is twisting and turning to wriggle out of this impasse.)

Excuse me for coughing. With all this smoke one can scarcely see to the end of one’s nose. In the fog of moral war it is indeed often difficult to see the way ahead, or even retreat to a safe space. There are no hard and fast rules. Principles are worse than useless unless wise counsel and judgment are available to moderate them. They are there as bridging mechanisms to help develop the power of discernment – to serve man, not the other way round. When this is forgotten, they become a godsend to fraudsters of every ilk. Not least when the meek and mild treat others as they would be done unto. The Tribe of Take is always glad to praise the Tribe of Give.

One might of course add in some further rules to correct for the shortcomings of the gold-plated ones. But these only complicate the message further because they, too, are open to misinterpretation and abuse. Some people will always game the system. The error is to suppose that ethics can be encapsulated in – reduced to – some form of words. Or an algorithm. It cannot. The millipede has a better footing in life than the one-legged man. Interestingly, Goldilocks does not advance reasons why all and sundry should obey one rule. If we were all the same, we'd have no need of society. Rather, ethics is about finding one’s distinct place in the human world.