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Since its inception in 1912, “Milk’s Favorite Cookie” has been around for over a hundred years, dominating CVS store shelves, and serving as the go-to snack for comp meetings, social gatherings, and late-night study sessions. The Oreo cookie has come in glossy blue packaging, in limited editions and countless varieties, with thick and thin stuffings, with flavors like birthday cake and lemon twist, and with bright colors of all sorts.
Despite its enticing packaging and crunchy savoriness, the vegan two-wafered cookie has given rise to heated debates between friends and family members, angry Redditors, YouTube commenters, and banterful Crimson Editorial editors. Each person has their own way of answering the question, “What is the right way to eat an Oreo?”
When properties such as bestness, properness, correctness, or rightness float into this question, in virtue of declaring that there is some golden standard way to eat an Oreo, we are making a normative statement. We hold claim to a higher, singular truth. Any deviation from this ideal pinpoint is often taken to be wrong or misguided, and to be discouraged, mocked, or rejected.
Certainly, the creators of Oreo, at least, intended the very opposite of this right-wrong dichotomy. In one of their promo commercials, the narrators chant to the backdrop of sparkly music, “... twist it, lick it, dunk it, munch it … roll it, stack it, flip it, crunch it … snack it, hack it, crack it, creme it … share it, dip it, dare it, dream it!” The video cheerily concludes, “It's an Oreo and you can eat it anyway. If you wanna, you can do it different every single day.”
The spirit of this ad encourages us to employ our creative freedom and imagination, playing with the Oreo in new ways rather than insisting that we all adhere to a single, rigid normative standard. It encourages us to distinguish preferences from other evaluation concepts that involve truth content.
Preferences are subjective and depend heavily on the pluralistic upbringings, backgrounds, and worldviews of each individual. Preferences can change over time, due to changing reactions, values, tastes, or some combination of these. Even if one approach to eating an Oreo, such as licking it bit by bit over the period of two hours, garners greater net hedonic utility for certain people, we need not enforce this norm across the board.
Some individuals might abide by different standards and cultural norms, and others might be subject to special circumstances, such as being pressed for time. But more importantly, there is a satisfaction to be gained in the action of willing one’s ends for oneself, and the very decision to commit to a choice over another is what confers value.
Thus, the question — “What is the right way to eat an Oreo?” — is itself misguided. It is predicated on the assumption that there is an objective standard of truth that ought to regiment our attitudes, beliefs, experiences, feelings, and activities. That every Oreo is exactly 71 percent cookie and 29 percent cream is a statement of a distinct nature than the claim that there is only one right way to eat an Oreo. There is no rightness or wrongness involved with dunking a chopped Oreo in skim milk, or with twisting off one side of the cookie and eating the filling first. We might try to rationalize or justify our preferences, but they need not be grounded in any appeal to truth.
More broadly, we should not be so quick to judge others on matters of mere preference. That one person is a devoted conservative does not mean that we should shun their opinions without taking them seriously. That one person decides to pursue the study of philosophy over the natural sciences need not bring about a tirade of criticism. The fact that we place ourselves upon this normative pedestal, a place of higher moral authority, to govern right and wrong over subjects that do not even fit this dichotomy is a mistake. Everyone’s putative preferences weigh equally, and paternalistic despotism is unwarranted.
Even if we completely disagree with others’ preferences and judgments, sometimes tolerance is the appropriate response. Sustaining a framework of mutual respect and correspondence in spite of our deepest preference conflicts is especially vital for our society today, within and beyond the college campus.
Again, this is not to say that there is never a correct answer. In fact, there are debates in metaethics concerning whether or not morality takes a precise form — whether morality is relative, a social construct, or absolutely true. Regardless of whether there is an answer that clearly settles the matter, we should be open to new perspectives, potentialities, and possibilities. For what is an Oreo if it’s not wonderfilled?
Woojin Lim ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Philosophy concentrator in Winthrop House. Daniel Shin ’22 is a Philosophy and Math concentrator in Quincy House. Their column appears on alternate Fridays.
Editor’s Note: Due to editorial changes regarding the novel coronavirus, this article’s publication was delayed.
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