Friday, February 14, 2014

Morality changing according to context

I thought this article defending Twitter outrage was interesting, perhaps largely because I finally understood why people defend mob mentality (short answer, at its best it is one of the few purely democratic versions of social advocacy and activism). First, to his credit, I was heartened to see the author acknowledge how dangerous Twitter mobs can be for even "ordinary" people ("All the while aware that if we get it wrong, at some point Twitter may turn our way, set to destroy. No one is off-limits."). But he argues that this is (1) not unique to Twitter and (2) not a downside, but a feature of the Twitter/Internet mob:

If the ruthlessness on Twitter shocks you, well, it isn’t a ruthlessness only found there. This ruthlessness is everywhere—you may be projecting. Our economy and political system operate on a lack of forgiveness. We bring our children up now with zero-tolerance policies in the schools—can we really be surprised if we and they use them elsewhere? One bad credit report, one bad night at the hospital with a $30,000 bill and no insurance, one firing, one bad book, one bad tweet and you’re gone, consigned to a permanent underclass status forever. No way out. Our president had to make a deal with a few major companies to hire the long-term unemployed because not having a job became the quickest way to never get hired—we’ll see if the companies follow through. If there’s no forgiveness online it’s because there’s no examples of forgiveness anywhere in American life.

Meanwhile, underneath the prevalence of the public apology is a great public wrong. And so we, the public, we want someone to do something. We want the offending column fixed, the black woman comedian hired, the bill to pass, banks to lend safely, clean drinking water, health care, a job, even just a book recommendation we can count on. We want action on whatever it is, and we go to Twitter for it, feed fatigue and all, because there, unlike just about everywhere else, we still get what we’re after.  Twitter, for all the ridiculousness there, is one of the few places where there’s accountability at all for any of this. While it may feel dangerous that no one is above being taken down by Twitter, it also means that in its way, it is the one truly democratic institution left. It may be terrifying that it is the one place you have to be more careful than most, but that is also why, for now, it still matters.

So in the first paragraph he argues that Twitter social shaming is no different than any other ruthlessness we encounter in real life, e.g. become a felon and become politically disenfranchised. But then in the next paragraph he says that Twitter is there so we can actually right these wrongs. And the great thing about Twitter is that "we, the public" decide which wrongs deserve to be righted through social shaming and which we don't care as much about. (Interestingly, that's also how the ancient Romans determined which gladiators lived or died -- following the desires of the mob. Also interestingly, there was a far greater uproar about a racist tweet referencing the AIDS crisis in Africa then there ever were outraged tweets about the AIDS crisis in Africa. Also "we, the public" was also how we oppressed gay people, kept down black people, and hunted communists for decades.)

The problem with this line of thought is that Twitter isn't actually a democracy, primarily because Twitter and all other mobs = unconstrained lawlessness. Democracies abide by rules and procedures, and that goes double for justice systems within democracies. Twitter does not. No one is counting votes. No one is making sure that no one is voting twice or unduly influencing others to vote their conscience. In fact, there is every evidence that people fear the social shaming mob and consequently self-censor and sanitize themselves on Twitter and other social media so as not to become collateral damage (even the author of the original article admitted that he kept himself from tweeting certain things, afraid that "someone would get unreasonably angry at me for it" and argues at the end that he has to be more careful on Twitter than he is in other forums). And what are the rules or procedures for determining who deserves our collective ire? Is it the person without insurance with the large hospital bill? Any more or less so than the woman who tweets racist jokes? The child who has violated the zero tolerance policy at school? Should we forgive one and not the others? Does it depend on if the person without insurance couldn't obtain insurance or if they were just too lazy or cheap to get it themselves? Or if the child came from a disadvantaged background? Or if the racist joke was tongue in cheek? Or if it was made right before a transcontinental flight without Wifi? And how can we make these nuanced determinations in a way that ensures some degree of due process? And is there an Twitter Innocence Project out there exonerating those that have been socially shamed but are more innocent than we originally believed? Or are we pretty sure that mobs never make mistakes? If someone hits economic rockbottom, they could always declare bankruptcy, which disappears after a certain number of years. This and other legal safeguards blunt the ruthlessness of much of life. Are there similar safeguards for people who commit social or political gaffes? Or is that the lowest people can go in our eyes?

I guess I don't quite understand this aspect of the author's pro-Twitter activism position -- is he pro or anti ruthlessness in life/Twitter? And could it be that people are ruthless on Twitter not just because they are honestly attempting to right public wrongs but because they like it and because they can and because they don't have to face the same consequences for their actions that they might normally? And if so, maybe people can understand a little better why I enjoy ruining people (see also feature comment).



Ryan Holiday references the above video:

As Louis CK put it, in our cars we seem to have a different set of values, values that apparently make it OK to be absolutely horrible towards other people. But that’s not the only place. Think about all the angry, vitriolic comments you read on the internet. People do it because they can. Because it’s anonymous and they know they won’t face any real consequences saying awful things to other people. There’s countless situations like this, we change our values because we have tacit permission to be terrible, and because no one will hold us accountable.

We tell ourselves that this is cathartic but it’s really not. Has anyone ever really felt better after punching a pillow? Or does this actually make us more angry? Does yelling really express your frustration or manifest more of it? Do you criticize the person you’re in a relationship with because it’s necessary or because it’s possible? Do you take advantage of people simply because you know you have power over them?

When deprived of these options, what do we do instead? Usually nothing. We ignore the temptation of those impulses. In the best cases, we’re left with feelings that we must address instead of blasting them at other people.

It’s a lesson all of us should consider whenever we lash out, get short, or angry with other people. Are we doing it out of genuine necessity, or are we doing it because in that context, we can? If it’s the latter, let’s question in it. Let’s ask if it’s really something we want to have in our lives and if we’d feel better if the “permission” was magically rescinded.

From Louis CK "I'd like to think I'm a nice person, but I don't know man."

28 comments:

  1. Twitter schmwitter.

    Happy Valentine's Day!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Everybody knows that the two areas of life where people behave in
    the most unrestrained fashion, is when they are anoymous, or part
    of a mob mentality. An example of the first would be obscene telephone
    calls and vandalism. An example of the second would be lynch mobs of
    various sorts. Modern day technology only allows for more efficent
    methods.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Since you're so preoccupied with all this shaming stuff at the moment ME, I'm guessing it's because you're dealing with it personally. So I'd say come out with your hands up and say, yes, this is me, this is what I did, this is the price I've paid for it, now STFU and leave me alone. Trying to shut them down and running from bullies doesn't work.

    People who suffer abuse as children pay for it their entire lives. And it sounds as if you haven't been lilly white yourself in your treatment of others. So reflect on this and move on to a new chapter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you have something constructive to contribute with everyone else, or would you like to continue playing social paparazzi?

      Delete
    2. Great observation.

      MelissaR

      Delete
  4. "Empaths have to turn you into a monster, and no method of torture is too cruel for a monster."

    This is nonsense by the way. These are not empaths, just assholes. Genuine empaths are sensitive and incapable of cruelty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? The idea that assholeism and empathy are somehow distinct dont play in my theater.

      Delete
    2. Empaths are capable of cruelty - you'll never see a lynch mob of actual sociopaths. What you are thinking of are "ideal" empaths. Those exist sparingly in real life. Remember, it's not about what you want to believe, but what exists.

      Delete
    3. As an empath, I can directly attest to having homicidal feelings for individuals who have hurt my children. My "empathy" for the victims of an apparent offender make it very difficult for me to remember in the moment that the offender is also a human being who is a mix of good and bad. I feel annihilating rage towards a "monster" who could hurt innocents until my reason and "cold empathy" pull me back from the edge of acting on these impulses. That reason tells me that an offender has a back story and they are living in the middle of a story that is not complete yet.

      Empathy makes me a kinder person who loves mankind.... until it turns me into a self righteous asshole who must retreat to the comfort of binary thinking because contemplating the feelings involved with terrible things like human trafficking overwhelms my capacity to think about what justice might look like on a rational level. I want to destroy the "monsters" that sell the bodies and pain of children for profit- to the point where I lack the ability to fact check to adequately assure I am removing the source of the problem rather than releasing my angst onto the first available target who would make a nice scapegoat.

      Believe it or not- it is the "Machiavellian" (that is- the hyper rational believer in utilitarian ethics) in me that urges restraint and due process. The empath in me is too overwhelmed with bloodlust for the individuals who could coolly count dollars earned by children's agony- the empath says "those motherf***ers need to fry". The Machiavellian side of me (my inner sociopath) says- are you sure you know the whole story?


      Anonoymous 402- I am as empathic as they come. I have sacrificed myself for others and with all that is in me I want to work for the common good. But sometimes the very emotion that drives that part of me (which is most of me) is my achilles heel and turns me into a monster.

      Empaths must stop deluding themselves with the assumption that their emotional impulses drive their best selves. Rather- empathy is energy that can motivate one towards courageous action- but ONLY if it that empathy is filtered through moral reasoning before action is taken.

      Delete
    4. " Genuine empaths are sensitive and incapable of cruelty." I think ME is mocking you with your comment. What a stupid ass, not very well thought out comment. Some of the people I have suffered from the most are so called "uber empaths". God give me a break.

      Delete
  5. Maybe there is an evolutionary imperative-normalcy becomes the only approach and all other takes on the situation are deemed somehow deviant-which can be clearly seen in the desperation minorities scrabble to make inroads into the body politic, often adopting the ugliest shallowest mores of the crowd, rather than going the courageous route of setting ones course by ones own star. Truth is there is a tyranny at work here, be it on Facebook, twitter or in the street or at work, empaths having this strong emotional bond with each other are probably more prone to lynch mentality than the neuro-a-typical.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "When deprived of these options, what do we do instead? Usually nothing. We ignore the temptation of those impulses. In the best cases, we’re left with feelings that we must address instead of blasting them at other people.

    It’s a lesson all of us should consider whenever we lash out, get short, or angry with other people. Are we doing it out of genuine necessity, or are we doing it because in that context, we can? If it’s the latter, let’s question in it. Let’s ask if it’s really something we want to have in our lives and if we’d feel better if the “permission” was magically rescinded."

    These last two paragraphs of this post strike me as being incredibly wise, and not the words of an antisocial person. They locate evil in the tendency to scapegoat and externalize blame, not in another person.

    Bravo, ME. very wise.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Self responsibility folks. Let's not privately mistreat people, and when we get caught, and the person takes some action, turn around and blame them. That's ridiculousness.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's ironic that the worst injustices don't come from one sociopath, but from many anti-sociopaths. Everyone blames Hitler, but somehow they conveniently ignore the thousands of ordinary soldiers who committed the actual acts. They are somehow excused, because somehow one man had the non-psychic ability to ask thousands of regular people to arbitrarily throw away their morals just by telling them to. Thousands of ordinary, diverse, and intelligent people who were abused by decades of unjust exploitation by the allies before the war. Is ignoring the inconvenience of reality more important to reinforce the convenience of fantasy?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When people are being manipulated and brainwashed, their full of terror and fear. Serious PTSD. When people's minds are in this condition there is some serious mental instability and their capable of being controlled by people like Hitler. A very serious problem on many, many levels. They need help from genuinely caring people that aren't out to destroy their dignity and happiness.

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    2. That is a bit over generalized. Only a certain subset would have PTSD, not the entire third reich. What about the rest of the 90%?

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    3. There's lot's of information written on why some people are followers. I think you can answer this question yourself. There's as many answers as their are individuals.

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    4. It was a rhetorical question.

      Delete
  9. twitchy.com is like a Twitter Innocence Project once in a while

    ReplyDelete
  10. I think the whole idea of public shaming is really about lack of intelligence. And mob mentality extends no only to bad behavior (public shaming) but other so called compassionate events as well such as celebrity deaths (i.e. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Princess Diana, etc.). I just can't understand how people can get so swept up by the death of someone they didn't even know! Yes, it was a tragedy, but that person was not a part of your life!

    MelissaR

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  11. Normally I dislike anecedotes. Though I've gotta say this was a worthwhile read/watch. So true. It's this hypocrisy and approvalseeking that annoys me about people.

    ReplyDelete
  12. i kind of need an answer so im bugging...
    i think my sister is a sociopath...im not sure.....she kind of well had bedwetting issues till she was 12, and she was always very scared of blood, hers and other ppls. she seems really into jesus, but i think she kind of keeps taking my stuff, coz my stuff keeps going missing aound her. but she was always crying as a kid, i dont know if she still cries, and im kind of aspie-ish, as in i dont always understand people, or their feelings, we have narcissistic parents. dad is a show-off-fake kind. and mom is crazy- for-jesus kind. she sort of tortured me for not accepting religion, but my sis took to it all real fast. how do i know if she is....i kind of need to understand her motives. coz our parents are irresponsible pricks, and socio or not i want her out of our crazy house, she's my little sis, but i need to know .....
    i'd appreciate socio and non-socio answers alike

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe she's just ghetto.

      Delete
  13. oh and im not really sure, but i think she's been copying me, the words i say, the stuff i do.....but im not sure....coz were sisters...and well same genes...mostly......and she has mood swings like snap.........but im guessing thats coz mom told her im bad and evil....and told the the story of jacob and esau(bible shit) since we were kids....but again im not sure if thats the reason she kind of has some serious resentment......
    and i dont know why she used to cry alot....we have pretty abusive parents...and i have a really bad e.q.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on your descriptions, it is not apparent that she is a sociopath. Mood swings, for example, are not indicative of sociopathy. A general lack of genuine emotions, regret, guilt, and so forth are.

      That being said, as a fair disclaimer, any arm-chair diagnosis is potentially inaccurate. However, based solely on your descriptions, she is not sociopathic.

      Delete
  14. I'm masturbating at this moment.

    ReplyDelete

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