Monday, March 17, 2014

Morality leads to hate?

This article on outrage porn (I usually call it public shaming) makes an interesting argument that a deep sense of morality and justice actually contributes to a culture of hate:

Another reason for our outrage addiction may be found in the way the norms of traditional liberalism are dissolving before a more moralized politics. In a perceptive 2001 essay for National Affairs, Thomas Powers argued that traditional liberalism sought "to lower the stakes of politics by removing contentious moral (and religious) opinion to the private sphere. Political life thereby becomes a less morally charged matter of presiding over competing 'interest groups,' whose squabbling is amenable to compromise."

Powers went on to argue that when fundamental justice and morality are reintroduced into politics, and when the beliefs and attitudes of citizens become the potential subject of state action (through amelioration, re-education, or official stigma), people are more likely to fight — and to fight with dread in their eyes.

It's notable that ongoing culture-war disputes are the particular habitué of elite media, white-collar job-havers who spend much of their day sitting in front of the outrage generator. We spend all day worrying about who are the real bad guys, and the real victims. Our ideological songs venture into ever higher falsettos, straining to sing our laments above the noise.

As a result, when a politician utters a barely outdated cliché, or the slightest impolitic word, we no longer hear it as a faux pas or mere insensitivity. Instead it becomes the latest menacing incarnation of the evil we oppose. Micro-aggression is no longer "micro" at all, but the very real appearance of Patriarchy, or Anti-clericalism, or whatever evil you most fear. If your ideological hearing aids are tuned correctly, a gaffe becomes a threat, returning you to witch-trial-era Salem or the Vendée before the massacre.

Worse, this kind of hypermoralized politics has some serious implications for how we look at governance and power. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." In other words, if we are simply doing good in the world, and our enemies evil, then there's no limit to the power we ought to acquire. What a charming fantasy that can be. 

See also this post. Or maybe it's not a fantasy and moral outrage is propelling people to very necessary action to right the world?


  1. Not morality. Cognitive bias.

  2. Blah blah blah opinion blah blah ....

  3. "" / ""
    Which one did I visit?

  4. Maybe it's a sense of entitlement on steroids that is propelling people to scream their morals, they're outrage, to the world.


  5. I wish to respectfully dispute that these sorts of political conflicts are necessarily associated with moral outrage. I spend a fair amount of time involved in social justice disputes, and for me it is foremost a matter of high stakes self-interest.

    I'm a member of several minority groups (I'm a sex worker, to start with) which are presently often acceptable targets for open social aggression. When I involve myself in a social milieu, I'm likely to be subject to immediate and sustained social attacks which, if left unchecked, will make it impossible for me to maintain a presence, acquire contacts, or build social capital. I can prevent this if there are strong implicit or explicit local norms whose result is that. if someone tries such an excluding social maneuver, it will be they and not I who is thrown out of society.

    As a result I look at society as a serious of safe and unsafe zones. Making sure the safe zones stay safe, and changing the social rules to make unsafe zones safe, becomes a top priority. The safest zones are generally those where liberal, leftist, or cosmopolitan social values are hegemonic (I professionally prefer centre-left middle-class liberals because they have the best combination of social safety, accessibility, and resources). Advancement of the domain of friendly values, cluster by cluster and country by country, is the advancement of the social space in which I can operate. It is to me not primarily a matter of moral emotion but a practical matter of high material consequence, for all the reasons why African~Americans found socio-economic advancement extremely difficult so long as open racism remained socially permissible.

    I do not doubt that many people involved in "social justice warrior" fights are moved by strong moral emotions. But there's also a great deal of social access, wealth, and status at stake. But people with the latter set of motives have every incentive not to disclose them, and many will be less than honest with themselves as to what their motives are. As a result desires for social mobility become expressed or sublimated as demands for social justice. It's unclear to me that there's a sharp difference in principle between the two anyway.

    If you are or were a sociopath visibly belonging to a stigmatised group and blocked by such stigma from getting what you want, wouldn't you pick up social justice morality as an obvious weapon to crack open a wall that stands in your way? If I may be so bold, does not our hostess at times practice a similar foreign policy?

    1. There is always the problem that by going the social justice route one lays oneself open to sustained attack, literally painting a target on ones chest.

    2. I understand and respect your self-interested approach, but I think it still is very obvious that most of the public shaming that occurs on these websites occurs because it makes the individual feel better about themselves. Why actually volunteer for some charitable cause when they can just post an article about it on Facebook? They have identified themselves as part of the group that cares about such things, regardless of whether they actual do anything. It is a social shortcut.

      I must admit, I participate in some charitable efforts for self-interested reasons as well. For me it is more about social capital than safe-zones, but it is still blatantly self-interested.

    3. Why is it that you sociopaths are so focused on public shaming? Is it the fear of it, or the fascination of sheep empaths going bananas? I guess that empathy for the victim of the public shame doesn't come into play here.

      I don't see the point and mostly there is no real point of public shaming. If it was about someone who raped a child in open public, and this public wanted to warn everyone, then OK I get it. But most of the time it has nothing to do with necessity or practical value. It is just emotional bias. For instance; Justin Bieber is rude on video tape. Need I say more? Why care? If I were him I'd try to emotionally eat the reporters. Offcourse, that would be bad for business :p

      Aspasia: very interesting from a sexworker. I like to hear from those in society we don't want to acknowledge. You sound very upwards going by your text.

      When I was a kid i always admired the outcasts. I wonder why? I still do. I read of a guy they found the remains of. He lived outside the pack and was hunted by them. That was like a hero fantasy in my eyes.

      In norse medieval Viking age, one of the hardest punishments you could receive was being condemnd to outlawry. By that point you were no longer protected by the law, and anyone was allowed to kill you if they liked to. Again, these guys were heroes in my eyes. They were the survivors who needed no one.

      Yeah, I guess there are no victims or abusers, only winners or loosers.

      Good luck.

    4. This kind of manufactured moral outrage is interesting to me because I can't imagine getting that worked up about something that doesn't directly involve me.

    5. To me it is idiotic. People have brains that can handle high cognitive activity, and then they behave like idiots to no real point. Justin Beaber go go! Eat them whole..

    6. well said Aspasia. i kept nodding YES to everything you wrote! work it girl..

  6. Since the world is made up of humans, it is impossible to have
    a better world without better human beings.
    The run-of-the-mill human is not a unified enity. He is a composit
    of many parts. He plays different roles to suit the ocassion.
    Therefore, he is ALWAYS anxious that the contrived mask will
    slip off. The average person has much concealed pathology.
    This can be seen in ocassional freudian slips, and micro
    expressions. Most people are oblivious to this because they can
    barely keep it together themselves. They are hoping for
    "outside rescue" in whatever form it takes.
    There are three-and only three-kinds of people. Supersickies,
    Commonsickies, and Awakened People.
    The two cons from Chesire Conn. who commited the horrible
    atrocities on the Dr.'s wife and daughter's are SUPERSICKIES.
    There is no hope of reformation for them. They are Satan in
    human form.
    The majority of the population are COMMONSICKES. They lead
    lives of quiet desperation because they know no other way.
    They are like people new to a community who don't know the
    layout of the streets, so they hobble along in pain. All they can do
    is seek temparay relief in activity and accusition. Imperminate and
    unsatisfactory "fixes" to stave off misery. Sometimes the seek
    greater highs and KILL.
    The Awakened folks are the ones who examine their lives and
    understand the mechianics of their minds. The know that-with the
    exception of material survival-the outside is an EXPRESSION of the
    inside. Sure, our bodies must be tended to, but EVERYTHING ELSE
    is attitude. We see the world not as it is, but as we are.

  7. Outrage seems to be a vital part of the neurotypical empathic tool box, the use of spin and buzz words in politics, to create emotional resonance in the mass as opposed to pragmatic realistic solutions to problems, is crippling our national discourse. The desperate search for bad guys everyone can root against, lazy demonising of subjects like drugs and welfare, its basic scapegoating when the real goal should be realism and clarity-instead the atmosphere is rank with hysteria and barely concealed moral panics that adhere to exceptional cases (the sort of cases that historically breed bad laws!). Heres to a more sociopathic outlook to our 'leaders'.

    1. Sociopaths can use outrage for an advantage. It is a powerful negative stimulant to get people to do something. Less controllable of course, but very potent.

      Which is why it is being used instead of felt in some cases.

    2. Psykopath,

      That's a good description of Republicans: lazy demonising of subjects like drugs and welfare. Of course they completely own moral outrage as the mainstay of their rhetoric. The GOP is the party of hatred, there is no doubt about that. It seems that moral, hatred, and religion go hand in hand.


    3. Of the same opinion myself, of course a lot of the institutions that the GOP (and in the UK the Conservatives) adore so much are founded on occupational sociopathy-the military, financial corporations, church, all inculcate a form of sociopathy and rabid fanaticism to fulfil their nasty goals.

    4. Let's not pretend that any party has a monopoly on the use of this kind of rhetoric.

    5. What about the UK royal family?

    6. Religion has used shame since day one, literally, with Adam and Eve. This is also where blame started; Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. So yes, the religious GOP has had a monopoly on shame rhetoric for let's say 2000 years to make it simple.


    7. You aren't going to find me defending the religious right, but the political left uses the same sort of emotional blackmail tactics when it comes to their own sacred cows.

      Democrats blame their disadvantage on the wealthy or corporations or misogyny or racism. Libertarians blame the state. Marxists blame the bourgeoisie. The rhetorical devices are the same, it is just that each group makes different value judgments about what is sacred. I can't imagine getting any more worked up over a Christian shaming pre-marital sex than I can over a feminist getting outraged over some misogynistic slight.

    8. Ummm yea so anyway, back to my feminist outrage porn

  8. Happy St. Patrick's Day!!


    1. Same to you Melissa. Here's to the man who banished snakes!

  9. A really good look into the mechanics of outage is explored by Chris Morris in the BRASS-EYE paedophile special-damn funny too!

  10. I saw you on the Dr. Phil show, interesting to see you. I saw a lot of facial emotions and I some minor changes perhaps lots of different feelings. Have you ever desired to be a different or not feel like sociopath? For yourself, or your nieces and nephews? Or are you ever afraid to change and then end up going back to this personality? Sociopaths remind me of a burnt match, one that was burning with desire and perhaps positive emotion since childhood and burnt out. I feel like sociopaths are burnt out of guilt or hope, so respond that I am wrong because I would like to learn more. I like studying human behavior and my hope is that perhaps there is a part of you that does not want to hurt. My close friend, I believe was a sociopath.
    Cool, hope you reply.

  11. I've always suspected Mick Jagger was a psychopath: the obsession with money, the meanness, the sexual incontinence, megalomania, social climbing etc. Then heard earlier today that his girlfriend, designer L'Wren Scott, has committed suicide. She was with him for more than a decade. RIP.

  12. Outrage feels good. It protects people from their own inner conflicts when badness is projected onto a scapegoat. The reason outrage can seem so arbitrary in the sense that some indiscretions pass unnoticed but others are over punished has everything to do with the mental state of the people doing the punishing. If they have negative feelings (miserable middle management marketing types come to mind) that they can not vent without consequence (getting fired) they begin to store up a lot of angst to discharge.

    Outrage at a chosen scapegoat provides a similar relief that illicit sex with a sexually objectified person provides. The scapegoat is a rage object and what they have done is irrelevant. What matters is that they are the designated receptacle for toxic emotions.

  13. On this note and with the latest episode of "The Walking Dead", you may have noticed a new example of moral outrage/public shaming: (spoilers below!)

    Lizzie Samuels, one the survivors of the zombie apocalypse, revealed some very interesting mental issues. She seems to view the walkers not as a threat, but as simply different; she doesn't really seem to view them as a real threat. She feeds them mice and rabbits, names them, even "plays" with one. She also kills and dissects little animals for fun and then she almost smothers Judith (Rick's daughter) to keep her from screaming. Then she kills her sister Mika, claiming that she will come back just the same as before. And yet, she has more trouble with killing walkers than she does with live things.

    Naturally, numerous online articles and Twitter postings have already condemned her as "brutal", "a psycho," etc. But Lizzie always interested me. I would like to know why she sees the walkers as, shall we say, more human than human. It would be easy to call her a psychopath or sociopath, but that just seems too superficial and easy without knowing what was really going on in that twisted little mind of her's.

    1. I believe it was her reaction to what was going on in the world at that time, being invested by zombies. I would also assume part of her upbringing was difficult. We behave/act towards the world in the manner that makes most sense to us -- what makes sense to her may not make sense to us and vice a versa. We see her as a psycho or crazy -- hell I saw her as dangerous. But the big problem like you state is that we are quick to judge and we fail to understand that this was just her perception and was her normal. Again, I can assume that she was having too much trouble handling the zombie apocalypse and was probably a troubled child all along like they kept hinting throughout the episode.

    2. I liked her character too, and wish we had seen more of her. But she couldn't function in that world for much longer. Regardless of her mental process, the zombies ARE dangerous, and her refusal to recognize that made her dangerous. It wasn't an issue of whether she was a psychopath or not, but whether her brain wiring made her a liability to the others in group. It unequivocally did.

      Just like killing the Typhoid Mary back at the prison was an attempt to protect the well-being of the group, so was killing the little girl who might delusionally kill them in their sleep.

      I felt like the pathos in this episode was a little heavy handed. It annoys me when TV shows try to manipulate audience emotions at the expense of the story. Not that I could really see a better end for Lizzie than being shot in the back of the head in a field of flowers.

  14. Maybe you should ask the writer's who created her character.


  15. Your words have moved me. Be happy and be you. Fuck this seedy world.



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