The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Moral Grandstanding

It's labeled differently, depending on the circumstances and the time period, but it's a phenomenon that has gotten increasingly worse over the past decade or so. It occurs when someone takes a strong position in order to demonstrate their perceived moral superiority over others who might question whether the position is correct or exaggerated or even wise. Whether it's concern about "income inequality," or "racism," or the "climate crisis," or "homelessness" or any of dozens of other points of moral outrage, there are many who insist on moral grandstanding (a.k.a., virtue signaling or moral preening).

Although moral grandstanding can be found across the political spectrum, it is particularly prevalent among those on the Left. That's what makes an article by Brian Resnick in left-leaning Vox rather fascinating. Resnick writes:
. ... On Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, people are using social platforms to make themselves look moral (and therefore good). It’s status-seeking, not argument, and it detracts from the democratic goal of actually engaging in arguments in good faith.

The thing is, it’s hard to know if someone is moral grandstanding when they, for instance, declare on Twitter they’re the “fathers of daughters” in expressing their outrage in the latest revelations from the #MeToo movements. Or it’s hard to know if it’s grandstanding when people join in on the latest Twitter pile on, attacking a person with a questionable opinion.

In 2017, philosophers Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke wrote in an essay in Aeon that moral grandstanding “leads people to adopt extreme and implausible claims, and it devalues public moral discussion.” In other words: it’s yet another reason why public discourse has grown so toxic in recent years.

That’s why, recently, Joshua Grubbs, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University, and colleagues (including Warmke and Tosi), conducted a psychological survey assessing (among other things) a nationally representative sample on their tendency to grandstand.

One of the questions they asked is: “Do you agree with the following statement: When I share my moral/political beliefs, I do so to show people who disagree with me that I am better than them.” It turns out, a lot of people agree with that question, and others like it.

According to Grubbs, “We’re at a time where partisanship is high, where people are just being savage to each other on the internet.” And he hopes that through studying moral grandstanding, we can better understand why.
Professor Grubbs argues that moral grandstanding occurs on both ends of the political spectrum, and I have no reason to doubt his assessment. However, he also contends that the amount of grandstanding is distributed equally—left and right. And that is difficult to believe. He notes:
The people who grandstand report more conflict in their life. But they also report they’ve grown closer to others over political and moral topics. In some senses, maybe it works: it alienates you from people who you don’t like, and draws you closer to people who you do like.

Can it be bad? Absolutely. There are people out there who are probably complete charlatans just trying to grandstand their way into some sort of financial benefit or social benefit.

There are other people who are grandstanding with generally good intentions. They’re trying to boost their own status by talking about things.
Those of us who reside somewhere in the political Center are less likely to grandstand and as important, are less likely to exhibit the hive-mind mentality of those that do. The vast majority of our population (to the extent they care at all) now suffers from "outrage fatigue." And as a consequence, those who insist on moral grandstanding do nothing to change opinions or solve problems. They blow verbal smoke into the wind, accomplishing nothing except to reinforce their inflated sense of self.