So here we are at part 2 of our "Oh So Moral Society."
I started this exploration of human behavior when I watched Pamela Meyer's TED Talk on Lie Spotting. I found it particularly interesting (and as I've said in earlier posts, I highly recommend watching it if you haven't yet) and it drove my desire to delve deeper into my already ongoing exploration of not only history but human behavior in general.
My Previous Human Behavior Essays:
The Art of Lie Spotting or "Yes, You've Been Lied to...and you Probably Liked It"
Generalizations: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the 1950s
More Interesting Witch Trial Finds or "Morality: An Introduction"
Our Oh, So Moral Society (and a little more on the 1950s and other stuff)
In part one of this essay on morality, I reviewed the first two essays in my human behavior series, which are my posts on lie spotting and how humans tend to make generalizations that may or may not be correct. In my lie spotting essay, I focused on Meyer's statements of how a person plays an active role in whether or not he or she is not only lied to, but also accepting of that lie. How by doing some soul searching and figuring out where we are most vulnerable - meaning the things about ourselves and the world around us that we want to hear most of - we can begin take control over this part of our lives. No, you can't eradicate all the liars of the world, but you can make yourself less vulnerable to them.
In my generalizations essay, I discussed an article on the website Fallacy Detective in which the author did an excellent job with explaining generalizations and differentiating how they can be helpful and harmful. He also discussed how making a generalization or assumption based on your personal experience alone (which people tend to do quite a bit and we have all been guilty of) can be very unreliable and might only serve at explaining an exception but not necessarily the rule. In other words, "my lived experience says that your lived experience is bullshit" and vice versa (one of the many principles I find amazing that so many people don't seem to get).
With all that said, I bring morality into the picture.
First, let's take a look at the word and its definition:
According to the Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries:
a moral discourse, statement, or lesson
Now what is moral superiority? Well, according to Wikipedia:
"Moral superiority is the belief or attitude that one's position and actions are justified by having higher moral values than one's opponent."
Moral superiority also seems to go hand in hand with self-righteousness:
Self-righteousness (also called sanctimoniousness, sententiousness, and holier-than-thou attitudes) is a feeling or display of (usually smug) moral superiority derived from a sense that one's beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person. Self-righteous individuals are often intolerant of the opinions and behaviors of others
And when we go from just plain morality to moral superiority and self-righteousness, that is when we get into things like narcissism or "the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes."
Diana Davison made an excellent and spot on statement in her own blogpost titled Victim Nation, a statement that I think ties in with much of the moral superiority, self-righteousness and narcissism we see in our society:
"Culture has always tried to define its advancement on scales of morality. Superior morality has an unfortunate need for inferiors against which to measure and so we love to both judge and condemn in the personal pursuit of happiness. Such games have reached the status of entertainment in the modern world."
This is one of the reasons why I enjoy debunking the many historical myths that tend to float around. Many people really do seem to love looking back in history, pointing out everything that's wrong with a bygone era (while at the same time, failing to recognize their own shortcomings), and feeling a sense of superiority.
I'm often amazed at how uncomfortable people seem to get when I mention individuals like Zane Grey (late nineteenth and early twentieth century best selling author and Native American ally), Frank Linderman (late nineteenth and early twentieth century writer, politician, ethnographer, Native American activist and ally), and the many others like them that existed in their day. Or when I mention a film like Right Cross, which stars Ricardo Montalban, June Allyson, and Dick Powell. Right Cross, a film that was released in the year 1950, places June Allyson in a role where she portrays the manager of a Mexican boxer. And not only is she his manager, but also his lover. As if offering such facts will somehow burst their happy bubble of moral superiority.
Speaking of the 1950s (an era that many people seem to love to hate and hate to love...either they completely demonize it or completely romanticize it, very rarely a happy medium), I will once again bring in some more stuff from that decade that often goes ignored.
Lots if people in the 21st century very often like to bring up the so-called prudish 1950s, especially when discussing things like gender politics, sexuality and the like. Yet, how often do you hear those people acknowledge that there were rebel/alternative cultures during the Leave it to Beaver decade? Counter cultures like the greasers (including greaser girls), beatniks, teddy boys and girls, rockers, rockabilly, artists, the art houses and coffee shops in which they hung out, etc.
Now I can already hear people out there protesting: "Yeah, but those groups were considered taboo among respectable society" or "but, but, BUT...my grandmother/mother/great grandmother (depending on how old you are) lived back then and she NEVER would have done that!"
-"Yeah, but not being seen as 'respectable' doesn't mean that they didn't exist. Pretty much every decade dating back to at least the turn of the 20th century has had its generally frowned upon youth rebellion counter cultures."
-"But just because your grandmother/mother/great grandmother might not have partook in certain activities doesn't mean that someone else's grandmother/mother/great grandmother behaved in the exact same fashion as yours did." (remember, one person's lived experience can easily call another's lived experience bullshit)
Why is it so difficult for people to believe that every era has its share of both open minded individuals and prejudiced assholes? That people of all different types of morals have always existed? Is it really that much of a paradigm shift?
Yes, people do seem to have a need to be morally superior, and it's as true today as it was in the past. History is littered with examples of both religious and political leaders deeming something as 'evil', saying that one is not moral unless he or she heeds everything dictated to him or her. And while a good portion of the populace definitely protested against the powers that be, they did so at their own risk and were often (very harshly) made examples of.
Sometimes it was out of fear, and other times it was because much of the populace was brainwashed. Either way, history is filled with events in which good portions of a population were made afraid to speak out. Afraid of sticking their heads above the crowd out of fear of it being chopped off. And many did want to be among the 'moral', because 'moral' people didn't get their heads chopped off (this, of course, also goes with leadership/followership, a subject I will get into in my human behavior series essays in the future after I cover victim-hood). But one thing is certain: moral superiority and self-righteousness leads to intolerance. While we may no longer burn the people with opposing views at the stake, much of that sort of mentality remains, despite our yearn to feel as though we've evolved (a perfect example of upstanding and enlightened human behavior can be seen by the wonderfully esteemed philosophers, historians and scientists that exist within the echo chambers of Tumblr. Need I say more?).
Sadly, a morally superior person would rather be "right" than get all the facts. He or she would rather say "look at how much better I am than this person." And this is where narcissism comes into play. So many people are racing to be seen as more moral, more progressive, and more open-minded than the guy next to them. And in the process, they generally tend to become self-righteous and narcissistic, therefore less tolerant. And being less tolerant makes a person less willing to be open to new thoughts and ideas, from which he or she might learn something, and possibly even get a more well-rounded look at his or her own views. But because such individuals are too driven and caught up in their ego-driven narcissism, they - in the process - end up being the ones that shove their views, beliefs, and morals down the throats of others, whether the recipient wants it or not. And with much of today's code of moral superiority stems from victim-hood, which I will cover in my next Human Behavior essay.
Speaking of which, here is another statement from Diana Davison's article, Victim Nation:
"With each generation’s goal of raising the ‘quality’ of society by removing identified immoral elements the Western world in particular has ‘advanced’ to a point where more than 100% of society are deemed victims and we all want justice. We have become a Victim Nation scouring under rocks to find more people to blame.
Everybody wants to be a victim because if you’re not the victim you’re the bad guy."
I will stop this here and have this serve as a segue into my next Human Behavior essay on victim-hood. I am also leaving the last words to the late, great George Carlin.
Til next time. :)
Psychology Today: Ethics and Morality
PsychForums: Moral Narcissists
Diana Davison's Blog: Victim Nation
Frank B. Linderman
My Review of Zane Grey's The Vanishing American
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