John Moneir

The moral outrage machine

Film The Simpsons

Looking at the endless moral crusade we march on, John Moneir suggests that maybe we should redirect the focus to ourselves.

 

We live in remarkable times. Surely this is an era in which we are more aware than ever of the injustices, both at home and abroad. Globalisation, the Internet and immigration have allowed us to be introduced to cultures and ideas we may have never encountered otherwise. People have more of a moral framework than ever before. It is accepted, unless you are a post-modernist of course, that there are basic standards of decency that we ought to abide by. That universal golden rule of “treat others as you wish to be treated” is repeated with the assurance that it is true and applicable. Yet, now more than ever, we are, to put it bluntly, tripping out.

The 21st Century is characterised by persistent moral outrage which is either exemplified or perpetuated by the media.

In exercising our moral awareness, we have become self-righteous moral knights taking every opportunity to express our indignation at anything we deem to be unfitting of modern standards. One might ask, “So what; what’s the problem with that?” The problem, sirs and madams, is that it seems rather observable that we display our wrath against people and not against ideas.

We relish in vilifying those who have committed wrongs and we eagerly thirst to see them receive punishment. Just take a quick scroll through the comments section in a future news story the next time our former PM Tony Abbott says something silly, and witness the firestorm of abuse that will be directed toward him.

This culture of vilification is symptomatic of an underlying sinister disease. We fanatically search for those whom we deem to be immoral in order to reinforce the notion that we are in fact “good blokes”; decent people incapable of committing any such comparably immoral acts. There is a disturbing lack of self-criticism in the modern person’s mind, as we constantly try to reassure ourselves that we are good people.

Do you support income equality, global peace and prosperity?

Congratulations. The most base human being probably agrees with you.

Do you condemn rapists and murderers? Holy art thou; I am blinded by the light of your virtue.

This puzzling pattern that we see is seeping towards a form of moral thought police. When we begin to direct our moral indignation at people, we leave ourselves in a position where those with divergent and challenging ideas will be bullied and given unhelpful labels in order to silence them. Consider a person who finds the precepts of Islam disagreeable or distasteful. He will probably be jeered and booed and called “Islamaphobic” because apparently his opinion is actually a pathological illness. When someone considers that the Harry Potter series is objectionable, do we also hurl unfavourable labels? Is this person a “Potterphobe”?

The analogy is admittedly flawed, for no mere mortal could despise that masterful book series, unless of course one is a muggle. This attitude stems from the fact that we are not used to attacking other people’s ideas with well-reasoned arguments. Thus when someone expresses an idea that may be immoral or unpopular we immediately try to denigrate the person, because that it is what we have been taught to do. The dangers cannot be understated, for we become susceptible to the manipulation of sophisticated and articulate demagogues, swaying the emotions of the mad mob to the target of their choosing.

We ought not to place such a high value on our own rather illusory virtue. If this process continues, we will inevitably find that we will be more inclined to moral outrage than to be moved by compassion or pity. There are of course instances when someone has committed something so atrocious that we cannot help but feel angry and frustrated. But suppose you read of a person accused of certain horrific crimes who was found to be innocent; or perhaps due to some kind of error, that the crimes were never actually committed by anyone anywhere. Would you be relieved? Or would you feel a little disappointed that someone was not about to be punished? By longing to expose the unrighteousness of others, we show ourselves to be the most unrighteous of all.

 

John Moneir

John is a simple Law/Arts student and a cheeky member of his beloved Coptic Orthodox Church. While he'll agree to disagree about most things but if you do not like the Lord of the Rings and/or Harry Potter, He will at best, consider you with the utmost suspicion, and at worst a certified traitor of the entire human race.

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