06 Jan “Starbucks & Sinners – The Making of Martyrs, Why Moral Superiority is Flawed Character”
by Tori Perez
My social media accounts exploded twice recently over two separate but equally insignificant events: the color of Starbucks cups, and a minor policy change in a major world religion that has preached the same doctrine for decades. I have no desire to continue the discussion of such mediocre topics. But I think there is something relevant to these events that should be discussed.
It’s common knowledge that we live in an age of feelings anarchy. Social media has made everyone a spokesperson. And while there is a growing counter-culture of complainers that ridicule the overindulgent facebook-status-posters and selfie-takers, it seems to only fuel the fire – as gossip magazines remain popular and the reign of opinionated outpouring on your feed marches steadily onward.
With increased opportunity for passionate disclosure, there follows naturally increased opportunity for tearing others down. Especially the morals of others. It’s an innate human tendency to put others down in order to make ourselves seem loftier. We all do it, and our culture is thus that it has become positively amusing. Jonathan Haidt says it this way:
There is a special pleasure in the irony of a moralist brought down for the very moral failings he has condemned. It’s the pleasure of a well-told joke. Some jokes are funny as one-liners, but most require three verses: three guys, say, who walk into a bar one at a time, or a priest, a minster and a rabbi in a lifeboat. The first two set the pattern, and the third violates it. With hypocrisy, the hypocrite’s preaching is the setup, the hypocritical action is the punch line. Scandal is great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return. With contempt you don’t need to right the wrong (as with anger) or flee the scene (as with disgust). And best of all, contempt is made to share…Tell an acquaintance a cynical story that ends with both of you smirking and shaking your heads and voila, you’ve got a bond.”
Since we’re all drowning in a contempt-filled digital universe, allow me to set the record straight on a few matters.
Posting your opinion online is not proactive
If you insist on sharing your thoughts via social media here are some tips to keep it classy. But please understand that you’re probably being duped. So many of us (dare I classify “us” in this case as Millenials and the ever-growing group of technologically-educated) have sincere desires to make a difference. We are passionate in our beliefs, whatever they may be. So in order to feed that inborn craving to “do something,” we take to what we know best – the internet.
But the internet is often used as a counterfeit for true action. Niccolo Machiavelli, often associated with deceit and deviousness said
The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”
Alasdair MacIntyre has said that modern moral and political discourse provides only a “semblance of rationality, but not its reality.” I submit that this is largely because the majority of it happens on the internet. The internet is a great mass of “appearances” that we all mistake for “realities.” It might satisfy your craving to hop online and share your thoughts, but it probably won’t actually make a difference. The Millenial Panel at World Congress of Families IX had an awesome discussion on this very topic.
We all want to be the next big Bieber-type Youtube sensation, but contrary to popular belief, “going viral” almost always takes a lot of hard work. The internet is a tool, a medium, a conduit even, to help make our dreams happen. But the internet, by itself, will not make our dreams happen. What you see on the internet probably isn’t the whole reality of it, and you likely won’t change anybody’s mind by sharing your opinion on the internet, either. To make things happen you have to get out and make connections with real people, not a virtual version of them.
You can’t make yourself a martyr
You attempt to make yourself a martyr when you choose to take offense instead of action. Making everyone else responsible for the way you feel is attempted martyrdom. It isn’t about how important your feelings are or which side you are on and how articulately you can defend it. It’s about character. Joan of Arc didn’t tie herself to the stake and dare the crowd to ignite the kindling. That would be called suicide, not martyrdom. Let’s not pretend that loitering in sparks of self-pity and gathering kindling made of offense is equal to great character. In reality, it’s tragic. Good character is being unashamed of our beliefs, but not overbearing. There is great power in gentle persuasion as opposed to shrill defensiveness. Good character is good conversation. Good character begets good communication and intimate connection. Perhaps in a battle of beliefs it is best to jab at each other less, and listen to each other more.
By condemning others’ hypocrisy we only compound our own
MacIntyre also said
It was Freud’s achievement to discover that unmasking arbitrariness in others may always be a defense against uncovering it in ourselves.”
Contempt comes about only when we are speaking to or of those with whom we disagree. But good character calls for civility in the face of differences and disagreement. At World Congress of Families IX, M. Russell Ballard of the LDS church pleaded for us all to “reach out in love to those with whom we disagree.” Good character understands the inconsistency of human nature and of the self in such a way that the censure of others could never be anything more than hypocrisy because in the very moment of the act, we expose our own flawed character and thus also become worthy of that same censure. To publicly scorn another, then, signifies a conscious promotion of our own flawed character.
Put more simply from Jeffrey R. Holland:
Negative speaking so often flows from negative thinking, including negative thinking about ourselves. We see our own faults, we speak—or at least think—critically of ourselves, and before long that is how we see everyone and everything. No sunshine, no roses, no promise of hope or happiness. Before long we and everybody around us are miserable.”
Conclusion – What should we do?
Our culture has become so casually contemptuous that we think little of how we are unknowingly clouding out the sunshine and drowning the roses. We are more concerned with political correctness than we are with polishing character. So what needs to be done? What changes need to be made?
1) We need to make a conscious effort to separate internet from reality and posting from taking action. Media needs to be viewed as a tool not a lifestyle.
2) We need to focus on understanding the perspectives of others rather than finding reasons to be offended. Understanding that listening does not equate to agreement and disagreement is not the same as dislike is key.
3) We need to focus on integrating a knowledge of self and emotional honesty. Without an authentic view of ourselves we are unable to civilly communicate with others in a way that benefits society as a whole.
Ultimately, we need to build up a culture that supports and maintains family structures that create individuals with good character. The change begins in families. Once society’s view on family and its purpose shifts, then we will be better able to produce individuals that thrive on communication and connection to build themselves up rather than the false pretense of moral superiority that we find on the internet.