Saturday, May 17, 2014

Mr. Freedom, Big Time Talker-Upper, Thank You Very Much, But No

Adam Gurri:

Let us start with a consideration of what exactly it is that telescopic morality entails. The question, as the Vulgar Moralist put it, is what the proper sphere is for morality. The telescopic friends and loved ones I have known over the years have obsessed over problems far away, which they were unable to meaningfully influence. Moreover, they were righteous about this, and either implied or outright told those of us with more mundane concerns that we were immoral for ignoring the cosmic injustices occurring around the world on a daily basis. Indeed, by doing so we were perceived as partly culpable for the fact that such things continued to occur.

The claim, in short, is that the proper moral sphere is the whole world and encompasses all of humanity, and focusing primarily only on those things touched by a typical individual’s life is myopic and indistinguishable from egoism.

Most of the time this is merely annoying. People talk big or (as the Vulgar Moralist puts it) attend rock concerts to end hunger, but don’t actually make any meaningful personal sacrifices. My piece last week was largely a response to the combination of this attitude with the perpetual outrage machine that the Internet has been turned into. This combination results in real consequences to the objects of ire regardless of whether or not the outraged people have carefully investigated the context—and I am highly skeptical than any significant proportion of them ever do. The combination of gluttony for righteousness, unquestioning acceptance of the particular context a story is presented in, and entitlement without sacrifice is a recipe unlikely to produce virtue.

Some interesting back-and-forth in the comments over there. It's curious to me that anyone would feel threatened or offended by this perspective — for me, it seems to be simply saying that, one, there is an annoying class of people, especially on social media, who treat moral issues as a positional good, and a pinprick to their balloon might do them some good. Two, choose your battles with care. Believe it or not, youngsters, the average person (not you and I, of course; we're all above average here, naturally) has a finite amount of time, energy, money, knowledge and optimism, and it doesn't go very far in terms of making substantial change happen in the world. Make it count when you put it to use. And three, wow, those conspicuous crusading types are really annoying.