Among the many ways to look at the world, one of the most popular is moral judgment. Moral judgments are the shoulds, oughts and shouldn’t'ves of the world. When a situation happens, we decide according to some ideal what “should” have happened, and penalize people for what did.
But that’s neurotic, since they did do what they did for some reason inherent to them. Much like releasing a ball over the ground means gravity pulls it down, people just do what it is they’re wired to do, and we can either bloviate about should or focus on what “is.”
Here’s a case in point:
Photo shoot over, she changes into her jogging bottoms and Ugg boots, and talks candidly about that modern TV starlet dilemma: how much flesh can you expose before people start forgetting you have a brain too?
If she sounds as if she is trying to convince herself, there is good reason. Last month – a year after leaving Blue Peter, where she had been for ten years, becoming the longest serving female presenter in the show’s history – Konnie finally succumbed to the lure of the lad’s mag and agreed to pose for FHM in, er, not very much at all.
‘If you are a Dimbleby, constantly peering over your glasses at your notes, you have an air of authority. If you are me and keep looking at your notes, it is taken as a sign of incompetence. I learned that very early on, and had to ditch the notes. But it isn’t fair. Why do you have to be a man with grey hair to be taken seriously?’
Let’s take this ought of the realm in which she wants to talk about it, which is should. “But it isn’t fair,” she says, forgetting that fair is a human judgment by which we determine shoulds, not how we will achieve those shoulds or what is most likely to happen. If a ball is released over the head of a child, it will fall, but it should not — yet it will.
Here’s a principle for Konnie Huq:
If you act like a slut, people will assume that you are one.
If you want to be accepted for having brains, you have to stay within that role. Sexy and brains collide because people with brains tend to be transcendental about physicality and not as immersed in themselves as the simpler people who frequent Hollywood bars. But if you act like someone in one of those Hollywood bars, people will respond in kind.
She wants us to believe that, using the magic “should,” we can separate an action from its intent. When I walked into that bank and shouted EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR THIS IS A STICKUP, I didn’t want to be treated like a criminal for the rest of my life. But act like a criminal and, well, you know the rest.
How unfair it all is! We want to appear to be one thing, and yet be another, but we don’t connect the dots that the actions that led to us wanting that appearance are what defines us. We assume that we are causes in ourselves, and our choice is absolute, but really, what defines our preferences (including our preference to discipline ourselves) defines our actions and those define who we are.
People who act like sluts have not thought through life, and realized how transient that behavior is, on their way to a higher realization. Oh, but it should not be that way, the Crowd howls, because they’d like to think they can be anything to anyone at any time, not realizing that the cause of being something is the chain of actions leading up to it.
Want to be a genius scientist? Be born a genius, work hard, and do genius research. At some point, someone will note that you’re a genius scientist. Imitating one will not get you anywhere; acting like one, by doing genius research, will. Imitating a slut is fun at a costume party; acting like a slut, by posing nude and then whining that you don’t get taken seriously, will make you a slut.
And why do people universally disregard sluts? In some part of our subconscious memory is the knowledge that nothing easily given away is considered much, and therefore, that its value goes down. A slut, man or female, is on a path to making their choice of a mate worth $50 after nightfall on any given night. You want us to respect that?
Here’s another mystery cause/effect that’s not mysterious when you analyze it:
You would never give a child a cigarette. Or a drink, or a snort of cocaine. But everyday we American parents are giving our children something almost as addictive—meals laden with sugar, salt and fat. That mac n’cheese we all think is the only thing our child will eat is priming them for a lifetime of “conditioned hypereating.” That is, eating that is excessive, out of control and has nothing to do with satisfying hunger.
Our national weight gain is not, as many people assume, because we are far less active; studies have found little difference in energy expended now than in the 1950s. It is because we are eating far, far more calories than ever before, in the form of soda, junk food, sweets, fat and salt laden meals, and huge portions. We have become addicted to food, and that addiction starts in very early childhood.
Kessler lays out how sugar, fat and salt stimulates the reward centers of the brain in much the same way as cigarettes, alcohol and illicit drugs. By eating food that is extremely palatable, we keep wanting more, whether or not we are hungry. Since highly palatable junk food is socially acceptable, and often cheaper than the healthy stuff, we keep going back for more. The food industry knows this better than anyone.
The cause of our hypereating is that we started eating junky, addictive food, and now we’re adapting to that pattern. We like the clean logic of exercising more, but reality follows our actions: start eating junk, come to expect it as the norm, and therefore treat it like the norm, then wonder why we’re bloated.
Should this be the case? No, in our “logical” minds, we should all be hiking fifty miles a day and eating whatever we want, whenever we want. But reality does not reward a single factor like that, but requires we consider many: exercise, type of food, quantity of food, frequency of food, etc.
In the moral view favored by most people, we “should” be able to choose whatever we want to eat. A realist would say instead that given absolute choice of food, people’s selections would break down in a bell curve: a few would choose really healthy food, a few would eat absolute garbage, and most would fall in the middle, with half of those prizing convenience — whatever’s closest, fastest — over ingredients. So given absolute choice, half of your population eats garbage, and the rest will happily sell it to them because of the insanely great profit margins. If I sell you $5 of food for $7, I’m screwed compared to selling you $1 of food for $6, which is a mostly accurate representation of fast food.
Moral judgments make us think that a woman should be able to dress like a slut, or act like a slut, and then the next day be accepted as a full brainiac. But without making a moral judgment about sluts, we can see that it’s like advertising: you draw people to you by your behavior, but different behaviors get different groups.
Here’s another story. A young woman goes to a seedy bar, proceeds to get loaded to the point of incoherence, and then vanishes into a back room to do a line of coke with some guy. Three hours later she comes out in tears, saying she’s been repeated raped. But we have a legal quandary. It’s her word against the word of the dudes there. It could have been rough sex. It could have been group sex. It could have been consensual, rough, group sex. It also could have been gang rape. And no one was coherent enough to tell the difference, or claim definitely they knew whether they were giving consent or not, or listening for it.
In a seedy bar, where many of the regulars potentially have criminal pasts, you don’t normally want to make yourself such a target. We could argue that you ought to be able to. You should, in our ideal moral judgment world, be able to drink to incoherence in any bar you want to. You should be able to pass out on a pool table and be safe. Should, should, should. But in reality, much like waving a steak in front of a dog, if you tempt people with impulse control while intoxicants are plentiful, you’re going to get a powerful negative response.
Does this mean we should excuse these rapists? Well, there’s should again. Thinking practically, we probably should hang them or ship them (regardless of color) to Somalia where the local warlords can do as they wish with them. Is that a moral judgment, or a “should”? No, it’s a practical judgment: this incident helpfully reveals that these people are opportunists of the worst sort. Since in every society these crop up in abundance, we should take advantage of this situation to get rid of some extra ones.
Does this mean we should blame the young woman? There’s should again as well. As realists, we would instead acknowledge that she made a dumb decision with predictable results. She might have gotten away with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Kind of like taunting a pit bull with steak… don’t be surprised if you get bitten. Hard. So we shift her into therapy and try to teach her cause/effect logic. If the cause is tempting a pit bull with steak, and the effect is bites, can we draw a line between the two, right like that, and you get a gold star.
Moral judgment tells us to throw all this practical thinking out the window. Moral judgment is in fact the enemy of practicality, because it is purely social thinking, as if we were making conversation. Isn’t it terrible that we’re mortal? Yes, we should be immortal. Isn’t it awful that some people are criminals? Yes, they should not be such a way. Where a realist would just admit that criminals exist, and are not desired, therefore sending them on to Somalia is desirable, in social conversation we cannot do that — because that shows disregard for their humanity. We can instead fall back into the comfortable world of should.
In fact, if you mention a realist position — exile all rapists, but don’t prosecute in cases where some clueless idiot gets loaded among potential rapists — people pounce on you immediately. They see a chance for themselves to look good by talking about moral judgments instead of reality. Nevermind that there will always be dangers, parasites, criminals and rapists; they keep us honest by reminding us that they are what they are, and if we get drunk to incoherence around them, they’ll rape us.
People want to talk about should, and if you think it’s practical to exile rapists, they’ll defend the universal human rights of the rapists. They talk about universal absolutes, like rights, freedom, justice, peace and equality because these sound good in conversation. They make others listening to the conversation think the speaker is a Christ-like god among men who just wants to help all of us. That’s because listeners are thinking only of themselves; when I say “No one should suffer prosecution for one little violent gang rape,” they’re thinking of themselves, and by the nature of having fears, worrying that under the right circumstances, they could screw up and violently gangrape someone. When that thought hits their mind, they want the protection of universal absolutes, even if back in realityland they’d never get anywhere near that kind of situation. They hear “I should not suffer prosecution for one little accidental gang rape,” and they’re with me because I’ve used an absolute to include them under its aegis.
This is why people fear situational ethics of any kind: they want a guarantee that people come first, so that they come first. They never want other, competing simians to have a chance to shut them down, defeat them or make them look stupid in public. This is why rights, freedoms, equality, peace and justice are popular topics with most people, but very very popular topics with people who have problems and don’t trust themselves to have impulse control in every situation. If you’re the dog that lunges when steak appears, you want a guarantee that no matter how badly you screw up, you won’t be hung or exiled to Somalia.
There’s a flip side to this too. You gain power by practicing this inclusive style of public logic, which many call competitive altruism. Competitive altruism is the practice of being more inclusive, and thus more popular with a general audience, than others. It’s what politicians, marketers, con men, salesmen, and religious hypnotists do. They know most people think only of themselves, and fear that others will get ahead, so they promise them safety. They also promote themselves by making these very popular statements, and they give their audience a powerful tool: revenge.
Revenge in the social sense is not like Death Wish III: I Will Sodomize Your Corpse. It’s the sense of, if someone else has said something that will require you to be obligated to move your fat ass one centimeter more than you want to, having some way to shut them down fast. Better than a witty retort — you’ve got a universal absolute. The whine of a child (“But I don’t want to!”) gets disguised in adult language as: I have a right not to; You’re not respecting my reality; I’m not obligated to; I have a freedom to stay disengaged, and so on. It’s an excuse to remain independent, and at the same time, lessen the other person’s social status by cutting them down. They violated the prime dogma of the crowd and now have lost face.
Why do we like that, inner monkey and all?
AROUND the time of the G20 summit in London on 2 April, the streets of cities across the world were filled with people protesting against the excesses of the banking bosses, among other things. Chances are you agreed with the sentiment. Chances are too that if you had been asked to put your hand in your pocket to fund a campaign to seize their bonuses, even if you wouldn’t see any of the money, you’d have been sorely tempted.
At a meeting of London’s Royal Society in January, Hauser reported preliminary results from experiments in which children between 4 and 8 years old were offered varying numbers of sweets for themselves and another child unknown to them. They had to pull either a lever delivering the sweets, or another that tipped the sweets out of reach. Infants of all ages almost always rejected one sweet for themselves if the other child was set to receive more. The older children often also rejected sweets if they got more than the other child. Where that kind of concern about inequality disappears to is unclear, because we adults certainly don’t have it. “Imagine you have four dollars on your side, and there’s one on the other side,” says Hauser. “It’s highly unlikely that you’ll dump your four dollars.” But the negative, spiteful version persists: most of us would be quite prepared to sacrifice a dollar to stop someone else getting four. “Spite is the ugly sister of altruism,” says Hauser.
What they’re getting at is this: we are willing to destroy others to get ahead. In some situations, this forms social justice. When someone violates a taboo, like rape, we want to destroy them and will inconvenience ourselves to do it. But when we do not have a real target, we use spite as a means of making ourselves appear to rise relative to others by the oldest means possible — pushing them down.
In a long term analysis, of course, this kind of action is destructive. But it’s more than a sister of altruism — it is altruism. We’re acting altruistic or spiteful to maintain a sense of social order for all individuals, which we then interpret as being applied to ourselves. So we spitefully destroy others so we get universal absolute treatment, just like we demand others be included. We are competing on the basis of appearing altruistic or righteous to others, but the real goal is to make ourselves advance.
A more sensible society would, as Plato suggests (with his parable of the ring of the Lydian Gyges), have its focus on abstract goals rather than individuals. If the goal is fairness, punish the unfair, but don’t use fairness as a weapon; you deprive people of fairness as a weapon when they are trying to be fair to an abstract ideal, instead of tangible people represented/hidden by an abstract symbol.
However, that requires we sacrifice our absolute universal “right” to think first of ourselves, and with that, our ability to let moral judgments replace reality. That in turn suggests we give up a tangible, defensive position for one based in a long-term, abstract order of balances and harmonies instead of rewards and retributions, and that may be too much for our inner monkey to handle.