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Moralizers: The Psychology of Political Correctness

Dr. Thomas Swan has a PhD in psychology from the University of Otago. He has researched several psychological traits and disorders.

Moralizers are quick to condemn others.

Moralizers are quick to condemn others.

What Are Moralizers?

Moralizers are individuals who make frequent moral judgments about people and events that have no direct impact on their lives. They are quick to reach conclusions, and they will make their judgment known to as many people as possible (i.e., they "virtue signal"). Moralizers therefore revel in the opportunity that political correctness (PC) affords them.

The individual psychology that creates a need to condemn and destroy the reputations of non-conformists might not be entirely pernicious. For example, it may be derived from a heightened sense of empathy or sensitivity for alleged victims. However, it clearly also creates victims of its own.

This article will discuss the possibility that moralizing is often a form of abuse that enhances the moralizer's reputation while destroying the reputation of another. This abusive social function may therefore have become common because it was beneficial during human evolution.

Of course, moralizing differs from simply having morals. Without morals and an aversion to causing harm, society could not function. Crime would be rampant, and our technological and scientific advances would never have transpired. As a species, these evolutionary benefits mean that we are psychologically-tuned to have and enforce moral judgments.

Moralizing is to enforce and advertise your moral judgments to an excessive extent for a perceived reputational benefit. For example, people rely on each other to spot moral transgressions, and they reward this vigilance with trust and friendship. It is this reputational reward that may cause moralizers to abuse the system by indiscriminately declaring moral transgressions.

Right Wing Political Correctness

The Politics of PC

As the video makes clear, the tendency to moralize and engage in political correctness isn't an exclusively left-wing phenomenon. It is a human problem that affects everyone.

Everyone knows from an early age that calling out others makes you look good, and both sides of the political spectrum condemn non-conformers for different reasons. Blaming the problem on liberals or conservatives shows an ignorance associated with an extreme position on the opposite side. However, it is clear that liberal "wokeness" has become a dominant form of moralizing in the early 21st Century.

The Absurdity of Political Correctness

Wokeness (a form of political correctness) is often the moralizer’s weapon of choice. This excessive deference to the sensibilities of others often concerns issues of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or religion. An expression or viewpoint becomes politically correct when it is culturally imposed as a replacement for unfavorable terms or opinion.

The absurdity of political correctness is borne out on the "euphemism treadmill." Words become politically incorrect when they become popular enough to be used by people who use them in a derogatory way. These "dysphemisms" are replaced by politically correct words, or euphemisms.

Eventually, the replacements become popular enough to be used by bigots, and the whole cycle begins again. For example, the "N word" was replaced by "black," which has now become "African American."

Rather than recognizing the importance of context and intent, we instead appear to have noticed that bigots like short words. Consequently, we have burdened our language with multi-syllabic expressions like "intellectually disabled," "visually impaired," and "Native American."

Moralizers are attracted to politically correct terms because they are simple, popular, and effective. They appear to seek them out, build a conceptual dictionary of politically correct expressions, and use them to bash non-conformers over the head with.

Political correctness isn't the only tool, however. Religion can also be used by moralizers to condemn people for cultural "wrongs," and the Bible is often interpreted in biased ways to perform this function. The union of religion with the political right may be why political correctness is often a liberal phenomenon. Without religion, the human tendency to moralize must find another outlet.

Whether disgust, anger, or contempt, moral condemnation is typically fueled by emotion.

Whether disgust, anger, or contempt, moral condemnation is typically fueled by emotion.

The Psychology of Political Correctness

A person who makes frequent moral judgments in public (i.e., a moralizer) will be seen as a morally-concerned individual, which demonstrates that they are trustworthy and follow society's rules.

Such a reputation can lead to increased opportunities for friendship and trade, which may make moralizing something that people are unconsciously motivated to do as a result of human evolution.

In support of this theory, Jonathan Haidt has conducted several psychology experiments that show moral judgments are fueled on an unconscious level by emotions. For example, we feel anger in response to harm, disgust in response to disease, and sympathy when our friends are in trouble. These emotions cause us to intuitively feel that something is wrong (i.e., immoral).

Such emotions are typically triggered by events that threaten us, our allies, or our potential allies, and they evolved to unconsciously bias our actions in beneficial ways. Haidt found that the presence of emotion is what separates moral rules from conventional rules, meaning that morality must serve a partially selfish purpose.

The manner in which we comprehend these emotion-based judgments is even more fascinating. In one experiment, Haidt asked participants to read a vignette in which a brother and sister described an incestuous encounter. Haidt was careful to state that it was completely secret, the sibling relationship was not ruined, there was no chance of procreation, and they had decided against a repeat encounter.

When participants were asked what they thought of the vignette, most claimed it was disgusting and morally wrong. However, when asked to justify their intuitive judgment of the situation, they were unable because all avenues had been removed (procreation, ostracism, destroyed relationship, etc.). The participants were morally dumbfounded (i.e., they thought something was wrong but couldn't explain why).

The experiment showed that people are more disposed to support their emotion-based moral judgments than to question them, no matter how irrational.

In terms of human evolution, this capacity for moralizing can only exist if it is beneficial in some way. If morally-concerned individuals receive a greater number of trade and friendship opportunities, this may explain the evolutionary psychology of political correctness.

Never be afraid to say what you think.

Never be afraid to say what you think.

Political Correctness Creates More Victims

Moral judgments promote a singular interpretation of ambiguous events and a commitment to one absolute truth. Thus, emotion-based moral judgments will always simplify complicated situations, often leading to condemnation of innocent people.

Moralizers make these judgments prolifically and enforce them harshly. They add to their repertoire of outrageous and offensive transgressions by generating and memorizing a panoply of politically correct expressions. They are motivated by the rewards of their endeavor, such as feelings of self-righteousness, and the increased opportunities for trust and friendship that come from their "virtue signals."

Contrary to popular opinion, moralizing is ancient and is probably part of our evolutionary makeup. That does not require it to be beneficial for the species as a whole, however.

Morality must have evolved first, while moralizing appears to be a byproduct utilized by free-riders (i.e., those who manipulate social rules for personal gain). As with most intuition-based cultural problems, the solution is to teach people to use critical thought and reasoning. Only then can we progress as a species.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.