Does a good deed "pay off" a bad deed? A lot of people view their actions this way, says Scotty Hendricks.
We’ve all done it, reminded ourselves that we have been good before we do something bad. Perhaps just before we eat something a bit too fattening, buy that excessive luxury, or don’t giving a dollar to charity at the store we simply remind ourselves, “It’s okay, I was good earlier”. It’s so common, Subway ran an ad campaign on it in the '90s. The logic being: come on, admit it, you were good earlier, so doing something questionable (like eating at Subway) doesn’t really count.
As it turns out, this is a well-studied psychological phenomenon, called Moral Licensing.
In a review of the studies of the subject, Anna C. Merritt, Daniel A. Effron, and Benoıˆt Monin, found that “Past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid”.
In the first experiment they mention, subjects were given two hiring tasks relating to hiring a new person into a group with past racial tension. In the first, the best qualified candidate is an African American, in the second there are only white candidates. It is explained to the subjects that the previous post holder was an African American and left due to harassment from their co-workers, so when the researchers asked subjects, “Is the job better suited for a white person, a black person, or equally so for both races?”, there is a decent argument to be made for one answer above the others.
As you might guess though, many people don’t wish to answer in a manner that makes them seem prejudiced.
That is why in some tests subjects were allowed to express ideas showing they weren’t racists, such as support for President Obama, with a resultant spike in the number of subjects who were willing to state that the job was better suited to a white person. This spike was absent in the control groups and remained for similar tests that focused on sexism.
However, this effect doesn’t limit itself to questions of racism and sexism.
In another experiment, subjects were told to write an essay about either themselves or a friend using either positive or negative language. After they finished, they were paid, but all were offered the chance to donate some of that money to charity. The lowest rate of donation happened in the group that had praised themselves, with the best rate occurring among those who had written negative essays about themselves. Exactly in line with the hypothesis.
This pattern, the supposed need to redeem the self after reflecting on past poor choices is often called “moral cleansing,” and shows the full extent of this effect. When you feel good about yourself, you are less concerned about your negative actions. When you feel badly, you are likely to try to behave well.
So, are we doomed to moral “breaking even” in the long run? There goes my sainthood.
It’s not all bad, say the researchers, as self-licensing can reduce anxiety about making offensive statements; they propose that self-licensing could be used to promote conversations about sensitive topics which might otherwise be avoided. In a similar vein, sometimes morally ambiguous actions are needed and the ability to reduce stress around those decisions is a potentially valuable tool; if used correctly.
However, they also mention that, “research has also shown that individuals strategically seek out opportunities to act morally if they know they might need a moral license for an upcoming dubious action.” Showing a bit of a Machiavellian side to the potential use of this phenomena.
It doesn’t make for a good self-promotion strategy though, as another study shows that people don’t really view “good” people as being any more entitled to passes than “neutral” people for poor behavior, though they do get away with more than “bad” people.
The real benefit to moral licensing is, perhaps, personal. Trying to stop yourself from doing it may prove impossible, but a higher bar can help you be a better person. Likewise, every minor mistake you make need not be the cause for a donation to some charity. Your self-image as a good person has little bearing on others. Now that you understand the tendency of humanity to do this you are better prepared for the next time you do it.
Now go watch cat videos for an hour, you just read something educational. You’ve earned it!
Limiting speech doesn't change the nature of hate, says Josh Lieb. Thoughts can be hateful and stupid—but should they be criminal?\r\n
Josh Lieb is an absolutist when it comes to freedom of speech. As a comedy writer and producer on late night programs like The Daily Show and The Tonight Show, he knows that the freedom to essentially roast leading political figures is vital to true democracy. Jokes made in bad taste may worry you, but you should be absolutely petrified if you’re not hearing jokes and satire at all. It’s the same for hate speech, says Lieb: limiting expression has never changed the nature of hate, it only leads to an Orwellian path—and it’s during these exact moments in history, when the political divisions are so high, that thought criminalization and oppressive control find their way in. Josh Lieb is the author of I Am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President and Ratscalibur.
Students at an English university have demanded that their curriculum be "decolonized". What does that mean?
Name a few philosophers. I’ll wait. You probably named a few Greeks, maybe a German or two. More frequent readers may have included an Arab or a Persian. But can you name many, or even any, thinkers from Africa? How about South Asia? Can you name a non-white philosopher from the last century at all?
Many people will say no, and a group of students at a University of London college thinks that is a problem. The student union of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) is requesting that a majority of philosophers studied at the college be of an Asian or African background at the expense of more commonly studied European philosophers.
Now, before you get too riled up. The student union's statement is to the effect of increasing diversity rather than the outright banning of white philosophers. They also seek to have philosophers be viewed in the context they lived in. In addition, they want to highlight how colonialism may have influenced what ideas are seen as “canon” and what is seen as “marginal” thought. All this is as part of a “decolonization” of the curriculum that the student union supports.
Also the university claims it is “the only higher education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East”. So mere desire to increase the number of non-European thinkers included in the curriculum would seem reasonable to most.
Now, some philosophy clearly reflects the times it was devised in. John Stuart Mill, utilitarian, liberal, and feminist philosopher, argued often for imperialist practices. Not surprising for a man living in England at the height of the Empire and employed for decades by the East India Trading Company. Other examples exist, often on a more positive note. It is unlikely that we would have heard of the radical thinker Spinoza had he not lived in the tolerant Dutch Republic, where his writings would get him excommunicated, but not imprisoned.
However, in a strictly academic sense. One cannot toss out a key philosopher from their education and hope that it does not ruin the process. The impact of Immanuel Kant on later thought is difficult to overstate. To remove or reduce him on anti-colonial grounds, which philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has dismissed as absurd, would harm students' ability to understand later thought, ranging from relativity and quantum mechanics to modern political philosophy.
Of course, non-European thought is often underrepresented in philosophy. The rich histories of India, China, the Islamic world, and Africa are often seen as footnotes and side ventures to the thinkers of Europe. While European thought is of great use, the influence of African ideas on Freud, the influence of Maoism on many French philosophers, and the refinement of Greek ideas by Islamic thinkers cannot be denied.
Does philosophy need to be decolonized? The student union as SOAS thinks so. Its desire to reduce the focus given to the mainstays of European philosophy has earned it the ire of many online news sources. However, the union raises a fair point. If students in a globalized world are going to understand the world they live in, should they not be armed with the ideas and philosophies of that world? Even at the cost of the traditional curriculum?
No offense, says Slavoj Žižek, but maybe we need to incorporate some "gently racist" icebreakers into our conversations.
Philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek has a bone to pick with the PC movement. While he doesn’t buy into the right-wing paranoid view that the politically correct among us are "evil people who want to destroy the American way of life," he does think they’re doing some damage. Žižek questions whether censoring our expression really addresses racial tension – or does it merely give birth to a politer form of racism (or sexism, or religious and political differences)? Tolerance has started to work against its own agenda, becoming a patronizing insult to those who think differently to you, a way of brushing off and compartmentalizing differences rather than listening and connecting. Žižek recommends we add a tasteful dose of obscenity and humor to our interactions with each other in order to make them more genuine. Covering up racism with nicer words doesn’t eradicate it, but laughing at each other’s differences – in the right way – can unite a world of "others". Slavoj Žižek's most recent book is Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail
Slavoj Žižek's most recent book is Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek thinks the U.S. political machinery is truly broken. He guides a verbal tour through the failure of manufactured consent, the appeal of human baseness, and politics as a real struggle of life and death.
Prepare to traverse the U.S. political landscape, Slavoj Žižek style. It’s wild, zig-zagging, and you can practically see the neurons fire when you ask the Slovenian philosopher for his take on the U.S. Presidential election results. Žižek begins by stating that America’s political machinery is broken. Borrowing a term popularized by Noam Chomsky, Žižek states that the traditional media machine for manufacturing consent – all the platforms that support a certain propaganda and subtly build the public to a point of agreement – spluttered and came to a stop on November 8, 2016. At least, in the eyes of the liberals.
Žižek warns that he is in no way pro-Trump, going so far as to call him ‘scum’ and a ‘dirty, disgusting human being’, but there is something all those on the left should appreciate about the President Elect; he did what liberals have been trying to do for decades – he nearly single-handedly destroyed the Republican party. Compared to party members like Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, Žižek argues that Trump is at least human next to those "aliens". Trump’s vulgarity is different to theirs; he is wild and uncensored in a way that reveals a common human baseness. This is an appeal everyone but Trump supporters underestimated, the exhibition of bare humanity.
Alluring as it is to some, with it comes what Žižek calls ‘the disintegration of public values, of public manners, this obscene situation where you can talk about whatever you want." Is political correctness the solution? No, says Žižek, legislating language and expression is a process he fears, especially when it’s institutionalized. When the government stops saying torture and uses euphemisms like ‘enhanced interrogation’ it makes processes less transparent. The whole point is that if a behavior or a thing is deplorable, it should be called exactly what it is so the corresponding shame of speaking it, or enacting it, regulates that behavior. If you’re afraid of war breaking out then breathe easy, because in Žižek’s eyes it was actually Hillary Clinton, the "establishment" candidate compared to Trumps wildcard status, who would have brought us closer to that danger. She speaks the evolved and tricky language of politics, Trump speaks on the baseline.
Žižek weaves so much more between these points – watch it once, and then again, to catch onto the comet tail of his train of thought.
Slavoj Žižek's most recent book is Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbors: Against the Double Blackmail.