Discussion: Moral Outrage and Social Media

Since I have left Facebook, I want to do more to create conversation that is productive and civil, so I’m hoping to have more discussion posts like this where I post a little bit of info that I hope leads to more expansive dialogue.

Part of the reason that I left Facebook was how angry I was often getting.  One could argue that I wasn’t strong enough to resist the trappings of Facebook but it should be noted that this is part of the design of social media – to manufacture outrage.  I strongly recommend reading this article on the topic, and I think reading the link to Dr. Molly Crockett’s Nature article on the topic is also an excellent read.  From the CSM article:

“Moral outrage plays an essential role in human society. It drives people to expose and rise against injustice. At its best, social media can channel moral outrage into action, as seen in the success of petition drives, boycott campaigns, and protest planning.

But under the attention-driven model that underpins social media, there is little incentive to steer users toward action offscreen. Instead, it is in the interest of the social media companies to encourage sharing of moral outrage in a way that fosters amplification rather than action. Decoupling user attention from profit could break that cycle, say observers.”

On Facebook I would often see people expressing the same level of vitriol for those who might commit minor offenses against societal norms, to those who were truly monsters causing great levels of harm against other humans.  As an example the amount of outrage towards comments from Matt Damon in regards to the #MeToo movement at times seemed indistinguishable from things said about Harvey Weinstein.  Some questions come to mind and you can feel to address some or all of them:

Are there times when you have felt yourself feeling equal levels of anger for different levels of offensive behavior?  Or do you think that equal levels of moral outrage are justified even for the full gamut of what might be considered microaggressions to serious offenses against societal norms.  This seems very much like the “broken windows” approach to moral outrage.  Is this valid?

Is social media causing us to lose our way in really addressing the big problems by diminishing our ability to detect nuance among the “bad actors” in our society?  And as a byproduct of this do we risk pushing those who might just be slightly on the wrong side of some reasonable set of moral behaviors, further away from where we would like them to be?  It seems like we so easily ostracize and shame even small offenses on social media.

Perhaps the net effect of social media is still positive, but even so how can we use social  media to be more positive, given that the current model, as it stands, is designed to exacerbate outrage, and not promote productive conversation?


50 thoughts on “Discussion: Moral Outrage and Social Media

  1. I have a hard time getting any steam into this topic as I think most “social media” are a poor substitute for actual social interaction. Social interaction was a mechanism through which evolution shaped us for millennia. In that context gossip was a good thing, mostly, because it kept the tribe or band informed about the others in the group that not all could interact with. In the context of social media, gossip has a quite different role, I suspect.

    Are we deliberately isolating ourselves from others by interacting thusly? I think the trivilized media are the worst. Twitter being the least helpful, most destructive. I saw “tweets” that took three separate messages to complete one message. That is hardly a good medium for communication … of anything but emotion, as our president is proving.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thanks Steve. I agree with you that, at least for someone my age, I don’t feel it is a good substitute. Perhaps those who grow up with social media from the get go will find that not to be the case, but I worry that it might be more of a case of not knowing what they are missing. But then again, maybe growing up with the “language” of social media they will be able to better utilize it to fit their lives. I am not sure there is a lot of evidence of that yet. As the quote from the article says there are certain advantages to social media as a tool for organization. The revolution in Egpyt a number of years back in overthrowing Mubarik likely would not have happened (or at least not when it happened) if it wasn’t for Facebook and Twitter. Maybe it’s best that we don’t see social media as a tool for social interaction, but for social organization only.

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  2. I agree with your comments about the moral outrage we see on social media. Just the other day I read a conversation that started with a “Democrats are acting like Nazis,” re: the gun rights issue. The person posted the meme and when challenged by a Democrat with whom they are friends the person said basically, “Oh, I didn’t mean you.” She never could understand why it offended her friend, the Democrat, to be painted with such a broad brush.

    I think it’s easy to display moral outrage against a “machine” (i.e. Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Pro-Lifers, Pro-Choicers, Pro-Gun, Anti-Gun). It’s easy to dehumanize groups we disagree with or people we don’t really even know. Your example of Matt Damon, I heard what he said. He wasn’t wrong in my opinion. It was as if he were wrong to even have an opinion because he is a man. Are we shutting people down based on gender? I know what that feels like. It’s not okay just because it’s in reverse. But people who don’t really know Matt Damon felt free to display all this moral outrage.

    I think there should be varying levels of outrage for varying levels of offensive behavior. A person is not the sum total of the worst thing they’ve ever done. At least I hope not. I certainly don’t want to be judged that way.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you Ruth. I agree with you. Certainly the broad brush strokes are causing a lot of harm as well, that is a great point. I had seen from a lot of my liberal friends posts that paint men or paint white people with broad brush strokes…and then if called out, the person would get shut down for not supporting the “spirit of what the meme was trying to say”. And those kinds of things drove my crazy because it seemed to me that there was an end to conversation when there was a good one to be had. People were just getting placed in categories with no room for nuance. The world just isn’t like that, and part of my reason for leaving Facebook is that I felt myself starting to be forced to see the world in black and white, and if I wanted to say it was grey, I was going to be placed into a category anyway. It made me sad.

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  3. I don’t play on FB, but this post reminded me of a comedian who made the observation that we say things–incredibly bad things–when behind the wheel to other drivers we would NEVER say if we were face-to-face.

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    1. Very true. I once felt that social media was giving me practice at being more bold and more forthright, something I felt that I struggle with, but it’s possible that it was also making me less nice as well.

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      1. I’m trying to imagine what a “less nice” Swarn Gill would look like. He cooks dinner only 6 nights of the week, reads his kids 9—not 10—stories, is open to student consultation for just 36hrs a week, and on hot days wears polyester on public transport 😉

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  4. “Moral outrage plays an essential role in human society. It drives people to expose and rise against injustice … But under the attention-driven model that underpins social media, there is little incentive to steer users toward action offscreen.”

    This is a brilliantly incisive capture in a couple of paragraphs. Exactly my beef with social media as well. I didn’t grow up with it (nor did Chris) and really, neither did my girls. MySpace and Facebook were relatively new when they were in high school and they weren’t compelled toward them. This being said, s.m. is here to stay. I think it’s fuel for the masses’ frustrations, and without any face-to-face as John pointed out, gloves are off. It’s just a sling-fest. And people I know – people I thought better equipped mentally – post stuff that is reactionary rather than true. I’ve seen comments that clearly point to a snopes post debunking the truth of what they are saying, but they do not remove said posts from their feed. And on it goes.

    And the sad truth is that, even if someone came up with a brilliant model for interactive social media predicated on intelligent, caring and informed discussion, it likely would never catch on. This might tell us something or it might not. In the end, Swarn – it’s up to you and your/subsequent generation/s to figure this one out. FB can raise my ire on my calmest day, so I only pop in to access Scrabble 😉 … seeing a post or two or simply averting my gaze most days.

    Note: did you notice the new ‘Conversations’ heading in our wp admin?
    hmmm …

    Liked by 5 people

    1. And the sad truth is that, even if someone came up with a brilliant model for interactive social media predicated on intelligent, caring and informed discussion, it likely would never catch on. ,

      I think you might be right. At least from what I’ve read about the brain, it seems to me that it’s too easy to exploit how the brain works through social media. But perhaps that is only because of the consumerist/capitalist model we live in. I think at a whole culture shift would need to happen in what we place value in, for social media to be used in a more ethical way. But maybe the whole Facebook scandal will raise some awareness on making this an area that needs consumer protection, that this is an area that needs an ethical backbone. I don’t know. But more people are paying attention to negative consequences than ever before. And we’re having discussions about the impacts like we’ve never had before. So maybe that’s a start.

      I hadn’t noticed the Conversations heading? I wonder what that’s about. I’ll have to check it out.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I am convinced about 3 things regarding social-media, like Facebook, Twitter, etc., which in my opinion should ALWAYS be remembered every single time you sign-up, log-on, and participate.

    #1 — Phone texting and social-media commenting are NOT THE SAME as live, face-to-face conversations. Ever! Human communication is done with a variety of deliveries and reception that simply cannot be fully sensed in typed, digital words. Video-chat helps, but rarely gives full-body language exposure.

    #2 — Like road-rage in a vehicle there is an increased false sense of detachment and unaccountability that social-media provides or nurtures to an upset or outraged person. Internet etiquette and legal enforcement of criminal activity are much harder to enforce, slower, and less defined than in-person activities. And…

    #3 — How often is Two-Way Engagement offered and perpetuated on social-media? How often is willingness to exchange ideas and consider alternatives shown? And remember, by doing so does NOT mean you embrace them hook, line, and sinker. It is however, a show of respect on your part.

    For me, the bottom-line is that 2-minute (or less) social-media formats or 40-characters only (or less) social-media formats (like Twitter that our U.S. President loves) are NOT conducive to productive, learning, informed, discussions or quality academia. The most beneficial advances for humans and civilizations did not happen or get developed in 2-mins or in 40-characters. Too much “convenience and shallowness” has its many flaws and poisons.

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    1. I agree. And that’s the thing…it’s like being at a party with lots of people and trying to have a conversation with all of them. As a result the time and thought you put in becomes much less. I often would make many more grammar mistakes and poor arguments when I was in a hurry…or more importantly I wouldn’t come off as nice as I wanted to be and would look back and say…”yeah I can see how that might be viewed as having a shitty tone.”

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      1. 👍 Yep. There is definitely a wide-ranging cost or price to increased “convenience and shallowness” or haste or less checks-n-balances with scrutiny and thoughtful refinements — all of which take TIME!!! 🙂

        Besides, what tha HELL IS IT that we are frantically hurrying to get to!? 🤔😄

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  6. I think the problem lies in the “optimisation” process. Spontaneous interaction on social media is (was) fine. Even generalised advertisements were fine. It goes wrong when they actively attempt to create methods/tactics to essentially hijack and manipulate you.
    The news feed concept is the ultimate tool in that game. Constant actions demanding reactions and assessments. I haven’t been able to identify a single positive factor in it. Even the example you give, the Egyptian revolution, could have happened without that function. Just with posting/messaging.

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    1. Oh no I agree that actions like the Egyptian revolution could have happened with any social media tool…I am not suggesting the particular functions of twitter or Facebook were necessary in their entirety, only that the ability to connect to people across vast distances quickly has enormous value.

      The problem seems to be the advertisement model though, which is what causes these constant actions demanding reactions and assessments. The more time you spend on Facebook the more money they make, and the more advertisements can be tailored to your interests based on your constant evaluation and assessment. So the process just continually feeds into itself. I particularly hated the newsfeed. If I could have customized my newsfeed differently I might have stayed on Facebook, but as it was, I either had to entirely hide a friend from my newsfeed, or get everything that comes along with them. Because a lot of time it was comments of “friends of friends” that really irked. But certainly I could be exercising more self-control, but the system is of course designed to get me outraged and my self-control went out the window. lol

      And of course Facebook isn’t the only app that does this. All of them do. Even YouTube. Every wonder why YouTube now just starts a new video after a previous one ends? It didn’t used to. It’s just competing for your attention. If another video starts playing, you are just more likely to sit there and watch it.

      Personally if it takes paying for these things some monthly fee for them to actually have ethics, I’d be okay with that…but of course that might be a financial burden to many. I don’t know, but I’d rather pay 5 bucks a month for Facebook so that they can design a platform that thinks about how humans might want to use it, rather than simply trying to compete for my attention and getting me to spend more time on the platform.

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      1. I think the problem goes even deeper than social media. I’ve seen the art market drastically change its model in the past 20 years. The major auction houses used to focus on expertise and sales of rare/important items. Marketing and “buzz” have overrun all of that. What used to be a partnership in the sale of items is now a completely one sided process. Clients pay for photography, shipping, insurance, everything. And if an item doesn’t sell the auction house may even charge a storage fee. Plus, the minimum values keep going up, and they’ve lowered assessment risks by taking in pieces that have already been examined by experts previously…

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        1. Interesting observations, thank you Pink. There is a book which I’ll likely not get around to reading any time soon called the Death of Expertise. I wrote a blog post concerning this topic a little while back in relation to scientific expertise, but of course it extends to politics, and it would seem even art. But I think social media has also played a role in this death of expertise. While I do think that there has been an extremist faction on both sides of the political spectrum that actively tries to erode expertise, social media also, it seems, plays a role in making expertise seem less valuable. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem in my view. On one hand social media gives a voice to many people who were previously voiceless. This can be a good thing in a lot of ways. But it also gives a voice to people who perhaps shouldn’t have such a big voice. Given that one can obtain a following purely through emotion driven rhetoric (particular fear and anger) we see the rise of people like Tomi Lahren who has a million followers, who can now expound on any issue from civil rights to climate change and because of the weight of her following can make it seem like she is some sort of the authority. There are many like her, and the fact that we have the President we have seems also evidence as well. So there is this way in which people who are ‘loud’ on social media, but who don’t have an ounce of ‘expertise’ can now in fact out compete actual experts who tend not to be ‘loud’ and are using silly things like facts and years of hard work speak for them. Social media in it’s dual-edged nature levels the playing field in a harmful way. And since most people don’t have the expertise needed to really understand something like climate change or vaccines, or even art, the power of manipulators, con artists, and provocateurs rises.

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    1. Thank you Scottie. 🙂 That’s very kind of you to say. *hugs back* To PT’s point elsewhere on here. I have hard time saying anything in a few words, so this is definitely a much better place for me. lol

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  7. Swarn,

    I’m going to go on a little tangent here. I didn’t read or know about Matt Damon’s comments, except for a thirty second web search I just did. So I don’t wish to characterize them, but for the sake of the topic I wish to discuss let’s say there’s an argument in favor of a sliding scale of harm associated with professional tennis players disparaging umpires, and that it runs from pithy comments made to the media, to assault and battery.

    There is a level on which, clearly, the response to a snide comment ought to differ from the response to a player climbing up the chair and tossing the umpire down onto the court for a beatdown, or stalking them in their private lives. But there’s another level to consider that is important to me, and on this level, there is no sliding scale. This is the level of whether attack in any scale is actually different from another perceived level when it comes to the sort of world it fosters. So leaving civil and judicial consequences out of this for a moment, I’d argue we cannot have a world in which tennis players and umpires enjoy genuine, mutual respect when any level of attack is brokered, even the psychological ones. I’m speaking not from the perspective of what the appropriate response is to any particular level of threat, but from another vantage point, which is whether or not we can have any real, deep success without changing a perceptual stance at every level.

    We can all imagine a world in which tennis players and umpires absolutely hate one another, but never take their mutual transgressions beyond a certain level. They just make veiled, derogatory comments that–on the sliding scale of legitimate, worldly response–do not justify incarceration or judicial proceedings. But is that world truly a better one? Is a world in which we fight to control one another through “civilized” means the one we want? That is an interesting question. Does a world in which a patriarchal abuse of power is watered-down to actresses only needing to endure little pats on the ass and awkward comments truly give actresses the freedom to express and create that they deserve? Or is it just simmering violence?

    The way we answer these questions depends on what we value: appearances, and “civilized” forms of aggression and dominance, or genuine transformation in our ability to accept and value one another? For me the latter is what we truly desire. And I think it requires addressing the fundamental stance of disrespect, or abuse of power, or whatever we wish to call it, that expresses itself in all sorts of levels in the physical world.


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    1. Scottie

      @ MIchael. I would like to add something to the conversation. There are degrees to everything including abuse, sexual harassment, and seuxal assult. That includes talking about the subject. Especially talking about it. I speak from my own experience which formed my view point. I was verbally, physically, and sexually abused in my childhood. I can tell you that the times that sexual abuse was non painful was much easier to deal with than broken bones and beatings. ( the painful abuse no matter if just violent or violent with sexual abuse mixed in were the hardest to take ) There are degrees. I have heard people say that sexual abuse is the worst thing that could happen to a kid. I disagree. Death is. I survived to have a rather good life. I wouldn’t have if I had been murdered. Many abused kids do not survive. I did . There is a difference of degree. From what I have read Matt Damon was only trying to say that there were degrees, not justify or gloss over abuse. He was not saying that any harassment or abuse was OK, he simply did not want to lump stupid mistakes that were done with no malice with actual attempts to harm. This is not to belittle anyone’s feelings about their own abuse or situation, everyone has the right to express and feel about what they experienced. I once talked to a guy who had his butt groped through his pants as a kid. It tore him up, he really couldn’t deal with it. I gave him all the sympathy I could because it did tear him up. But I couldn’t help thinking I wish that was all that I had gone through. Degree does matter. Best wishes. Hugs

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      1. Well said Scottie, and I applaud your attitude. There is a YouTube video that I often share called Good without Gods that talks about how we develop morals in a society, and one of the things it talks about is the importance of making sure that societies has degrees of moral outrage for various offenses. The narrator asks the question, why don’t we punish rape with the death penalty in addition to murder given how horrible rape is? The answer is that if we did such a thing rapists would be more likely to kill their victims and any witnesses since they would have nothing to lose when rape carries the same sentence as murder. Not that I think the death penalty is a viable deterrent, but the point stands that not recognizing the degrees of an offense, and treating all offenses with maximum intensity generally leads to worse problems.

        And I too share your sentiment that certainly there are some people who can experience some extreme trauma as a result of lesser degrees of an offense. Humans have too much variety for that to not be the case, but on average the trauma experienced from rape will be less than groping, and a lot of the variation I suspect comes from whether or not the offense happened from someone they trust, as opposed to someone who was unknown to them, what age it happened, and what type of professional support they received. The latter point here is something that we can work on better as a society. Help people report these incidences and get the help they need.

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      2. Hi Scottie,

        I agree with you, and probably didn’t begin my comment with sufficient clarity. I wanted to say that obviously there is a level at which differences of degree matter. I tried to say that in the opening to my second paragraph. That clearly, on the immediate physical level, the difference matters.

        I was trying to explore the idea that there is a type of transformation that cannot be understood by degree, and is associated with a comprehensive inner change of heart. There could be a world with a sliding scale of abusive behavior, and clearly we would all want to live on the mildest end of that scale as possible. But there also could be a world without abuse altogether, and how do we quantify that difference? Is it just a small one?

        Your note brings up some really interesting points for me: first, our personal reactions are commonly decoupled from the perceived severity of an aggressive act. Meaning, there are cases, like this person you spoke to, who experienced what may have been an innocuous act, but because of his own history and perception, produced some lasting trauma, and was quite difficult to overcome. This is one example of the difficulty in placing these sorts of issues on scales. Our personal histories clearly have an impact on how we experience and interpret things.

        I was just trying to note, though, that there is a HUGE difference between a little abuse, and no abuse at all. There is a HUGE difference between being perceived as an object, but not physically assaulted, and being perceived as valuable for who you are as a person, or for your talent as a professional regardless of appearance or willingness to be groped. The misleading part of a sliding scale is that it belies the tremendous impact even a little abuse can make.

        I agree difference does matter. It matters a great deal, and I don’t discount that, but I think there are real issues with trying to set acts born of malice or hatred or oppression onto a scale. It’s not easily done. It’s not meaningful to all victims. And it belies the real goal eradicating hatred, malice and oppression. I don’t know what Matt Damon’s point was, which is why I tried not to write about his particular issue, but I hope I’ve been able to clarify, Scottie. Thanks for your note, and for your passion and concern. It came through to me loud and clear.


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        1. Scottie

          Good morning Michael. I was thinking of your point of having no abuse or causing of harm in society. It is a worthy goal to live in harmony. Do you think human nature being what it is that our species could ever change that much? I think it would take a very long time to evolve past the animal nature we have. After all it has taken roughly 200,000 years to get us to this point.

          The idea of ranking hurt and harm is something I do not agree with either. Swarn also said it well in his reply. The people I have heard talk of this call it intersectionality from what I have heard. It seems to be a large issue promoted by the regressive left mostly at colleges and universities. I admit I have not personally seen or been involved with either the people or the issue and my understanding of it comes second hand by reading of it. But it seems to setup a victim scale and seems to almost try to make it a competition. I think this negatively impacts victims and it lessen the experience of people who have been harmed.

          Got to go. Thanks for the reply. Hugs

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Hi Scottie,

            Your first question is a good one. But I’m not sure what you’re trying to suggest. We could debate for years the practicality of living in harmony one day, and when and how that might occur. Let’s say we thought it was impossible. Would that change your thinking on this issue?

            And I agree completely with you on raking hurt and harm. I know I probably missed Swarn’s initial point here, which I tried to concede in my initial reply. I got focused on this particular difficulty of ranking hurt and harm.

            Good to speak with you.


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            1. Scottie

              Well I guess I should have started my question by saying we humans are imperfect animals who act emotionally and sometimes selfishly towards others even when it is unintentional. I was trying to start from what we are today and say how much time will it take us until we can work our nature into something better. Something more altruistic. I was not saying that trying to be a better person is wrong. In fact I tell myself all the time I will try to be a better person today than I was yesterday. But the fact is we have all these desires and feelings and it took us this long in our history to get as enlightened as we are. My question was simply will it take us another 200,000 years before we learn to behave better towards each other and tamp down our animal nature. I hope not, but we are a stubborn species and we do not take change well. But I have hope. Be well. Hugs

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Given the value of nurture to the development of our brain, while I think we are wired evolutionarily, we can head off a lot of the less than desirable behaviors at the pass by raising the consciousness of our children to these cognitive biases and behavioral tendencies. Further emphasizing the value of education about how we work as humans, particularly our brain.

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    2. Interesting questions and some good points here. Let me first state, that I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I think we should be not oppose pats on an actresses butt, even if it doesn’t escalate to worse. I certainly think that we should oppose such behaviors, my post here is really just about losing the inability to distinguish between degrees of offense and the harm that might cause. If you were to look at comments across a wide range of story and had to guess the nature of the offense, in these days of social media your guesses would on average be greater than what the offense actually is. Even we are getting just as angry at someone who makes a comment that we deem to be not as sensitive to women as it should be, as opposed to someone who uses and sexually assaults women then I don’t think we are heading in the right direction. The way that social media intensifies this rage such that a wide range of offenses receives a much more equal expression of rage is unhealthy not only for achieving real change, but at an individual level it’s simply not healthy to be in such a constant emotional state. The degree to which social media could potentially initiate conversation to more subtle problematic behavior, and raise awareness of harmful attitudes, not just harmful actual actions, I think is a good thing. Social media doesn’t want to stop there, because it wants you to be upset, it wants you to spend more time on the social media platform, and you are more likely to do that in an extreme emotional state.

      In regards to whether it’s a better world…well I guess if it were indeed possible to have a world in which women only received pats on the butt and it never went further, and it didn’t involve rape or women made to perform degrading sexual acts to keep their job, then I would say that is a better world. There is a less over all suffering. The overall level of trauma suffered by rape, can’t psychologically compare to a pat on the ass. That being said, it is perhaps possible that in such a world without worse harms being committed against women, pats on the ass might become traumatic, but I don’t know that’s the case.

      I do feel however that allowing such attitudes that a woman’s body is for a man to touch as he pleases, supports more extreme behavior. Which is certainly why I think that striving for a world in which we have true equality is the one that we want. But I don’t think that change is achieved by opposing the least possible offense with the same level of emotion as the worst possible one.

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      1. Swarn,

        I don’t disagree with your points about social media. I think you’ve had strong experiences there recently to which you are speaking, and in many ways I’d agree with your point: if you play everything at maximum amplitude a great deal of information is lost.

        I wrote in to suggest what I knew might be a challenging pill to swallow, but which for me is a really important consideration. While I don’t discount what you and Scottie have said about the fact that differences of degree matter, (see my note above in reply to Scottie), the differences are essentially only material to one another within the relative space of a world in which the particular types of abuses we’re describing occur. And what enables those abuses in the case of the actresses and women who’ve been attacked physically, emotionally and psychologically, are culturally and societally inculcated values I think. By this I mean, it is the fact that women are portrayed as objects in a society where men have greater power, to put it bluntly, along with other issues of gender, sexuality in general, and even deeper issues of personal well-being and self-respect that all play into this.

        A woman very close to me was once asked to stand up and spin in a circle once at a job interview by a male interviewer or two. This was several decades ago. But how does that sound? She wasn’t spoken to impolitely. She was never touched. The skills required for the job were all business and administrative. What reaction would an objective agreement about a sliding scale entitle her to, reasonably? At the time, it was probably normal for many, many more job candidates than it would be today. At the time, it may not have even been all that traumatic because of certain societal expectations. Today, it doesn’t sound like a good thing AT ALL.

        So my point is just this: a sliding scale certainly matters practically, moment-to-moment. But I think it’s a tricky thing because who gets to control the scale? And does a woman asked to spin in place during a job interview not have equal rights to outrage at a world that views her as an object as one who has suffered otherwise? I actually think it’s quite difficult to argue that suffering has a scale. It sounds easy. Being mugged and beaten seems as though it causes more suffering than being called names. But from the seat of the victim, who only knows the experience they know, how can you tell them their experience or interpretation of the event was incorrect or in certain proportion to something they haven’t experienced?

        Do we get to discount certain voices just because they haven’t “earned” the right to speak by suffering the greater crime? The flip side of saying the perpetrators should be treated differently for different crimes, which is practical from a judicial perspective, is that it discounts the voices of the victims. I don’t need to experience the full-on assault to recognize the world is set up to limit my rights and freedoms, and why should just a little of that be okay? it is, in fact, just a little of it that leads to a lot of it. So while differences of degree matter, and we both agree the world of equality is the one we want, I do think it’s difficult to suggest appropriate levels of emotion for a sliding scale of personal trauma. Emotion simply doesn’t work that way.

        But to wrap this up, Swarn, if changing the underlying attitudes requires civil conversations, we must stop yelling at one another. Agree completely.


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        1. I agree with you Michael. A lot of good stuff here.

          Being mugged and beaten seems as though it causes more suffering than being called names. But from the seat of the victim, who only knows the experience they know, how can you tell them their experience or interpretation of the event was incorrect or in certain proportion to something they haven’t experienced?

          I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that victims themselves should be told…hey you could have experienced worse, so cheer up. I don’t think that is helpful. However I do think it’s helpful, whether victims or not, to practice “outrospection”, to learn about what’s possible to experience through the experience of others. To switch perspectives. If one is a victim, this can be a source of healing, for humans in general this can build empathy and make us more likely to act in a way that fosters a society with less harm.

          My thoughts here are purely at a societal level, and how we have conversation, and what types of things shut down conversation. A woman made to twirl at a job interview should be outraged, but perhaps the answer in dealing with the attitude of those men should be different than dealing with those who have committed far worse, if we are interested in truly changing behavior. Not to mention that while someone might not display the best attitudes in one realm, may actually provide value in another. This, to me, also seemed an artifact of high levels of rage on social media, is people being reduced to their worst attitude, which seemed equally dehumanizing. And I’m not saying that I didn’t join in at times. But when you’re just raging at things all the time it’s much easier to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that also seems unhelpful to course correction in a society.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. This has been an interesting conversation, Swarn. I’ve enjoyed it.

            On outrospection, agreed. On not demonizing people because of one particular moment or action or statement or personal fault, agreed. (I would agree with not demonizing or vilifying anyone actually, which is probably another conversation.) The court of public opinion has always been a little wonky and unstable, so thank goodness for a judicial system not based on how we all feel at any given moment. On social media amplifying faults and making it all the more difficult to have a nuanced, healthy conversation, agreed.

            On the goal being to change behavior, I don’t agree if the notion is that it is only behavior that we are concerned about. This was part of my initial movement to the keyboard. My deepest desire would be to bring about changes of mind and heart. And I think this is why actions at all perceived levels of scale are viewed as problematic by people who’ve experienced prejudice of any sort, because even the small actions signal, and are the product of, the ideas which are given expression in these acts. Even the small actions convey the basic claims: I have power over you. You are less than me.

            That said, I get that you’re frustrated about a mob mentality in social media, and I do feel you’re spot on in that regard. I think, though we’ve weaved and wandered here, there’s an interesting question about how to respond productively when our emotions run so high. A huge, huge problem is our rush to judge one another.

            To that end, I really liked this quote I read on Bret Weinstein’s website: “Given similar circumstances, people are basically alike; an excellent world is possible, but perfection is not an option; and the future cannot be designed, it will have to be discovered.” It is the first clause to which I was referring in regards to judgment, but I actually like the entire quote, start to finish.


            Liked by 4 people

            1. I really like Weinstein. That’s a great quote. And I don’t know we are really disagreeing in terms of behavior vs. hearts and minds. For me there is no real thing as a heart or a mind (in the sense they are being used here) for that matter, they are excellent terms though that are sort of comprehensively encompassing and I use them myself often. I use the term behavior here, because this is the result of a changed heart and mind. This is the outcome that we can actually measure, We have no way of really gauging whether a heart or mind has been changed, we can really only observe behavior. Furthermore, given the difficulty in changing hearts and minds, a person who acts like “not a racist” or a “not a sexist” is far more permissible in a society whether or not they’ve truly changed their heart and mind. As Scottie points out it could be the true kind of change we are looking for is something that happens over much longer arcs of time. And I would say, it is often the case that, simply advocating a behavior is what works backwards to change a person thinks, and what a person believes.

              This is definitely interesting stuff and I enjoy talking about it. As always your perspective brings important texture to the conversation.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. Swarn,

              I want to backtrack for a moment, as I think I’ve missed something in what you’re trying to convey that is potentially important. What did you mean by this: A woman made to twirl at a job interview should be outraged, but perhaps the answer in dealing with the attitude of those men should be different than dealing with those who have committed far worse, if we are interested in truly changing behavior. I’m trying to understand the process or mechanism by which you see different levels of response being more effective in changing behavior, and thus perhaps more effective for society as a whole. I can’t envision it right now.

              Because, alas Swarn, I do think we are disagreeing! Haha! But I find it an intriguing, constructive and pleasant disagreement. Hopefully, at least, this is the sort of conversation you’re hoping to have as opposed to the ranting on all sides type.

              I see us disagreeing on one basic point: that the appropriate response in the face of oppression is to push back at the level of ideas (hearts and minds, perhaps difficult) as opposed to the level of behaviors (pragmatic, perhaps enforceable). I think this is the basic rub.
              Also, I don’t think the assertion that hearts and minds aren’t real is very material to this discussion, and that’s a whole other rabbit hole, because regardless of how you and I conceive of the human being, it is clear to me that we both agree that what we think—however you wish to define the content of our inner lives—informs what we do. Or am I wrong on that?

              And lastly, it is not clear to me that your last notion–that behavior will change ideas–is clearly applicable here. I am out of my depth on the psychology, but I thought our behavior changed an idea about or within ourselves when we did something unexpected that surprised us. Like… I don’t think I like black people, but I’ve just fallen in love with a black woman, and I’ve surprised myself–how could this happen!?–and so to be a consistent person in my own mind something has got to give. I’ve essentially discovered I’m not who I thought I was. Whereas, if a behavior is necessitated by application of an external pressure to conform, whether through threat of punishment or public outcry, the exact opposite may happen. I may further cement my racist belief because it is now connected with an even deeper need I have to perceive myself as free. So being racist becomes, through the exertion of pressure, an expression of my freedom. So I think we have to be very careful about the idea that if use pressure of whatever sort to change behavior, we can count on that changing an idea… But to my opening point, you may not be talking about applying pressure as I’ve imagined it here, so I’d like to understand that…


              Liked by 1 person

            3. A woman made to twirl at a job interview should be outraged, but perhaps the answer in dealing with the attitude of those men should be different than dealing with those who have committed far worse, if we are interested in truly changing behavior.

              What I meant by this is that the same punishment we might use for rape, is not the same punishment we should use for this act. Or rather the level of outrage a victim might experience doesn’t get to determine the punishment. In general we don’t let victims be judges and determine punishment. It may also be that a group of men in some authoritative position such of this that all are not equal in their misogynistic attitudes, some may simply be afraid to act differently based on being in fear of their own jobs or feeling that had to impress a colleague or superior to maintain status. There is room for conversation and a proportionately different response as a matter of discipline between perpetrated harms. In my post, I am not referring to people who are victims expressing outrage at someone who has directly caused them harm, but people who often, not only who aren’t victims, but have never been victims simply expressing high volumes of anger at an offender for minor infractions that are similar to how I’ve seen them react to much worse offenders.

              Well I think a discussion of the material nature of “hearts and minds” is relevant when it comes to how we determine whether we are making progress. Again I don’t disagree that we want to make change based on their own true feelings to do so, but how do I measure that hearts and minds are being changed? Of course you could simply ask somebody to fill out a survey to report how they feel, but this can be a very unreliable way to determine whether or not people’s minds and hearts are changing. Most people would not report being racist. Yet if we observe their behavior we would get a better measure of whether or not they are racist. It may be implicit bias, something they aren’t overly conscious of, but we would see it. Making observations of changes in behavior is really one of the only ways to determine whether or not we have truly changed hearts and minds. So when I talk about changing someone’s behavior, it is implicit in this that we are also changing the way somebody’s thinks. Given that the way we think influences our actions. In fact there is evidence that suggests it may not even be necessary to give a person an “a ha!” moment, but simply influencing the way somebody perceives societal norms may influence behavior. http://www.columbia.edu/~rim2114/publications/2015-McDonald-Crandall.pdf

              And in regards to what I was talking about regarding behavior thoughts, search for how behavior changes the brain. A good example of this is the more harmful act of addiction. The reasons for starting doing a drug may become irrelevant over time as the behavior of using the drug starts to change the brain and thus your thinking begins to change in order to justify your behavior.

              If we imagine a person who might be racist but is forced to hire equitably, it may be that the person remains racist, but at the very least, in terms of society they will be hiring people in a way that suits a more equal society. It may also be after years of adhering to this practice and getting to know the people of color they hired their understanding empathy increases and their racism erodes. So there is value in enforcing certain behaviors, even if we don’t convince them right away, why they should do it.

              Liked by 2 people

            4. I should clarify also, that my example on racial equity in hiring isn’t maybe the best one to illustrate brain plasticity, but if extend that example to somebody who is responsible for hiring fairly constantly, the consistent practice of hiring equitably for race whether one initially believes that races are equally will over time impact how that person thinks about race, and certainly a work place that has a more diverse makeup will create a positive environment to change thinking as well. My general point is that we need not actively change anybody’s heart and mind, this can occur as a result of setting behavioral goals in society that create equity, reduce harm, etc.

              Liked by 2 people

            5. Thanks, Swarn. I think at various times in this thread we’be both made the case that punishment should not be based on the emotional reactions of either the victim, or the larger society, particularly as expressed through social media. I understand better what you’re saying, and agree.

              The issue of whether ideas or behaviors are fundamental is clearly a convoluted issue. On this I think we’re both making valid points, because I think (based on what you’ve shown me) inner ideas and attitudes and outer behaviors are each related to the other in a circular fashion, depending on the context. Given the way a) we desire to express/behave in a manner consistent with our values, ideas and self-concepts, and b) we also modulate our behavior in the face of external pressures (e.g. societal norms, loyalties in close relationships, threat of status or job loss, etc.), I can see the argument for there being cause-effect relationships in both directions. What I would say is that in just about any combination of events that results in a person changing his or her initially prejudiced view, we will find transitions in behavior and ideas, and often in varying degrees and orders of occurrence.

              When you note we don’t need to address hearts and minds (ideas) and then note that through behavior modifications we can accomplish changes of heart and mind (of idea, attitude, etc.), I think you’re describing a desired end state identical to the one that I am, which is the one in which individuals display behavior that is coherent with their values and attitudes (e.g. not masking or hiding a true belief), and their values and attitudes are no longer burdened by a particular historical prejudice. My opening comment here was related to this, and was an attempt to say without this coherence, we’ve not brought about a particular class of change. And here I think you’re saying we can bring about that deeper change even if we don’t start with coherence. And I wouldn’t disagree with that point. It’s very muddy between the start and end.

              If you told me hearts and minds (ideas, attitudes, prejudices, etc.) are not relevant at all to the end condition we’re describing, then I would disagree with that. And only because I think there is a real difference between relationships between people who are acting like they are not racist or sexist to fend off a social pressure, and people who are actually not racist or sexist, and simply choosing to be with and collaborate with and relate with the people they love. I think people are incredibly sensitive to one another’s level of authenticity and orientation on these issues, particularly in repeated interactions and over a span of time, and also that the outcomes for the world at large are genuinely different when we compare actions expressed through conflict (my objective is to avoid getting caught, or to avoid humiliation) to actions arising from mutual desire (my objective is to expand the range of this enjoyable interaction).


              Liked by 2 people

            6. I agree with everything you’ve said here. And I really like what you said:

              I think people are incredibly sensitive to one another’s level of authenticity and orientation on these issues

              In the end of course, you are absolutely right than the final destination is people acting with kindness and empathy to one another in an authentic way. How we get there and how we know we are making progress seems to be where the complexity enters in. I often see humanity being pushed forward sort of like a slinky in slow motion. If a spectrum of views represents the slinky then as view shift to what is hopefully a more kind and equitable end of the spectrum, the spectrum does not move is a solid object but it pulls and stretches and there is a delay between the forward progress at one end, before the other end catches up. There is probably a better analogous object than a slinky but that’s the best I could come up with. lol Hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying. lol How we yank on that slinky isn’t always with convincing arguments, at least at a societal level, and sometimes the hearts and minds don’t change for the people that exist now, but a new norm, creates a new generation in which the new norm is just a norm and that is where we often see the truer shift in hearts and minds. I hope we are making progress. It doesn’t feel like it in this country right now, but these movements are non-linear in both space and time.

              P.S. This conversation has taken away from me responding to your comment on my other post, I’ll get to it I promise…I was just enjoying this one. 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

  8. I wish I had the energy to comment something of use, but I’m all done in, and much has been said that I would have said anyway, and I always enjoy both your posts and the comment sections, so it’s good and interesting food for soul on this particular Cloud.I will say I agree with Jay Zee to put it in as close to a nutshell as I have.

    – Esme sitting, watching and nodding upon the Cloud

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You really did.


        All good stuff mind. I think you’d both enjoy each others company in real life you know. then you could get a room eh? *falls about* Only kidding I actually do thing you would.

        – Esme Cloud hoping Prof Taboo doesn’t get a room for them anyway and wait with ball gag in hand

        Liked by 2 people

  9. I get the sense that most people who spend a lot of time being outraged on facebook weren’t going to solve society’s problems in the first place, so I don’t know if it’s a net loss in the end.

    A couple weeks ago, on the CBC they replayed a lecture from September on the topic of civil discourse. The lecturer, Michael Sandel, has an hour long civil discussion with his audience about immigration policy. Although they didn’t come to any conclusions, the amount of thoughtfulness gave me hope. If you’re interested, the youtube link is below. You can start at around the twelve minute mark to skip the intros.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t have time to watch all of it, but I do like the one of the speaker. In regards to social media, I am uncomfortable agreeing with you completely because I do think that these social media platforms, and powers that no how to manipulate people can exploit human tendencies. As the paper I linked explains, there is value to moral outrage, and it has positive effects, but the way it is being funneled through social media perhaps isn’t manufacturing outrage in a productive way, and on purpose to simply make money. But the outrage can organized large scale public protests like several of the nationwide marches that have occurred here for women’s rights, science, and gun control. That’s useful. And I think it’s possible that well meaning people can get sucked into this social media world without realizing what’s going on. I think social media is a powerful tool but requires some awareness as to how it really work and what those who run these platforms are really after.


  10. Pingback: Don’t Do Anything Nice if You’ve Done Something Bad – Cloak Unfurled

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