Moral Outrage Is Self-Serving, Say Psychologists


#1

When people publicly rage about perceived injustices that don’t affect them personally, we tend to assume this expression is rooted in altruism—a “disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.” But new research suggests that professing such third-party concern—what social scientists refer to as “moral outrage”—is often a function of self-interest, wielded to assuage feelings of personal culpability for societal harms or reinforce (to the self and others) one’s own status as a Very Good Person.

Outrage expressed “on behalf of the victim of [a perceived] moral violation” is often thought of as “a prosocial emotion” rooted in “a desire to restore justice by fighting on behalf of the victimized,” explain Bowdoin psychology professor Zachary Rothschild and University of Southern Mississippi psychology professor Lucas A. Keefer in the latest edition of Motivation and Emotion. Yet this conventional construction—moral outrage as the purview of the especially righteous—is “called into question” by research on guilt, they say.

Feelings of guilt are a direct threat to one’s sense that they are a moral person and, accordingly, research on guilt finds that this emotion elicits strategies aimed at alleviating guilt that do not always involve undoing one’s actions. Furthermore, research shows that individuals respond to reminders of their group’s moral culpability with feelings of outrage at third-party harm-doing. These findings suggest that feelings of moral outrage, long thought to be grounded solely in concerns with maintaining justice, may sometimes reflect efforts to maintain a moral identity.

reason.com/blog/2017/03/01/moral-outrage-is-self-serving


#2

AKA… Virtue Signaling


#3

I think it’s hardly newsworthy that moral outrage can sometimes be self-serving, and that’s what the article is stating, not that it is *always *self-serving. Certainly much of the “slacktivism” I see on social media these days, I think counts as self-serving. It certainly lets people feel morally superior to others without actually doing anything productive other than venting about how horrible X is (whether X be “Islamist terrorists” or “homophobes” or whatever.)

Without even citing contemporary examples, isn’t that what the Pharisee was doing when he prayed to God to express thanks that he wasn’t as sinful as the tax collector beside him? We know what Jesus thought about that kind of “I’m good with God because I’m not as bad as HIM” approach to sin.


#4

Immoral Outrage is self-serving.

Ed


#5

I wonder if this applies to people who are outraged about abortion, even though they do not know anyone personally who is having an abortion? I would be very careful about denigrating people’s motives for their moral outrage. Sometimes it is just what it seems.


#6

And sometimes it is as fake as it seems with all the selective outrage on behalf of the Democrats


#7

The article noted that this applies sometimes, not all the time. And I think it is obviously true in some cases, no matter what the “moral wrong” involved is. I can say the same about those who are outraged about “discrimination and hatred towards the transgendered” despite not knowing anyone personally who is transgendered. Some are just trying to revel in their moral superiority over others.

I also see this being used in politics to set up false dichotomies. Such as people who assume everyone who says anything negative about President Trump, (1) MUST have voted for Hillary and (2) MUST support abortion, or at least it as no big deal. And then use it to justify dismissing this person as an eeevil pro-abortion moral degenerate, who doesn’t have any moral standing to critique Trump about anything.


#8

These are evil times when every thread becomes political. :frowning:


#9

It seems too general to apply to everyone. However, I do notice people tend to be more vocal and condemning about those sins to which they personally are not attracted. I sometimes wonder of this version of moral outrage is not in compensation for the guilt of sin one has in other areas.


#10

I really hope you’re not calling me evil because of my excellent example


#11

No, I didn’t say that. The CAF World News forum has become toxic, perhaps reflecting recent political trends. It has become irrelevant and even harmful to Catholicism. Why did you first come to CAF? I came to learn more about Scripture, Catechism, morality, and how to live as a Christian. The article cited in the OP raises some good questions about moral outrage that could apply to us individually or socially and for the moment transcend political differences.


#12

I personally could find plenty of examples of self-serving moral outrage from both left-wingers and right-wingers. I think it’s more about their motivations for being involved with politics in the first place, more than their specific ideologies.

I actually recall a CAF poster bluntly stating at one point “I’ve committed a lot of sins in my life, but nothing as bad as having homosexual sex”. That was actually in a Moral Theology topic, not a political one. He did get called out by other posters for his statement.

I also recall the Josh Duggar topics and people actually seeing him as some kind of victim of a Left Wing Media conspiracy and assuming all his critics were leftists who supported homosexual sex, and were therefore being hypocrites who had no moral standing to criticize him. Not that I think they actually thought consensual homosexual sex was worse than heterosexual child molestation. At least, I really hope not.


#13

Please forgive my misunderstanding.


#14

I share your concern about this forum being highly political. However I should point out that World News is just one of the many fine sub-forums on this website. There is Moral Theology and Social Justice, for example. And then there are some where people just share prayers, customs, etc. One reason people flock here to World News is that the rules for this forum allow for the discussion of specific political people and parties by name. The other forums on CAF are more restrictive. And even there people find ways of skating very close to the edge of the rules in discussing politics. That’s how it seems to me, anyway.


#15

That is a good point. But when an article makes a claim that such and such can be true sometimes, it is a little harder for someone to take that article as support for their belief that the such and such is happening in specific cases. I think some people would like to take this article as proof that Democrats don’t genuinely care about the poor, or Republicans don’t genuinely care about the unborn. All we do know from the article is that such self-serving moral outrage is* possible*. But without looking within the human heart, we can’t know for sure.


#16

The headline is misleading by not including the “sometimes”, but this is fairly par for the course for headlines, and the article itself is much more reasonable.

I think some people would like to take this article as proof that Democrats don’t genuinely care about the poor, or Republicans don’t genuinely care about the unborn. All we do know from the article is that such self-serving moral outrage is* possible*. But without looking within the human heart, we can’t know for sure.

I also think this not an either/or situation. Someone may have a sincere commitment to Issue X but also enjoy the chance to revel in their moral superiority over others who don’t share the same level of commitment.


#17

I was hoping for the same thing but have come to realize that politics replaces religion for some people. I want to learn about how to face the challenges of living as a faithful Christian while living in a toxic atmosphere.

My idea. More Catholic groups getting together and talking about living as Catholics, as we’ve been taught, face to face. In some Christian circles, it’s called Fellowship. The Bible tells us to encourage one another.

Ed


#18

It is with a sense or irony that I listened to the daily Mass today and found the Gospel to be pertinent to this subject.

Many feign outrage for whatever social recognition they can get.
I am sure they will be rewarded accordingly.


#19

There is nothing wrong with a little moral outrage if it leads to action to correct the problem. All those people who passed by the robbery victim probably thought gangs of robbers who preyed on travelers were evil and should be stopped. It was only the Samaritan who took action to help the robbers’ victim.


#20

Feelings of guilt are a direct threat to one’s sense that they are a moral person and, accordingly, research on guilt finds that this emotion elicits strategies aimed at alleviating guilt that do not always involve undoing one’s actions. Furthermore, research shows that individuals respond to reminders of their group’s moral culpability with feelings of outrage at third-party harm-doing. These findings suggest that feelings of moral outrage, long thought to be grounded solely in concerns with maintaining justice, may sometimes reflect efforts to maintain a moral identity.

It seems some Calvinists may have been onto something.:smiley:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.