Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique

Moral Pollution In Place of Reasoned Critique, by Pamela Paresky.

I was chief researcher and in-house editor for The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. In the book, we outline three misguided principles (“Great Untruths”) that form the foundation of the new moral culture we are seeing on some college campuses:

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people. …

While working on the book, I realized that much of the argumentation and rhetoric in this new moral culture relies on taboo and moral pollution.

All cultures have taboos. In traditional societies, taboos prohibited certain behaviors, foods, objects, people, places, words, and so on. They did so, not because these things were physically harmful … but because … they were each felt to be “an abomination, which may bring divine retribution.” …

Violating that which is sacred morally pollutes the transgressor. This understanding operates on a deep emotional level, and not always consciously. …

An idea can be contaminated by proximity to something which is itself already contaminated; if an idea seems to have something in common with another that is already considered polluted, the association can provoke powerful emotions like disgust and contempt. It is exceedingly difficult to give an idea a fair hearing while experiencing those emotions …

Our brains evolved for tribal warfare. Part of tribal thinking involves establishing which people are morally clean and which are not; who belongs to (good) “us” and who is part of (evil) “them.” The social distance we create between “us” and “them” has a certain logic because, like germs, moral pollution is contagious — if we get too close to a morally polluted person we risk contamination. Contact with moral pollution can result in banishment from the tribe — like a leper. But belonging is such a fundamental human need that many people would rather suffer tremendous pain and humiliation than become a social outcast. …

How PC is enforced among the opinion-making class:

The instinct to avoid social exile is strong and universal. …

Relying on guilt by association evinces a worldview of life as a battle between good people and evil people (the Great Untruth of Us Versus Them), and because contamination can mean exile, in intellectual settings, this effectively prevents people from engaging with people or views that conflict with the most sacred beliefs of their tribe.

Hence the phenomenon today of insiders and outsiders. The former follow PC, and are part of the tribe dividing up the spoils raining down from government. The latter have stuck up for reality one time too many and have been cast out of the PC tribe, or never even belonged in the first place. The former have simply no idea what the latter are on about, because they refuse to engage with them.