The Battle for Moral Superiority
I've been meaning to write this article for several years, but kept stopping for two reasons:
- There is a perfect quote that I'm having the damnedest time digging up (I'll update this if I find it).
- This topic touches on an ugly part of humanity that is uncomfortable to talk about, and people tend to fight back when you challenge their sacred cows.
Alas, I can't wait any longer to say my piece. It's infecting my dreams. I see it in real life arguments. I see it online, digital flash mobs. I see it on the news during every clash between protesters and counter-protesters. Worse, I fear that if we don't acknowledge this trend and course correct, things will viciously spiral until we, as a society, hit a proverbial rock bottom.
What's the issue? It's the battle for moral superiority. It is the battle to be right. It's the battle to wield the moral high ground as a weapon.
Now I'm not naive enough to think this hasn't always been part of the human condition. Since the very beginning of our species, we've waged skirmishes between neighboring tribes to world wars between multiple continents. Physical violence has always been a tool of exerting one's dominance and beliefs upon others. However, we're supposed to have learned from history's mistakes, lest we repeat them.
And in my personal experience, things felt like they were trending in a better direction. But in the last few years, you can feel the effects of massive political polarization and catastrophic thinking. Now people aren't willing to listen to the other side because the stakes are too high and there's not enough time. As a result, people are resorting to tactics that feel like the precursor to an actual battle.
Here's what I'm seeing.
They are trying to get others banned from various social media platforms. They are trying to ban entire issues from being discussed on a platform. They are trying to get people fired from their jobs. They are trying to use intimidation. They are creating digital mobs to take people down or shame them. They use their position of the moral high ground to inflict their will on anyone else that's not part of their tribe. They are determined and dangerous people.
And the worst part? It is all of us. "We" are always someone else's "they." Nothing illustrates this more beautifully than the following meme of "us" versus "them" posted at the top of this article.
The quote I tried to dig up was from a spiritual teacher by the name of Dr. David Hawkins. I'm not even going to try and paraphrase it because I'll butcher it, but it is summarized as follows. This world is a battle of moral superiority. Once one has the moral high ground, one can force their view or way of life on anyone that's not a part of that tribe. Worse, they can do it without losing any sleep because there is no guilt or crisis of conscience. We are on the right side of history, and their side deserved it. We can go to battles, fight wars, and even erase an entire city off the planet with an atomic bomb and feel smugly righteous and just. After all, they deserved it.
That's the quote. And you may even agree with it at face value, but that's because it's at a safe distance. I haven't challenged your worldview specifically. However, you may be able to identify several others that you believe that this would apply to them. You may be even thinking, "this is a perfect point to bring up in my next argument against THEM!"
That's how you know we're in trouble. Notice the assumption? All of the world's problems are because of others. We can fast forward a few days or years to see how it will logically play out. Each side is confident in their belief that they have the moral high ground and will dehumanize the others so that there is no need to carry guilt or shame when attacking. That way, when they write the history books, they will always be able to cast their side as the hero and the others as the villain.
But we can't just leave it that. We must use examples. Otherwise, this is theoretical fluff, and we will never force ourselves to hold the harsh mirror of reality in front of our faces. We will never become empathetic and self-aware of our issues.
And Now, the Harsh Mirror
Let's take ICE. Now for me, it's abhorrent that kids as young as TWO FUCKING YEARS OLD are basically sleeping in cages on concrete floors. It's easy to get enraged. I have a daughter, and I can't even imagine seeing her treated in 1% as harshly as those kids. How could we, in the land of the free, put toddlers through such traumatic events. This will likely scar them for the rest of the time.
Now some pundits have pointed out some of the hypocrisy around this: notably, that these same camps and policies (at least in some reasonably identical flavor) were operational during the Obama administration. Therefore, this is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue, but something that we as a country have perpetuated. There are some then that will then be pragmatic and say, "well, it doesn't matter who started it or when and why we found out, we need to end it now!" I fall into this camp because, again, I believe that it's the moral high ground not to punish children that can barely walk because of decisions some asshole adults made in trying to smuggle them into the US illegally. That seems reasonable, and most would agree.
I got into a Twitter argument with a gentleman that proclaimed the same thing, that not having children in f'ing cages is the moral high ground. Full stop. End of story.
Ok great! However, here's where things get interesting. There's another controversial issue happening right now in this country with the attack on medical freedom as it pertains to vaccine mandates (California, Oregon, NY, Colorado, etc.). Several states have enacted or are about to enact quarantine provisions that single out unvaccinated people (children and adults). Worse, these mandates would be enforced even for people they were supposed to be protected, specifically people who are immunosuppressed or compromised, where a single flu shot could cause irreversible damage or potentially be life-threatening.
People in this category (including children who can't change their DNA to remove this susceptibility) may be taken away and isolated in the very same was as ICE. Interestingly enough, the same people claiming the moral high ground against ICE have no issue putting unvaccinated kids in quarantine. Why? Because in the case of the unvaccinated children, there is no issue with being punitive with anti-science, stupid, or hippy parents that are bringing harm upon themselves and others (their beliefs, not mine).
In short, many people believe kids in cages (or in confinement) is actually ok if the kids (or their parents) deserve it. Note that there are people on the Republican and Democrat sides who have been in favor of these arguments.
These are just a few of many examples. However, it highlights something that I think about every day as I continue to watch group after group tries to elevate themselves while dehumanizing everyone else. Once you win the battle for the moral high ground, you can have a clean conscious while doing horrible things to anyone else that's not in your tribe.
But there is a limit to this power. If someone manages to undermine your belief system such that you lose the moral high ground, all of a sudden, what was acceptable becomes abhorrent. Our ego has a hard time accepting that we might have been the villain instead of the hero, so we double down on attacking and vilifying the others to keep our belief system intact. This is the battle we are now actively engaged with 24/7 on social media.
We (the entire human race, not just one specific group or tribe) are better than this. We need to stop weaponizing religious scriptures or cherry-picking science sound bites to give us carte blanch to kill (literally or by destroying them financially, politically, etc.).
I fear that as a species in a hyper-connected world if we don't find a way to stop fighting this battle, it could be the very thing that consumes and destroys us. We need a tremendous amount of empathy and self-awareness to overcome this blind spot so that we can build a better world together.
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.