This is a chapter in The Moral Bias of Objectivism
Moral Paradigms Matter
As I wrote this book and took its message to others, I realized I am challenging such deeply held views about human nature, moral paradigms, and abuse, that it’s necessary to address the widely held assumptions about these issues right away.
There is a deeply held assumption among virtually all cultures, people, religions, and even philosophies, that abuse is something that strikes out of the blue. Abusive behavior is chalked up to “unconsciousness,” past trauma, or of course “selfishness.” None of this is true. Abuse is allowed to live because it has been normalized ethically.
Virtually no one does anything that is outside of their own moral paradigm. They rationalize it away as serving a beneficial purpose, self-defense, or just punishment. When a parent spanks their child, they don’t see it as abuse. They see it as beneficial discipline. That so many political dictators have slaughtered thousands while the majority stay silent, seeing at as for the greater good, is all too well known. These abusers, private or political, don’t see their abuse as abuse. They see it as enforcement of a particular way of living, which is necessary for survival. And, so, when you point out the abuse, they can’t even see it. You point out the scars on the child, and they simply remark, “Oh well, that’s because …” They are rendered blind.
You can read recorded history from the start to now and the theme is the same over and over: tyranny lives because the majority sanction it. Perhaps it’s easier to explain by stating that in reverse: tyranny does NOT live if the majority find it unethical. For instance, when the now U.S. state of Texas was under Mexican rule, they were to obey Mexican law, which ordered them to convert to Catholicism. The majority didn’t. They went about their day doing as they wanted. It eventually led to war, and we know how that turned out. You can’t rule people who won’t bow to tyranny.
Lundy Bancroft, an abuse counselor to men, writes in Why Does He Do That:
A critical insight seeped into me from working with my first few dozen clients: An abuser almost never does anything that he himself considers morally unacceptable. He may hide what he does because he thinks other people would disagree with it, but he feels justified inside. I can’t remember a client ever having said to me: “There’s no way I can defend what I did. It was just totally wrong.” He invariably has a reason that he considers good enough. In short, an abuser’s core problem is that he has a distorted sense of right and wrong. (35, emphasis original)
Abusers still operate within their own moral paradigm. They’ll smash their girlfriend’s phone and call her a whore, but they won’t kick her in the head—that would be wrong. Bancroft describes that he put on a play about abuse using the abusive men in his counseling program. As he was doing it, the men ratcheted up the abuse as the script was being written, saying such things as
No, no, you don’t make excuses for why you’re home late, that puts you on the defensive, you’ve got to turn it around on her. (36)
Bancroft contends that abusers absolutely know what they are doing. Portraying them as the mistreated child/person who doesn’t know what he’s doing won’t help the situation; in fact, emboldens them. Past experiences and key male role models (and also perhaps: fictional heroes and the writings of philosophers) shaped their beliefs, which set in place their philosophical outlook—without them fully considering all the ramifications. So, there is a certain unconsciousness (blinds spots) there. But they are operating within their adopted moral framework. As this People magazine article describes Sean Connery cooly explaining,
“I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman, although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man,” he told the publication.
Describing an “openhanded slap” as “justified,” Connery also said it could be used “if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning,” adding, “If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.”
Abusers aren’t the misunderstood, mistreated child, as they love to make themselves out to be. They are an in-charge adult.
But, this actually is great news. If abuse is in a person’s moral paradigm, it means we can change this behavior. Make abuse itself immoral and the cultural impact would be profound.
As such, redefining morality can have a tremendous impact. The fact is many abusive behaviors are still highly normalized. It’s still morally acceptable to spank a child. You can still see on social media people who say, “If some whore cheated on me, I’d beat her ass.” If a family wants to portray a particular member, usually a female, as ungrateful, selfish, and irrational, they usually get away with it and on moral terms. We do it on a collective level, such as how we make it acceptable to hate on someone like Kim Kardashian. It’s common for young mothers to get hurtful critical feedback about how they parent. In Objectivism, thick insults and portraying others as wildly stupid is seen as highly normal, even effective and cool. Most of all, across nearly all thought paradigms, punishment itself is still seen as valid in certain context. People feel profoundly justified in the harm they inflict.
Enormous good can be had by challenging these behaviors on moral grounds. When dealing with people who are abusive, no amount of improved conflict resolution helps. If you are dealing with someone who is insulting you, keeping you on the defensive, controlling you, wants you to serve them, and making you feel inferior, which they indeed do as a permanent way of operation making the battle seem unwinnable, the battle needs to be moved from gee golly nice ideas about how to behave to a moral challenge. We don’t argue points. We call out tactics. We don’t defend our characters. We call out abuse. We no longer work around them cleverly. We expect change. And yes: we make the link between a person’s abusive behavior and their adopted moral paradigm.
The moral framework I’ll provide, one of liberalism, takes away all of the tactics that abusers use. The essence of abuse is to describe what an awful, terrible person someone else is, who is thus worthy of the abuse. That is the justification that abusers have. “Oh well she was running her mouth.” “Well she’s a lazy mother.” “That child is out of line and should know better.” In Objectivism, “they are lazy, irrational, and hedonistic.” Abusers will make you out to be this, even if nothing could ever even possibly hint at it. Taking away even this ability to shame someone else on these grounds is what this liberal moral paradigm does. No one is ever bad—not on this level. Some people might need to be in jail for the rest of their life, but no one is just totally a worthless rotten scoundrel. And punishment itself plays an integral role in abuse. Abusers feel they are “teaching someone a lesson.” They feel someone “deserved” it. Rand has made statements before that certain statements from students warrant “immediate expulsion.” Make punitive measures themselves immoral and you will do a tremendous amount to stop abuse dead in its tracks. I do not know of any thinker so forcefully calling for the end of punitive means as I do. Perhaps this is why we have so far been so ineffective at dealing with abuse.
Morality is indeed the most powerful intellectual force on earth. That’s why it’s so important to set it correctly. We set abuse to be morally wrong such that it then feels wrong. A new paradigm in thinking may enact authentic change.
Amber is on a mission to end abuse, by getting to its root: how it is morally sanctioned. Send your friends to The Ex Objectivist.