Moral bias is when a moral ideal shines so bright in one’s mind that it clouds their objectivity.
I developed this idea after noticing it when doing my child development work. I study the age-related “stages” children go through. It is those notorious times when children “act up” at age-related times, but on the other side of this behavior is an astonishing growth in mental ability. The child’s brain was going through an “upgrade.” As such, I take a particular interest in the “misbehavior” of children (their wild).
What I noticed is that people’s perceptions of morality interfered with objectively understanding children. Not just regular parents, but social scientists as well. For instance, a study might find that children who stay up late also showed higher rates of “misbehavior.” The ubiquitous conclusion from such a study is to get children to bed early such that they do not “misbehave.” But my child development work shows that these things naturally correlate. During any of these “stages,” where children tend to act up by becoming whinier, more aggressive, etc., they also very often stay up late at night. They will want to get back out of bed, be with you, and, at any rate, just plain won’t fall asleep. Too much is going on in their mind. And, yes, it will correlate with times of “misbehavior,” such that a study would find as much. But there is nothing you can do about it. No amount of trying to put them to bed on time prevents it. It is natural development. The moral ideal clouding objectivity in this case is the ideal of a “calm child”: a mythical rainbow unicorn that doesn’t exist.
When we study the planets, we study them as is. We never ascribe their wild behavior to immorality. But when we study humans, our ideas of morality get in the way, big time. This is moral bias. For centuries, moralists have hurled at us that what “is” does not determine the “ought.” I hurl back at them: you are so focused on the “ought” that you cannot see what is. Or, as in the case of Rand, you have a very poor idea of the “is,” then erroneously develop the “ought.” (And, actually, hers was an “ought” too: the “ought” to prevent anarchy and lawlessness.)
when a person’s “ought” prevents them from seeing the “is”
As I started to think of many, many issues, I realized how much moral bias clouds objectivity. It alone can explain so much. I realized it follows a typical cycle. In short, a moral ideal shines so brightly in one’s mind that they are on an unwavering mission to enact it. This sound heroic, but it is regardless of if they are enacting any positive change or otherwise doing damage. It invariably starts from a position of weakness, in which a person feels shame, is not succeeding, is full of fear, is distrustful, or chaos has ensued. It is always an attempt to bring order to real or perceived disorder.
Let me use a simple example to explain moral bias. Let’s say someone has decided that running two miles every day will lead to weight loss. So, they go to do this. They diligently run two miles every day. But little happens. They don’t lose weight. Unable to update their thinking, they think the problem must be that they just aren’t committed enough. Perhaps they need to run more miles every day. Perhaps something else is going on, such as they are eating too much. In truth, as they see no results, they will likely stop running every day. They’ll run every other day, then only twice per week… then never. This is what naturally happens when one doesn’t get results. But, if plagued by too much moral bias, they’ll just beat themselves up over it. “I failed.” “I couldn’t keep it up.” Nothing will alarm them that this is actually not the path to weight loss—and it is not. Read any book on intermittent fasting to find out why.
The Traits of Moral Bias
Using this example, here is a breakdown of the traits of moral bias, how it operates, and how you know you are dealing with it.
How to achieve success is predefined
How to achieve the ideal is, with but some minimal amount of wiggle room, otherwise set in stone. The moral ideal in this example of running two miles every day is “athletic body, free of excess weight.” To achieve it, one has decided you must run regularly.
You can also consider this the “the moral ideal is holy” trait of moral bias. In some systems, they regard this moral ideal (and its path) as literally holy.
Shame or fear initiates the system
Shame is when you feel unworthy or less than somehow. In this example, you feel shame because you are overweight. These moral ideals are always pursued stemming from a place of weakness, not strength.
Fear, not shame, however, is probably the more usual initiator of moral bias. This could be fear of a violent threat, an illness, losing a competition, or even of big government. And, actually, fear drives the person who is running for exercise as well: the fear they might not get a date, might have health problems, etc. Under moral bias, one is combatting illness, obesity, threats, sin, etc. Through x, y, or z, you will become [strong, beautiful, free, good, great].
The fear that kicks off the system is often made-up, minimal, or the byproduct of another system of moral bias. At any rate, the proposed system was never going to solve the initial problem.
Failure to achieve the ideal is your fault
If, when you don’t reach the ideal (as you won’t), it’s never the system’s fault. It’s always your fault. The moral ideal and how to get there are obvious. Run and you lose weight. If you can’t do this, you are lazy.
Damage in pursuing the ideal is ignored
In this example of running regularly, if you experience damage in pursuing your ideal, such as you twist your ankle, you might rest for a bit. But nothing about this solution to weight loss makes people think that maybe asking an overweight person to run two miles every day is a bad idea. Such injuries are seen as things that strike out of the blue. You are implored to get back in the game and try again.
The damage in this example is relatively benign, but when it applies to political-moral ideals, the damage becomes much more horrific.
Alternative ideas are seen as inherently evil
As the moral ideal and its path are so obvious to the person, alternative ideas aren’t even considered. In the example of running, perhaps getting the deep rest that fasting provides—so opposite of the seeming heroic effort that running requires—would seem wildly nonsensical, even laughable. In other systems with moral bias, other ideas and the people who hold them are seen as wildly irresponsible, hedonistic, immoral, treasonous, etc. Their alternative ideas can never penetrate the system, because they are deemed immoral right from the start.
In systems of moral bias, snarkiness and bravado abound. People are very confident that theirs is the obvious solution and only disobedience, laziness, or malignant intent are the reasons for failure. Trite bromides are thrown around, which apparently hypnotize people. “What does GOD want?” “Pick up THE book.” “Just build a damn wall.” “Just get your butt up and run.” As from Craig Biddle, an Objectivist, “Defeat terrorism in 5 easy steps.”
Fake heroes are born
There is no actual success or heroism in the moral system. But if someone puts up a good show that they are attempting to pursue the ideal (usually a very showy, often tragic and martyred performance), they artificially get to be held up in a community’s good graces.
When people have running success, they often (ok, always) virtue signal about it. Virtue signaling is when you blast to the world how amazing and virtuous you are. Runners plaster bumper stickers on their car that might say, for instance, “13.1,” which shows that they ran that number of miles in a particular race. I once saw a car utterly plastered with such stickers, and it was double parked, preventing me from having a parking spot. All that running success—and they remain a jerk. (I can’t tell you how much I love those bumper stickers that say “0.0.”)
In other moral-political systems, you get to claim moral status for often simple acts, such as wearing holy robes. If you do achieve any seeming illustrious end goal, such as running a marathon, staying celibate, or achieving career success, it is often flaunted in front of others.
If the threat that the hero is fighting is one that frightens some set of people enough, that hero gains impunity. They are, after all, warding off a blazing forest fire—give them some grace. Not everything they do is going to be perfect, you know. Soon, they learn they can completely cash in on this. Their actions become totally above reproach. If what our hero is doing is perceived as being vital enough to survival, others are to bow to them and walk on eggshells around them. People might be ordered to have hero worship for them, such as by being ordered to have gratitude or attend parades.
In that all this hero-worship comes with so many perks, the hero often gives up before attaining their goal. (The problem was often made up, anyway.) Why continue all that hard work when, at some point on their martyred path, you have already been given wealth and women?
Here are some examples of this. The only thing that changes in these examples are the perceived threat, the moral ideal, and the fake hero who cashes in on it.
- NRA: the threat of gun control
- Libertarians: the threat of big government
- Trump: the threat of immigrants
- Clinton: the threat of Republicans
- Clergy: the ever-present threat of the devil
All of these things have historically had people who cashed in on their hero status. Sexual abuse of others is usually their favorite perk. In fact, it might be the underlying reason for these made up ethical ideals: a faux but guaranteed “heroism” in order to get wealth and women.
And, of course, people will not define this behavior, in which the hero acts unethically, as wrong or a product of the system. They’ll chalk it up to “human nature.”
Let me ask you: have any of these vanquished the threats they constantly warn about? Or is it perpetual martyrdom, doom, and gloom about the perceived threat?
The authentically talented are discarded
The byproduct (or perhaps the entire purpose) of a self-righteous moral system is that the authentically talented get cast to the side. People are so blinded by the goal of the moral system that it’s all they can see. Dissidents themselves are silenced—some are even murdered. Given the majority live under a certain fear, it is made all the worse, because this persecution is now unopposed by the majority, who see the dissidents as a threat to life.
I believe this may be another actual point of moral bias: get threats to oneself removed. The un-personing of J.K. Rowing is an example of this. Rowling challenged rhetoric surrounding “transphobia.” This idea of “transphobia” is a made up moral ideal, in which one is to act in a certain way. And it gave powerful people the right to deny Rowling access to the fruits of the very wealth she created: she wasn’t even invited to the anniversary party of the Harry Potter series. It’s a blame game: hang enough shame on someone and you can un-person another, take their money, even kill them.
The authentically talented are a threat to power structures. A formidable intellectual class is the biggest threat to power structures. With them gone, their feedback now cannot penetrate the system.
Feedback cannot penetrate the moral ideal itself
No amount of feedback can update a system of moral bias. The path to success is defined. You reference the code/rules/an expert, not your own authentic feedback. As the runner gets no results, they can’t see that this isn’t working. They just beat themselves up. (Politicians, on the other hand, just beat you up: you are not cooperating!) The moral ideal itself is, again, holy—unquestionable.
Feedback is either actively dismissed or it is inverted. For instance, some might say that the damage being caused for any given solution “just means it’s working.” “No pain, no gain,” they rationalize. It’s often built right into the system that you can’t challenge it, e.g., “Who are you to judge?” You often aren’t even allowed to expect results, as in religion when, after you point out their bad behavior, they throw their hands up in the air and exclaim, “Everyone is a sinner! We just admit to it!” The system’s victims are desensitized: they are not allowed to trust their own eyes, ears, feelings, or direct experience.
The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.—George Orwell, 1984
A great indicator of moral bias is when someone who rightfully challenges the system is pointed towards the rules that define the system and then asked, “Can’t you read?” Can’t you read—the system is the system. Stop complaining.
They always want more time
The further away the result is from the system, the better for moral bias. If results are typically seen many years later, this is a breeding ground for moral bias. Take for instance when religion says your choices won’t affect you negatively until after you are dead. Convenient. Systems heavy in moral bias are always asking for more time: two more weeks, five more years, “we’re working on the problem,” etc.
But rush you into a decision
This is one of your best insights to ward off and prevent moral bias. Predatory behavior (and moral bias is inherently predatory) is a game of timing. They want you to give them the benefit of the doubt and allow them time to act. They want you, however, to make decisions right away—now, now, now. If you identify this game as soon as it starts, it puts you at an advantage. Put time on your side. Time is your greatest ally in defeating moral bias.
Conclusions were drawn based on a poor understanding of the topic
When developing the moral ideal (the heroic solution to a not-terribly pressing problem), not nearly enough study ever goes into understanding the inner workings of what one is trying to fix. No well-performed study showed that running is a good solution to the problem of being overweight, in which tried-and-true, lasting results occur. Based on “common sense,” it just seems like it would work. Or, perhaps some pen-and-paper exercises, such as calories burned versus calories consumed, showed it will work. It is all “logic” and theory, without any true results. (This latter pen-and-paper method is rationalistic science and a tyranny in and of itself.)
One thinks they can control what they can’t
Typically, an overly ambitious view of what one can control is at work. Nothing about the system works without this belief that you can directly control, change, or fix something, of which they really can’t. (The only thing you can successfully do with sheer will is destroy things.) In this case, just run and the fat melts off, as if you can all but nearly poke and chisel it off. We’re exorcising demons here.
The benefits are overblown
The purported moral ideal is always way more dazzling in theory than it is in reality. In this example of running to lose weight, anyone selling a weight loss program might make you think you’ll look like your favorite celebrity. Religions promise seas of milk and honey in heaven. Predatory financial advisers promise great wealth, based on horrible math.
There is a bottomless pit in demands for resources
When you see any person or country get closer and closer to their moral ideal, and yet things keep getting worse and worse, you are dealing with moral bias. As the problem is obviously not their moral ideal and its obvious path for success, it must be a lack of resources. You just don’t have enough time to do all the running you need, including all the warmup, etc. We just need more money to [build more bombs, make more walls, plunge entire nations into crippling debt forever, etc.].
When operating under moral bias, there is an endless call for resources: more money, more effort, more discipline, more understanding, more enforcement, etc. Their heroic motto is of course, “Don’t quit!” Even when they have an enormously disproportionate amount of power, they still feel victimized—like they’ll never actually win their battle, as they are fighting against overly powerful, dangerous “others.”
There is an incredible inversion between resources and goals (between inputs and outputs) in moral bias. What people should be serving (taking care of), they are instead expending (using). Instead of saving their money, they spend it—and pat themselves on the back for being patriotic. In the example of running for exercise, our bodies should serve us in pursuing our goals (they are the input), while in turn we simply give it the proper nourishment our body needs. Instead, in moral bias, we are sculpting our bodies (seeing it as the output)—which is a bit insane. Given it’s a snake eating its tail, it’s bound to eventually collapse.
Tight regulations are deployed
The entire system is based on weakness. There is a problem without a good solution, and simply adding energy into the system might fix it. To see to it that some success is seen, tight regulations are put in place. The system is hyper monitored. There is a near psychotic obsession with managing the problem—a clear indication you will never, in fact, solve the problem. With the losing weight example, calories are counted, exercise logged. It’s called The French Paradox. The French don’t care about what they eat—they belligerently eat just for the enjoyment of it. And yet they have far superior health than most.
These regulations are not put in place to see how and why something works. They are put in place to catch people when “bad”—or you, when you are “lazy.” When applied to large social systems, such as business or in politics, the regulations, in truth, aren’t even meant to catch anyone when bad. They are meant to deflect blame. They are meant to put the heat on someone else, as someone in leadership is acting nefariously, doesn’t know what they are doing, or, at any rate, doesn’t want to look bad. Rules or laws that the public naively think are meant to catch perpetrators will always protect the powerful—who love to be seen as moral, respect, and authoritative. If you see such tight regulations, in the workplace or government, or any other place, you can probably trace it back to the beginning of moral bias. Some person screwed up somewhere, feels shame, doesn’t understand how to fix the problem, or is trying to get away with something bad, and now they are excessively relying on pointless rules and regulations.
This is one of the easiest parts of moral bias to challenge. The monitors themselves tend to be unpopular. Big Brother is watching you!
Propaganda upholds the system
Moral bias is kicked off based on some fear. The fear driving it is made up or minimal. Nothing internally is actually driving a person. It is all external information and pressure. Books, news article, charts, fictional stories, and bad science are used to convince people to think a certain way and do a certain thing.
They cannot see their own behavior
Probably the biggest disconnect with moral bias is the lack of results versus the purported system. With running, the most overweight person will lecture others to get up and start running more. The system itself needs defended, no matter what. They can never see their own behavior, as it relates to their very system.
And whatever their moral system, when it is challenged, the person defies all their principles. A person who advocates politeness becomes impolite. A person who advocates grace becomes ungracious. My personal favorite irony: challenge someone who advocates “curiosity” and watch how very uncurious they get. Challenge Christianity and watch how mean they get. Challenge Objectivism and watch how belittling they get. People plagued by moral bias cannot uphold their own principles: The “positive” crowd turns into raging monsters. Christians cannot maintain their love. Objectivists cannot maintain their reason. This is moral bias in action—probably the most maddening trait.
To the moralist, their moral paradigm shines so brightly in their mind that it itself needs defended, not actually practicing any of their actual principles. They do unnecessary mental gymnastics. Christians don’t just support love. Love is by definition Jesus, and so any attack on Jesus is an attack on love. Objectivists don’t just support reason. Reason and happiness themselves are tied to Objectivism, and any attack on Objectivism is an attack on reason and happiness. This is a powerful thing to do in someone’s mind. Love = Jesus. Reason = Objectivism. People are trauma bonded to their moral ideologies. They attack anyone who challenges them. You just attacked their mother, grandmother, AND brother, who’s in jail.
If there is one trait that I would fix to fix moral bias, it’s probably this one. It’s the paradox of moral bias. They use their moral system to control their thoughts and behavior to be “good.” And yet any attack on the moral system causes them to be not good whatsoever. They think they can control thoughts, behaviors, and life, but they cannot escape the moral paradigm itself. They can judge—but not how they judge. They can see—but not see that their system is making them blind.
Simple solutions would have worked
All of moral bias ends up being one big, unnecessary show. Simple, boring solutions would have worked to fix the original problem. In the example of weight loss, a healthy weight should be far easier to attain than it is in modern times. We didn’t have such an obesity problem until the past few decades. And, before this, people weren’t running marathons to stay slim. Some other factor is at work. Fasting, in the absence of other health problems, is indeed quite simple. It was also the norm before about 1970, in which people commonly only ate “three square meals a day,” and strictly did not eat after dinner. After 1970 is when “5-6 small meals a day” advice went into place, and people abandoned any sense of fasting—even the easy one of simply not eating after dinner.
Moral bias results in an over-response to a small problem. Some problem—be it low wages, drug use, obesity, whatever—cannot be tolerated in the least. They are here to utterly obliterate it. They have no ability to patiently work through problems in any sensible way.
Some people cash in on it
Want to lose weight? I have a SPECIAL gym with some extra-special whiz bang thing that will fulfill your hopes and dreams. We all know that last special whiz bang things didn’t quite work. This one is different. It’s black, not blue.
It’s easy to cash in on moral bias: results don’t matter anyway.
The more it fails, the stronger it gets
All of the problems created just serve to get more resources, ever feeding the system (until it’s eventual enormous collapse, anyway). As the problems are created, it’s taken as yet more proof that the original shame-based or fear-based problem really does exist. The system enters its never-ending despondent cycle in which people are broken/scared, to then be saved.
This can also be called the “self-fulfilling prophecy” trait of moral bias.
It creates other systems of moral bias (more war)
In their carnage, a system of moral bias creates genuine victims, who genuinely have something to be scared of. If government gets too big, due to a perceived fear of a threat (poverty, drugs, virus, etc.), other people will respond, as they have been victimized in this war-like rampage. In this case, it is possible some will respond with intelligence and genuine intent, but not always or even usually. Others cash in on another hero opportunity—and another opportunity to steer society back to their favored moral system. (This is, still, typically religion: “We’ve abandoned Jesus! That’s why everything is bad!”). And now they are the heroes fighting big government. It is highly predictable that at least one or more counter force enters another cycle of moral bias. The heroes in the subsequent cycle still claim martyred status, still denigrate others (“socialist!” “stupid young’ns!”). They become above reproach. They have doubly the reason to believe the nature of man is bad, lazy, sinful, and power hungry.
Moral bias systems also compound each other. Let’s say someone starts a “war on poverty.” This is system of moral bias #1. Now another person is worried that cheaters can take advantage of the money being handed out. Again, fear initiates systems of moral bias. So, they institute a policy that all asking for money must be checked for drug use, need, etc. This is system of moral bias #2. Now the original program has extra regulations added to it, making it that much more expensive. Moral bias, again, results in a bottomless pit in its demand for resources. Big government basically is big moral bias.
The place where people’s delusional ideas of how the world ought to operate are kept alive.
All bad government is a product of moral bias. If something is regarded as immoral, it’s easy to criminalize it and keep it criminalized. Conversely, once the public decides something is no longer immoral, watch how easily those laws get retracted.
However, admittedly, this is made complicated because making something illegal tends to make it seem immoral. Governments have been able to criminalize just about everything, including natural plants, women’s breasts in public, and other totally innocent things—but governments notoriously have continued on with their war, oppression, and segregation. This is the power of moral bias, which can criminalize just about anything.
People rip each other to shreds over the fallout
Nothing works and there is an obviously terrible problem (now problems) lingering. It doesn’t go down well. Family members might mock you, “It ain’t the dryer that made your pants not fit; it’s the refrigerator!” There is an utter stench of fear, paranoia, shame, anxiety, hysteria, and abuse in the air—followed then by sickeningly sweet pity, fake empathy, and outright, threatening demands for compassion. As long as everyone agrees that we are all broken beyond repair due to some outside force, everyone huddles over their despair in the problems created—finally, we as humans have united! Well, I mean, except those immoral swine keeping you in this state. Everyone stands on that precarious ledge, full of tortured, martyred, self-righteous emotions, fighting that one step they are away from death.
Depending on the level of hysteria, a system heavy in moral bias is the most effective way to destroy families, communities, organizations, and nations. Even if they survive—it ain’t living.
Tell me: what systems can you name that are steeped in moral bias?
Moral Bias: The Process
Here is the basic process of moral bias.
Moral bias starts with a made-up or highly minimal problem. It always starts with the question, “BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?” What are you going to do if some awful, evil thing were to happen? What is going to happen if your family member succumbs to drug addiction and puts you in the poor house? What if a tornado strikes? What if you are caught unprepared for a deadly illness? You know all your choices, every single day in every single waking hour matter, right? Have you put extensive thought into all of them?
A tried-and-true plan is put together. It is tied to morality itself, because failure means death. The end goal of the moral ideal is to be obtained at nearly any cost. Authentic feedback is directly shut down or inverted: feedback that shows the system is not working might be taken as proof that it actually is working. For instance, when a medical solution causes harm, someone declares the pain “just means it’s working!” Continued failure is always ascribed to lack of discipline or resources. The system needs more.
The practical result is that nothing gets solved or fixed. In fact, many problems are then created. In truth, problems were made up that weren’t there—the whole thing is predicated on lies and/or false premises. Moral crusaders are like arsonists who purposely start fires such that they can play firefighter and who then look at you, while struggling with their hose, sweat dripping down their face, admonishing you, “So what’s your solution? Are you just going to stand there lazily? Don’t you know how complicated and hard life is?” The rest of the population, utterly terrified by the blazing fire, is unlikely to hear your point of view.
Society quickly gets divided into two groups. There are the heroes and the recalcitrant. The heroes get special privileges (of which are usually not much to be jealous of, as, all around, life is not very pleasant for anyone at all). People are admonished to be grateful for said heroes. You are commanded to thank them, pray for them, attend parades for them, etc.
In truth, even the heroes aren’t taken care of well. I saw a person post on social media once, “Does it seem like your station doesn’t care about your mental health? That’s because they don’t.” It was about firefighters. That punched me in the gut. Even our “heroes” do not get any actual tender, loving care. It’s all one big show. The only people who can authentically cash in on any of it are political leaders and maybe some celebrities. In combination, we can call this group “the elite.” Well, perhaps people who sell “fire insurance” can cash in, as well. (Likely the role exorcists and the like played in past societies.)
The whole thing will crash and burn. It’s entirely predicated upon the idea that people are too weak to solve X problem and they need extra heroics to combat it. So, there is an assumption of weakness—and no one partaking knows how to actually build health, fight off the threat, or make anything “great.” In their mind, it is a weak, ineffective person versus a wildly violent, mostly unstoppable threat. As their solutions continue to not work, and they cause yet more damage, that people actually are weak and ineffective becomes a reality. Instead of getting stronger themselves, people seek safety from the perceived threat. They bunker down. They build shelters and hide in them. They want to build walls to keep out threats. This panicked “GET YOUR FILTHY, DANGEROUS WAYS OFF OF MY PERFECTLY CLEAN, HOLY, HUMBLE, RIGHTEOUS SELF” reaction is probably the last stage of moral bias. No clear thinking is possible after this. The system needs to totally collapse before anything can be rebuilt. On a related note, please see the excellent, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit.
A disruption in the feedback loop
I think what moral bias comes down to is some trigger in the natural world should be seen as a clue to update or change, but it’s seen, instead, as a problem to vanquish. If the “Check Engine” light is on in your car, instead of checking the engine, you seek to get rid of the warning. What should have been healthy, authentic, if momentarily unpleasant, feedback is seen as a problem to utterly annihilate. The natural feedback loop, which puts us in harmony with our natural environment, is utterly disrupted.
The best example I can give is a big one: child sacrifice in the ancient world. Child sacrifice was in response to natural threats, such as a huge hurricane coming. The hurricane should have been seen as a clue: get out of there. Go mainland. Instead, they resorted to horrific, nonsensical methods to try to vanquish the threat entirely—in this case, killing children. That this system never actually solves the problem is clear. This is probably the best, and perhaps the very first example in recorded human history, to explain how moral bias works. Moral bias is again when a moral ideal is so ideal in one’s mind that they can’t see the damage they are causing in pursuing it. It seems to have formed due to the formation of civilization itself, in which humans decided to stay in one place, instead of being migratory. Instead of listening to nature, humans try to dominate it. They have to—they’re stuck. The ultimate moral ideal that drives moral bias is thus “the ideal of staying in one place to live.”
This idea truly explains a lot, especially when you think of it in light of being a malignantly broken feedback loop. You can imagine moral bias as someone who has set their vehicle’s cruise control to 100 mph and is on a mission to get to any given place. Nothing will ever cause them to slow down. They hit animals on the way, fly through school zones, etc. They totally disregard the damage they are doing or any feedback that says they should slow down. But, imagine instead of getting to any random place, the driver is a father going to save his child in a car wreck. This is how people on their crusades always see it. In truth, they initially justify the behavior as a father getting his hurt child. In time, it continues simply because they like driving 100 mph. But the original justification allows it and continues to serve as the then excuse.
This is why whether or not a cause is “legitimate” or not matters so much. When you see any given system dividing people’s goals and activities into “essential” or “non-essential” or “necessary” versus “for pleasure only” or indeed “rational” versus “irrational,” you are dealing with moral bias. What they are basically saying is, “My goal is so noble that all gloves are off.” And this is the only paradigm they understand, so “for pleasure only” pursuits are seen as wildly nonsensical and irresponsible. Their missions—unsavory yet necessary in their mind—can and will result in utter horror. It’s the cost of doing business to them. It’s how life is: it’s naturally brutal. I’ve never seen a system with moral bias that didn’t have a sentiment that life is rough (a “purposeful struggle” as Rand describes it), that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world, and/or that “no one cares about your feelings.”
These systems tend to swing wildly from pure ruthlessness to martyred calls for pity. Thus, for example, in some systems, their demands for “grace” when attempting to follow the “law,” the two of which can never reconcile. Or, to maintain consistency, as in Objectivism, they throw grace out the window and claim pure “logic.” “Nobody’s perfect” they sometimes moan, because, in their system, no one can even come close to anything that looks authentically ethical. (Unless they’ve decided “perfect” can indeed include ruthlessness.) These systems result in horror. It gets especially bad when the crusader decides everyone must join in, which they routinely do, such as signing up a nation’s youth for the draft.
The errant feedback loop has a malignant benefit to it—the secret sauce to why the whole damned thing can work (until it doesn’t, anyway). In the drive for the moral mission, any person who might challenge the system is easily damaged or killed. In the example of child sacrifice, in truth, the ancient king-Gods probably didn’t want to admit what the looming hurricane implied: setting up civilization where they did was a bad idea. In the obviously terrible solution to it, child sacrifice (the only tools these crusaders actually have at their disposal are destruction), those who might put up an effective fight against it—young healthy children—have now been killed. It has also sent a clear message to the others: stop complaining. The psychopathic, with a bit of luck and while still living on borrowed time, continue to live. The sensitive, outspoken, strong, and healthy do not. The whole thing works as long as you have no conscience whatsoever. Well, until it doesn’t. The whole thing tends to go up in flames, eventually.
In short, give someone a moral mission and they turn into the most immoral person on the planet. The idea of morality itself is the cause of humanity’s worst immoralities.
This is indeed the power of morality. This is why playing around with morality is playing with fire. I will argue in this book that morality can only successfully prohibit certain unideal actions. Morality cannot inspire positive action.
A psychological trait that has turned maladaptive
I propose something biological must be at play here. Moral bias, I am arguing, is a trait built into the human psyche, and one that is enflamed by fear. When the mind is filled with fear, the fear is the only thing that a person can see. They shut down all other data streams to their mind. They definitely shut down empathy. They go into do-or-die mode.
This trait of the human psyche is likely very beneficial when living in the raw wild, where tornadoes, fires, etc., can erupt. People must move swiftly. They must see themselves as undeniably morally worthy of living. In civilization, however, I propose, this trait has become highly maladaptive. We have little ability to act to resolve natural threats anyway, so the trait spins haywire. We come up with some damn stupid solutions, otherwise.
But, as if this part of the brain must still be fed, we are easily and routinely sent into crisis mode by our leaders. We still want our horror movies. When the smallest threat comes around, as if it snaps us out of our humdrum existence, far too many enjoy the endless possibilities of what could happen. An overreaction based on panic ensues, of which people seem to enjoy. I call moral bias the “hair trigger away from dictatorship” feature in the human psyche. And I argue it’s built into the human condition. With the right fear, cause, and hero, everyone will partake. Everyone, including me.
a trait of the human psyche that becomes maladaptive when humans settle in one place, causing one person or up to an entire population to become stupid and soulless as they pursue what they perceive as their morally justified mission for survival
A confused bee
We can see moral bias as a sort of mechanism of the human mind that served a purpose in an environment that we used to live in but no longer serves any positive function. I see it like a confused bee. Bees are very clearly guided mainly by their visual system as they look for the right flower to gather nectar from (and thus pollinate). In a new environment, they don’t do well. I have watched bees attack people’s shirts with colorful flowers on them. With a different visual stimulus, the bee is sent into haywire. Its systems are telling it “pollinate, pollinate, pollinate”—as it attacks a shirt. Humans do a similar thing but instead of saying “pollinate, pollinate, pollinate” their senses are telling them “kill, kill, kill”—as they go after threats that are not threats at all.
Become intellectually formidable
Coercive moral systems based on fear and heavy on control take advantage of human brain architecture. I can lend insight into this based on my child development work. The human mind is not born “blank.” It is born into a world of fantasy. There are prewired images already in the mind. The mind is born expecting to see certain things. These fantasies appear to get projected onto reality, causing a child to play, explore, and even bend both physical things and intellectual ideas mercilessly as they come to understand what is stable and what is not. In other words, the human mind is born by default, happily and by design, into a state of flux (and all the curiosity and learning that this engenders!). It requires a process for a child to become grounded to reality in order to develop object constancy (which I argue is a never ending process). And, by and large, that process in which a child becomes grounded to reality, as to bring them of their default world of fantasy, is heavily influenced by other people. A child will believe just about anything his or her elders tell him. What other people say is true. This fact of the human mind should be obvious. We are heavily influenced by others. There are famous experiments in which people will doubt what they see if other people in the room (purposely, as designed by the experiment) give wrong answers. When sailors are lost at sea, isolated, they have been known to become so delusional that they erroneously think they found land, “dock,” and plunge to their death. We humans need someone else to ground us to see even the basic facts of reality correctly. We need someone else to see what we see. People tend to otherwise be very uneasy. “Am I crazy?” a person might ask. When someone gets up and gives a forceful speech, it resonates with us. “Preach!” we tell him. Our own experience counts for something, usually, but it is predominantly other humans that ground us to reality and give us a sense of what is true or not.
This fact is being exploited. We humans trust other humans. Thus, if many of us believe something—others tend to also believe it. If there is a news story happening from some other part of the world, even though none of us could have possibly experienced it, if it’s given the aura that this is truth and most of us trust it, it become “true.” We do not predominantly trust our own eyes and ears. We predominantly trust the majority. Try questioning something commonly held as true, but which none of us could have possibly seen—such as what is reported in history, what is reported on the news, what is regarded as wisdom, etc.—and watch how quickly you are considered a nut job.
It is, as such, rather easy to manipulate the human mind. All you need are powerful stories, convincing charts, labels on every product we buy (preventing us from seeing the product), and, well, a whole lot of edhumucation. And to get around this, I am proposing, we must become much more intellectually formidable. We must demand to see things with our own eyes and ears.
To do this, bursting into our own collective consciousness more details of reality would help enormously. The cycle of children’s mental development, I argue, is that children are born into a state of fantasy and then, through a process of engagement with reality (that the fantasies spur), reality becomes crystal clear to a child. It is this “crystal clear” part that we need to get better at. We really do not “see” reality well, by default. We can get rather lulled into an unconscious state. There are all sorts of things that go right past our radar—important things, too—all the time: perhaps signals about our own health, the emotional states of others, a particular smell in our house that should tell us something is off. What I will be strongly proposing in this book is that we take the time to describe more and more parts of reality such that they become ever more clear in each and every human’s mind. Half the problem with moral bias is that we cannot “see” the damage these coercive moral systems do to our emotional health. If we could “see” this better, we’d be much more opposed to any policy that deteriorates this health. Any artist, any scientist, any researcher making some part of reality more known to us is upgrading us as people. I daresay they are even upgrading our moral constituency.
Upgrade human consciousness, shed the moral systems
Far be it from me to alter human nature. Instead, we can properly think of understanding moral bias and its effects as upgrading human nature. A potent remedy to moral bias is to become yet more in touch with reality: to update our collective consciousness. And I don’t mean that in any “woke” sense. I mean literally: we learn more about specific aspects of the world around us.
And, besides, the problem is not as much in human nature as it is in moral paradigms that exploit human nature. Perhaps if we can wrestle away do-or-die moral paradigms (read: the constant fear machine), we will help resolve this now maladaptive trait.
Continue to >>> Objectivism’s Moral Bias