Henry Kissinger once said that “we must learn to distinguish morality from moralizing”. I wonder how he would describe today’s situation.
The last years have led to a troubling assumption that the use of language can be judged in a unidirectional way. It has become as easy as feeling uncomfortable with an expression or tone of voice to decide if it is right or wrong.
There are microaggressions, manterrupting, mansplaining, micro-misogyny, sexism, tone policing, and more. All of these are based on theory and have become accepted concepts. And as such, they have value as they help understand how implicit bias and stereotypes influence our communication. There is no question, that it happens.
However, the question is, how we are dealing with these as they appear.
Most of these concepts have also transformed themselves into readymade words used to announce that someone has committed an infraction. It has become easy to present one’s moral attitude by highlighting how others don’t pay attention to people who are perceived as members of another group.
Doing so is most often based on a shortcut. The shortcut being, that one’s own interpretation of the communication as it occurred is perceived as sufficient. It is an open door to make shaming an “acceptable” way to react to others whenever one experiences discomfort.
The communication strategy used in these situations often is an ad hominem type of argument. An ad hominem argument is an attack on the person’s character, motive, or some other attribute. It is a way to discredit the person making it hard, if not impossible to react to it. Which in turn easily shifts the conversation into a moral and normative debate.
While, one may have been able in the past to point out that such a communication strategy is being used, to disrupt the debate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so.
With situations across the world in which racism and gender have become hot-button topics moral arguments stick. Counterarguments and explanations will be rejected.
It is a drama we are seeing. The roles played include people who highlight that they are a victim. By using the moral argument they step into the role of the rescuer, helping everyone see how important it is, to be attentive to others. And yet, in doing so they have become persecutors. As Eric Berne explained, these dramas correspond to the games people play to avoid having intimate and honest conversations.
The scene we are watching has become one of a gigantic power play seeking to reorganize the status of the different groups.