Sunday, December 1, 2019

Moral Outrage Porn, vanity projects, competition to be outraged

Moral Outrage Porn. C. Thi Nguyen & Bekka Williams. Forthcoming in Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy. Nov 2019. https://philarchive.org/archive/NGUMOP

We offer an account of the generic use of the term “porn”, as seen in recent usages such as “food porn” and “real estate porn”. We offer a definition adapted from earlier accounts of sexual pornography. On our account, a representation is used as generic porn when it is engaged with primarily for the sake of a gratifying reaction, freed from the usual costs and consequences of engaging with the represented content. We demonstrate the usefulness of the concept of generic porn by using it to isolate a new type of such porn: moral outrage porn. Moral outrage porn is
representations of moral outrage, engaged with primarily for the sake of the resulting gratification, freed from the usual costs and consequences of engaging with morally outrageous content. Moral outrage porn is dangerous because it encourages the instrumentalization of one’s empirical and moral beliefs, manipulating their content for the sake of gratification. Finally, we suggest that when using porn is wrong, it is often wrong because it instrumentalizes what ought not to be instrumentalized.

---
This worry parallels, in some significant ways, Tosi and Warmke’s (2016) complaint against moral grandstanding.19 Moral grandstanding is morally problematic, they argue, in large part because grandstanders are treating moral discourse as a “vanity project”:
In using public moral discourse to promote an image of themselves to others, grandstanders turn their contributions to moral discourse into a vanity project. Consider the incongruity between, say, the moral gravity of a world-historic injustice, on the one hand, and a group of acquaintances competing for the position of being most morally offended by it, on the other. Such behavior, we think, is not the sort of thing we should expect from a virtuous person (215- 16).
Note, crucially, that the problem asserted by Tosi and Warmke in this instance isn’t that moral grandstanding has bad results.20 Instead, the problem is that using moral discourse for selfpromotion is problematically egotistical. Tosi and Warmke focus on moral problems associated with using moral outrage for interpersonal jockeying. That is the essence of the notion of moral grandstanding — the use of moral expression for social signaling. Similarly, it seems plausible that the use of moral outrage porn in many cases involves a failure to respect the fundamental role of moral expression. Notice that, where the problem with moral grandstanding is essentially interpersonal and social, the problem with moral outrage porn is personal and hedonistic.21 The problem of moral grandstanding is that we use morality for status; the problem of moral outrage porn is that we are using morality for pleasure. When one indulges in moral outrage porn, one uses what by one’s own lights is morally outrageous for one’s own enjoyment.22 It is, loosely speaking, to make morality about oneself, when it clearly is not. Furthermore, it is no accident, we think, that the features of moral outrage porn relevant to the “bad faith” problem mirror Michael Tanner’s (1976/77) account of the problems of sentimentality. In his discussion of Oscar Wilde and the sentimental, Tanner says, “the feelings which constitute [the sentimental] are in some important way unearned, being had on the cheap, come by too easily…” (1976/77: 128). The use of moral outrage porn, if one accepts our definition, involves an attempt to be gratified by a representation of the endresult of moral engagement without taking on the consequences or effort of actually engaging. This seems a paradigmatic case of getting a feeling on the cheap. What we’ve sketched thus far are a number of considerations that weigh in favor of a serious moral strike against the use of moral outrage porn. There are also a number of consequentialist considerations that we might adduce. Tanner (1976/77: 134) argues that the intrinsically sentimental tends toward passivity (139). Sentimental emotions, Tanner suggests, can themselves encourage inaction.
[I]t also seems to me that some of my feelings are of a kind that inhibit action, because they themselves are enjoyable to have, but if acted upon, one would cease to have them, and one doesn’t want to. Such a feeling does seem to me intrinsically sentimental… (Tanner 1976/77: 139). 

No comments:

Post a Comment