Morality, Self and Prejudice

e pluribus Unum Something we often wonder, when something terrible happens, is the failure of people close to a situation to be enraged.  It happened with Charleston, where many conservatives balked at branding the act as racist.  We often say good Muslims, good police, and other good people  should be most vigorous in rejecting evil within their ranks, but no group has proven very exemplary at this.  I see this in the tolerance polygamists enjoy among the Mormon majorities of the Rocky Mountain region.

I used to think this was simple familiarity.  When you have met a person of a certain sort, your resistance to them decreases.  That is the mechanism through which tolerance occurs.  But I think this goes beyond that.

I have mentioned before that my positive psychology text, Stumbling on Happiness, focused a great deal on the reasons people are not happy, more particularly why we make bad decisions and ineffective plans.  It is because our perception of ourselves is distorted, so we think we will achieve things we cannot or that conditions will be different from how they have always been.  This comes about through psychological immunity, a telling example is that 90% of cancer patients rate their chances as better than average.

We believe we are different than everyone else because we understand ourselves, or at least, we see beneath the surface.  We know our own motivations.  Stumbling on Happiness says we highlight differences between ourselves and other individuals in order to preserve our belief that our luck will be different.  But there is also an extent to which we extend our positive self regard to people we see as similar to ourselves.  If we can imagine someone’s motivations, if we can empathize with them, then we embrace them as an extension of ourselves.

It is very important, then, if someone we would normally think of as part of a group that forms our identity does bad, that we find a reason they did bad that does not threaten our self concept.  Thus when a shooting occurs, people feel a need to label it as a matter of mental illness, video game addiction, or reefer madness, because they do not want it to be about gun rights/control.  They want the act to be religious (an attack on self) rather than racist (an attack on others) because it is very threatening to self concept.  However, it is also the case that those who are on the other side have a tendency to exult in the punishment they feel they can wield in these situations.

Those who wish for gun control have to look at the agenda they have always pursued and compare it with the results they wish to see.  How are engagements of umbrage working?  Not very well, it seems.  There is a swelling of power that comes from feeling the self right and the other wrong, but I think it feeds conflict.

I don’t know if I can be considered conservative.  I’m kind of a one note republican, pro life, but as such anti-death penalty and pro environment.  I’m impassive about gun rights.  Mostly, I am dissatisfied with the 2 party system.  It is another kind of metaphysical violence.


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