While watching a highly controversial YouTuber that goes by the name MrGirl, I found myself realizing strange aspects of the way we react to moral issues. MrGirl takes controversial positions that attempt to rationalize highly emotional moral topics such as pedophilia, leaving viewers with reactions that range from revelation to outrage and mob formation. Many feel that he is a covert pedophile or child predator that is attempting to normalize or justify pedophilia, though he is clear that he both opposes child abuse and believes that being a pedophile is a disorder. The focus of this post is not so much pedophilia but people’s reaction to such highly moralized topics.
In brief, MrGirl argues that ordinary individuals can be made attracted to young people and that given the opportunity, a greater number than we’d expect may engage in child abuse. He argues that the internet has shifted us away from a society that protected against such opportunities and brought us into a reality that highly facilitates private child-adult interaction.
The topic of pedophilia often fills people with intense emotions. Similarly harmful abuses of a child may not even register as abuse to us in the same way that pedophilia does. In my own experience, I was confronted with a pedophile as a child and see almost no personal effect on the outcome of my life, but then there are ongoing painful social interactions that I face today that deeply impact me and I can hardly determine whether I have any right to exit such situations or if I am obligated to engage. One such case involves the obligation to be involved with a severely sick family member, despite that I could sink my life through the ground trying to be helpful. I won’t go into detail, but I suspect most wouldn’t easily be able to tell me whether I am abused or not, based on the way this individual interacts with me, yet it impacts me far more than my interaction with the pedophile did. Strangely, people would react to the case of my victimization in the case of the pedophile more severely than my victimization in the case of the sick person requiring my aide, regardless of the actual harm it does.
The kinds of moral issues that society has deemed worthy of our attention are not necessarily the only worthy moral issues. There has been a popularization and normalization of particular moral issues. When a moral issue is normalized, so is the culturally appropriate response. This does not mean that our response is actually the best one given the circumstance. Sometimes our reaction might be good or at least decent, while other times our reaction may be quite toxic. As an example, some people might want pedophiles dead, even when they have not acted on their interests. Harming pedophiles who have done nothing, may only serve to reduce well-being in the world. Though, the existence of the pedophile may be psychologically harmful to those who feel upset by them. This is something MrGirl does not go into, but there is an easy solution in using conversations to change the minds of those who are harmed by the mere existence or thought of pedophiles. Their mere existence should not be harmful unless we rationalize ourselves to feel such a way.
There are all kinds of moral issues that have not yet been normalized or popularized, despite involving potentially severe consequences or abuses. I believe that when humans are exposed to moral issues in which there are no cultural prescriptions, they will act according to their true moral judgment, whereas in cases where a cultural prescription exists, they will often obey it. People’s natural moral judgments are likely closer to those of a psychopath. This seems more obvious in the case of animal husbandry. It seems clear that participating in a system like factory farming is morally corrupt, though nearly all people are willing to act as bystanders or participants. This is because there is no social punishment for doing so. There is a lack of prescribed outrage or stigma.
If I throw a single soda can out of my car onto the road, I believe that this will draw more outrage than eating factory-farmed steak 5x a day, for 20 years, regardless of the moral implications of either, simply because littering is stigmatized and people are rewarded for engaging in punishment of stigmatized behaviors and fear being punished as apathetic bystanders. In the case of opposing factory farming, if I were to punish someone or try to stop them from engaging in what appears to be an immoral act, I would not only be met with apathy, but my transgression of people’s moral sense of personal freedoms would result in significant backlash or even punishment towards me. The same wouldn’t happen in the case of a morally normalized topic like littering or pedophilia. If I yell at someone for littering, there would no doubt be some who cheer this on or feel self-righteous about what I’ve done. I strongly doubt that many would defend a litterer’s right to litter.
It seems that most reactions to immoral behavior stem from normalized responses to popularized moral issues. We are driven to react because we fear social punishment (cancellation), normalized moral issues grant us great power over those who commit immoralities, and we use virtue signaling to protect our social status and make explicit our social normalcy. In other words, the same sort of dynamics underlying the Salem witch trials.
Our society and its’ moral norms result in great harm to us sentient creatures. Our society is a horrifyingly unethical Rube Goldberg machine that facilitates moral, emotional, and perceptual dissociation. This will remain true, on a spectrum of severity, until we reach utopia.
What if we used a human mouse wheel that requires painful amounts of effort and used it to power a toaster for the consumption of luxury extra-status pop tarts? Is this sadistic? The connection between pleasure and suffering becomes increasingly invisible but it is still there. The suffering is a necessary factor of the total product. We may convince ourselves that we only want the pop tart, that the mouse-wheel-powering mechanisms are an unfortunate but necessary side effect of one’s true desire. We abstract away from the dismal reality in order to generate a conceptual euphemism. Does merely expressing a lack of affinity for the suffering in this case absolve one from ethical responsibility?
The culture of America often neglects awareness of the processes that go into our products before becoming our consumerist fantasies. We talk about it here and there but largely we avoid speaking on this disturbing topic. We seem to feel guilt when we are aware but we also seem to develop strategies to dissociate from reality, to diminish our awareness as if dissociation is any less guilty of an action. In fact, it’s much worse than being naive, the knowingness of such crimes and yet an immense apathy. The culture in the U.S. is very much taking part in a collective dissociative bystander effect. We collectively distance ourselves and support each other’s willful pseudo-ignorance because we all know that we crave these desires and none of us wants to lose them. Those in the third world often take an unfair blow due to our pleasures and we all choose to disengage our awareness on this matter, further comforting ourselves through conformity by looking around and seeing everyone else disengaging too. Addiction and exploitation to reach our desires has become a normalized and socially acceptable part of life in the first world. Like some kind of opium den involved in organized crime to sustain their habits.
An overlooked utility of money is that it allows you to thin this perception of connectedness in the processes that result from our sadistic exploitation. By using money, it creates another layer of ambiguity to this whole process of gaining exploitative consumerist rewards. This kind of distancing seems to be a core problem with society after the invention of mass production. Even those working in corporations become increasingly valueless and disposable, disregarded by the collective.
Does wearing gloves while committing murder make you less accountable?
If I had some kind of sadism fetish, could I increase the ethics of my desires by adding layers of ambiguity to the situation? For example, say I want to experience the excitement of somebody bleeding. If I build a contraption that wields the knife for me, and it requires quarters to operate, then is this more ethical than if I directly applied the blade to the victim? What if I paid someone to enter the quarter for me? The answer seems clearly no. What if I enjoy putting the quarter into the knife contraption rather than the harm to the victim? Is it more ethical to enjoy the quarter aspect than to enjoy the harm aspect? These two aspects are intertwined and in reality, we enjoy the final outcome of the product enough to engage with the process.
When we desire the outcome of some process such as dairy, chocolate, or technology, we must realize that if we choose to engage these desires, we are seeking the entire process of events leading up to the product, unless we reject the product on these bases. We do want slaves to work for our chocolate because we want the outcome of the slave process: the chocolate. We may say “I like chocolate” but the reality is that this is not what we are getting. We are getting “chocolate made by slaves” and we are thoroughly enjoying it. We gain pleasure from chocolate made by slaves. It is sadistic. We are willing to let child slavery occur because chocolate matters more to us and it’s easy to be a passive bystander, especially when there is no one here to shame us. This seems to mean that we value our social reputation but not the lives or feelings of others.
People may not be total psychopaths in the absence of a culturally installed moral framework, but they may lack confidence in what is right or wrong. They may seek reassurance from the outside due to doubting their own capacity as moral arbiters. The cultural framework allows them to quickly reassure themselves about what is right or wrong. It also details what response is considered to be right. This may result in permitting horrifying acts like the Nazis did, or it may lead us to more reasonable reactions like many feel jailing a criminal is.
This way in which people look to each other for reassurance in their beliefs and choices is not so different from what is revealed by Asch’s social conformity experiment.
Society’s moral framework is highly subject to the kinds of forces observed in the Asch conformity experiment. I sort of suspect the cultural moral matrix is basically a deontological system, while people’s personal moral judgment tends to be consequentialist in nature. The deontological rule-style of making moral decisions seems highly useful. If everyone were purely consequential, I could imagine a lack of convergence due to the lack of reassurance from other people. A lot of consequentialist ideas may sort of follow deontological frameworks but allow oneself to use reason to transcend the oversimplified rule-based limits of deontology. Without any cultural moral matrix, perhaps everyone would feel fairly grey about a lot of ethical problems that the matrix makes feel more certain or validated.
The confidence that a moral framework gives us, might explain our strong emotions like in the case of pedophilia. When we are hyper-certain that something is a horrible act, we may experience stronger emotions. Whereas a state of moral uncertainty may prevent such emotions.
Aside from the validating aspect of the normalized moral framework, there is great uncertainty in punishing immoral behavior that does not fit within the normalized moral framework. We might find a behavior immoral but since it doesn’t fit the checklist-morality of those around us, we can’t be sure how others will respond if we react to the moral issue. As an obvious example, if I feel that someone eating factory-farmed meat is immoral, I might try to solve this by punishing them for partaking in that behavior. This would likely be met with disgust or outrage from others though, which we already see in memes about vegans.
Strangely, being “vegan” has led me to feel less sensitive to many moral problems because I’ve been pulled out of the cultural moral framework in a harsh way. The way in which nonvegans treat my veganism has created an urge to treat the moral problems that others feel concerned about in similar ways that they treat mine. Their apathy towards what I care about leads me to feel apathy towards what they feel concerned about. For example, if someone expresses their consumption of meat casually, it does something in my mind that causes me to feel moral issues can be approached generally casually. Almost as if morality doesn’t truly matter. Especially the culturally prescribed morality. My awareness of these issues appears to be protective and I actively pursue to remain considerate towards other people’s emotions when it comes to morality, even if they are not considerate towards mine.
This has led me to wonder if good ethical theories can be infohazards. Existing outside of the cultural moral matrix seems to result in great social conflict.
Disagreeing on moral beliefs is essentially the most problematic kind of disagreement. Disagreeing on arbitrary facts is inconsequential but disagreeing about what is good or bad, is a conflict on the most important possible information. It is what determines what is important at all. This suggests to me that moral conflicts will be the easiest path to polarization.
In the podcast, I explore ideas from Genesis, which might be a metaphorical argument against consequentialism. In Genesis, there is a fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eating this fruit was forbidden by God. It was said that eating the fruit will make us more like gods, “Ye shall be as gods”. Perhaps consequentialism is the fruit. It would make sense, considering it is the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The knowledge of good and evil may refer to consequentialist moral judgment. It may be forbidden because people cannot apply consequentialism without something like omniscience. Breaking from deontology may allow one to justify even heinous atrocities like Nazism or slavery. We may rationalize that anything we desire is justified, with enough motivated reasoning.
I don’t necessarily agree that this is the case though. What do you think?
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