Binge Moralizing

It’s like being on all the diets so you can eat everything.

Posted Sep 13, 2019

Here’s a simple trick to dieting. Tell people that you’re on not just one but all the diets. Then always eat as much of anything you want because in all those diets there’s always going to be at least one that says you can.

A rasher of bacon? “I’m on Keto.”
Three jumbo bags of Nacho corn chips? “I’m on the high-carb diet.”

A fifth of whiskey? “I’m on the all-alcohol diet.”

You name it, you can have it. The omnivore's dilemma? The omnivores solution! The secret? Just apply all those diets selectively.

You’ll gain weight but think of the advantages. Being on all the diets at once you get to claim you’re more health-conscious than everyone. Let them know! Whatever they’re eating, lecture them on why they shouldn’t because it’s a violation of at least one of your many diets.

Dieting aside, this is how people often handle morality. They collect moral principles the way Imelda Marcos* collected shoes,* as though the more you have, the more status you’ve got.

These binge moralizers are proud of their moral status. They’ve got more morals than everyone else. And how do they live? Certainly no more morally than the rest of us and typically less morally because they have an infinite library of moral rules that they can apply selectively to justify their behavior and scold others.

If they don’t want you to interrupt them, they’ll scold you like the number one priority moral rule is never interrupt ever.

Do they follow it absolutely? Of course not! When they interrupt it’s fine. Why? Because it’s always most important to defend yourself. That’s the highest priority always. For now.

And if you defend yourself in response? Absolutely not. Now, the highest moral priority is being respectful of others. Always. For now.

And if you call them on their hypocrisy, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms that you should be ashamed of yourself for shaming them. Because the absolute highest moral priority is that you should never shame anyone. Always! For now.

And if you give up and walk away. Now the top moral principle is never be uncaring, unloving or disrespectful. They have no respect for people who aren’t respectful.

That’s binge morality: Binge on all the morals and you can binge on any behavior because there’s always some absolute priority moral principle you can pull out of your butt to rationalize your behavior.

Morals are easy to embrace in principle but hard to put into practice. It takes discipline and work to actually apply them. We can’t apply them all.

People tend to collect morals as efficiently as possible merely for the status. Morals embraced as token badges of honor. They hear that integrity is a good thing. So they buy it in principle. “I’ve got integrity” They hear that mindfulness or Christianity, honesty or caring are hecka good, so they claim them for themselves. Why not? What does it cost to claim you’ve got these obviously-good things?

Take caring. “Always care” sounds like a good rule in principle. But in practice, we have limited effort. We can claim lip-service care for everything, but we can’t care about everything all at once. We have to prioritize.

A binge moralizer ignores that. They’ll be happy to scold you for being “uncaring,” as though the rule is always care about everything. They’ll apply the rule selectively. As they apply it the rule is that you should care about whatever they want you to care about in the moment.

People will often use loaded moral terms without bothering to define them. Try this out: If someone says you’re a butthead or they’re mindful ask them how they define those terms and notice their response. Chances are, it will be the first time they’ve wondered.

They’ll give you examples maybe, but examples are not definitions. A definition, at its best, is something you could hire someone to apply and you’d get a consistent result that agrees with the distinction you want to make. If you hired someone to apply your definition of a butthead they would be able to sort people out such that they would include all real buttheads and no non-buttheads.

Defining our terms is difficult work. As a psychoproctologist, I've worked for over 20 years trying to define butthead and I'm still not satisfied that I've nailed it. I don't bet I ever will. The point here is that people often speak with authority without having even begun to define the terms. They go with the gut.  A butthead is anyone they happen to butt heads with.

I’ve asked dozens of mindfulness enthusiasts to define mindfulness and I get the impression that it’s the first time they’ve stopped to wonder. All I’ve ever gotten are incoherent answers.

Whatever it is, they know it’s hecka good, so sure, they’re all for it. And don’t you dare question their authority on it. That wouldn’t be mindful of you. They’re the ones who judge whose mindful. And why? Because they’re mindful! They signed up for the mindful diet in addition to all the others.

We embrace moral principles intuitively and inconsistently because it’s too much work to seek consistency.

To lose weight successfully you need to pick a diet and stick with it. The diet has standards you’ll have to meet, do’s if you want to lose weight.

If you want to live a moral life, you have to prioritize. You can’t just claim one absolute priority one moment and another the next to rationalize whatever you want to do. One consequence of this self-discipline is that you have to relax about the other rules. You don’t get to go around policing everyone on every moral principle you can think of. Cutting others that slack can be a disappointment. You can’t even binge on policing.

It’s hard to prioritize so most people don’t. It’s easier to be the Imelda Marcos of morality.

Here’s a short video on how people will tend to rationalize their hard and fast, ever-fluid moral absolutes.

* For you young ones, Imelda Marcos was the wife of the Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. When he was ousted in 1981 people discovered her closet full of over 3,000 pairs of shoes.