Saturday 5 September 2015

Moral inversion starts with "There's nothing *intrinsically* wrong with..."

Moral inversion is based on the hedonic calculus - that morality is a matter of happiness and suffering, pleasure versus pain. This has it that there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about anything - only the consequences for human happiness and suffering.


Perhaps it began with divorce. It was argued that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with divorce as such (because it is just a legal procedure - obviously, because marriage has no divine dimension, because there is no God); therefore, the only thing wrong with divorce is that it makes people unhappy. 

It therefore follows that there is nothing wrong with divorce. Because sometimes staying married makes people more unhappy than divorce. In fact (according to this line of reasoning) if divorce makes people happier, then divorce is good.

And if there is nothing wrong with divorce, except unhappiness, and if sometimes (perhaps usually?) divorces make people happier - then the only people who are really wicked are those who make divorced people feel guilty and miserable.

Therefore, we must campaign and propagandise in favour of divorce, for a free and easy and accepting attitude to divorce - because then life would be happier (and happiness is the ultimate 'good').

The only wicked ideologies are those that strongly-discourage or prevent divorce (because they enforce misery), the only evil people are those who (by their attitudes, words, behaviour) make divorcees feel guilty and miserable. Therefore Christianity and Christians are (among others) the bad ones; and those who promote uncomplicated, simple, cheap, quick and easy, cheerful divorce are virtuous.

And here we are - moral inversion: what was bad (divorce) is now good: what was good (Christianity) is now evil.


In my youth it was promiscuity.

Sex (between consenting adults, as the phrase ran) made people happy, and happiness is good (and God and Christianity are childish nonsense) - so there was 'nothing wrong' with promiscuity... so long as it made people happy.

But promiscuous people were not always happy: why? Well often because they felt guilty, or felt jealous. So the problems were the ideologies and people who made promiscuous people feel guilty, and the ideologies and psychological habits that made people feel jealous.

Happy, charming, attractive, successful promiscuous people were massively portrayed in the mass media and the arts - they were supposed to show us 'how to do it'. Utopia was simply a matter of being open, free, relaxed, accepting, non-judgemental... of getting rid of the oppressive baggage of organized religion (especially Christianity) and Victorian values (which were actually capitalist, oppressive, sexist, and racist).

Then we too could become like these people (pop stars, actors, artists and other cool types) that we read about in the newspapers - they were moral heroes, pointing the way into a world of jealousy-free, guilt-free expanding possibilities for happiness. the ideal was those who would have sex with anybody, anywhere, any time - and just enjoy it for what it was; staying cheerful, always having fun and being fun, everybody's friend, everybody's lover (when anybody felt like it)...


(This was the ideal - of course, diseases got in the way, although antibiotics cured most (sensible people would take a course of meds after each cheerful encounter - indeed they were taking antibiotics almost continuously): sexutopia was invaded first by incurable Herpes, then potentially fatal AIDS put a crimp in the swinging lifestyle - but the ideal of free and easy universal promiscuity did not change. It was still the highest value, and the restrictions imposed by disease were portrayed as a tragedy because ending the utopian lifestyle; not-never as a nemesis brought-on by that lifestyle.)


The only really evil people were those who wanted to interfere with this utopian lifestyle of promiscuity - the people who said that promiscuity was intrinsically wrong (even when it was fun and did make people happy, and even when nobody felt jealous about their partner's promiscuity); these evil people were against happiness, they were kill-joys, they were the oppressors.

So on the one hand there were depicted the good, fun, funny and happy, admirable heroes of promiscuity; and ranged against them the evil, boring, depressing, miserable, pathetic and despicable villains who were against promiscuity (although we also knew that they were really hypocrites, and really just as promiscuous as everybody else, but pretending not to be).

This process of moral inversion has, decade by decade, been extended through all manner of sexual behaviours. preferences, identity claims - always premised upon the assumption that 'there is nothing intrinsically wrong with...'.


So we may see that morality depends on assumptions about what is intrinsically good and bad, and why.

The West replaced revealed religion with a hedonic calculus of maximizing pleasure and minimizing suffering, but we did not destroy morality - instead we inverted it. The utopia of sex in a context of permanent marriage with children was replaced by the utopia of free and easy fun sex with anybody and everybody all of the time.  

What was virtue is now wickedness; and vice versa. This is Nietzsche's 'transvaluation of values'. It is not a theory: it happened - it is now - it is mainstream.

It is, indeed, compulsory.

Now the definition of a good and admirable person is a successful and care-free pleasure seeker - and an evil person is anyone or any set of ideas that who attempt to limit or thwart successful pleasure-seeking.


Anonymous said...

This is further enabled by the pharisee/puritanical morality that tries to be holier than Jesus and calls sins that which is not sins like drinking,dancing and sex(within marriage)

Considering subject of chastity as an example holiness lies between the pharisee extreme of frigidity which is a sin inside of marriage and promiscuity outside the bonds of marriage.

This enables the pendulum to swing to the other extreme of anarchy in terms of sin.

Bruce B. said...

Substitute contraception for divorce in the first part of this post and you get the same conclusion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I don't think that is an exact equivalent, since some form of attempted fertility control within marriage is all-but universal among humans. There is no bright line equivalent principle for contraception.

David said...

I can't fault the your arguement. It reminds me of Brave New World and how the protagonist Bernard Marx felt unaccountably isolated for not embracing the norms of the imagined dystopia of the novel; which is frightening alike to the one in which we are now living give or take a few steps that remain to be taken. My main reflection on this post is to wonder how those that do not know any better can be held accountable in the same way for conforming with the moral inversion you describe. For a start most people are exogenous personalities anyway so will take there cues for what is right or wrong from their group, society, prevalent 'culture' including of course PC beliefs and attitudes. It is easy to imagine a biblical man would clearly know better when he decided to break a moral standard, as it would be abundantly clear and ubiquitously accepted what the moral boundaries are or ought to be. Today is a bit more problematic. If you are raised by swingers or far left progressives and everything you know and have been taught about life is wrong ie recreational drug use is good, acceptable fun (now legal to smoke Marijuana in Colorado), sex is to be enjoyed in abundance with as many people as possible before settling down, or maybe even then never; probably never. How can we 'blame' people in the same way for their sins when they are totally saturated in the secular way of life and have never been exposed to another frame of reference? It seems easier to imagine someone such as yourself, who has lives though a watershed such as the inversion of making promiscuity an ideal, because one can go back and recall a time when the world was still sane. What is the plight for those who grow up from childhood exposed to these new abberational norms? Such people really are facing an uphill struggle to escape the asylum. First of all they have to realise they are in the asylum and a patient and something is profoundly wrong. Many people are too far gone and don't notice this or want to notice this. It took me, as an outsider looking in to the Mormon community (whom are actively demonised by secular society as crazies) to realise I was on the wrong side and begin a long hard transition. If I had been born a Mormon to a Mormon or other Christian society would it have been easier to work out the moral boundaries a lot sooner? Everyone starts out with a different frame of reference and so I have a kind of empathy for the spiritually lost and wicked who are wicked due to the overwhelming tide of other people's and societies wickedness. But despite this of course there is still the hope that these people will wake up and repent someday.

Bill said...

The burden of proof is of course on those who would try to uphold the intrinsic nature of any value claims. And any attempt to do so can be met with the rejoinder that there no sources of authority that could provide that proof.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bill - If you are saying that, ultimately, the only possible alternatives are divine revelation or nihilism, then you are correct.

stephens said...

I remember a friend of my parents, who was previously a Headmistress, saying she loved the job but gave it up because the damage done to the children of divorced parents was too distressing to her. Cornwall had a high divorce rate at the time and it was an Infants/Junior School so they were very young.
I should imagine quick and easy divorce has been a disaster for many thousands of the children of selfish parents, who may also, irresponsibly, row in front of the children then use that as an excuse to split up as the kids were upset anyway.
My niece tried to contact her absent father (divorced and set up with his next family) and was coldly rejected by him.
Previous generations, instilled with a greater sense of duty and responsibilty, would have been far less likely to blame the Church for trying to ensure the needs of the children were priority.
The selfish will tend to reject the Church, it's hard for them not too. The excuses will flow and their hearts will harden.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I am amazed at how successful the normalization of divorce has been. Even the most nihilistic Leftists would still say that wilfully breaking a solemn promise, for no better reason than that one would be personally "happier" breaking it than keeping it, is wrong -- but somehow divorce is an exception!

Somewhat off-topic, one thing I have never been able to understand is the current PC attitude towards smoking, which seems to be at odds with the hedonistic principle. Do you have any idea why that particular vice, in contrast to almost all others, is officially frowned on?

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJAs - I ought to be able to answer that, since I worked for three years Public Health where, it seemed, fifty percent of the effort was devoted to anti-smoking campaigns (mostly ineffectual). But I am not sure what the real answer is. I can tell you that the perceived real 'baddies' were the tobacco companies, not the smokers themselves - yet the actual action taken was calculated *not* to drive the tobacco companies out of business. The anti-smoking campaigners and the tobacco companies seemed to a reached a mutually beneficial equilibrium.

The stuff about the supposed health hazards of 'passive smoking' was perhaps the first place that I encountered, or noticed, large scale outright dishonesty in science - self-justified by being in 'a good cause'.

Also a hidden significant fact - which was that smoking did not seem to have the usual harmful effects on Chinese (have you noticed this?), nor on chronic psychotic patients (e.g. schizophrenia) - these look like important clues to aetiology; but were pretty much ignored.

Rich said...

Perhaps smoking has something to do with the gut?

See Seth Roberts:
Responding to:

And Emily Deans:

I have no idea either way? Maybe the Chinese eat more fiber? My only anecdotal impression is that a few of the smokers I know have had gastrointestinal issues. I don't know why psychotic patients wouldn't exhibit the usual harmful effects.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - I would regard heart disease as being of unknown cause - the so called risk factors like smoking are probably at most exacerbations, and anyway have assumed small effect sizes which could easily be artefacts (caused by residual confounding or poor controls). Indeed, I think the most likely cause of the heart disease epidemic (which peaked several decades and ago and has substantially subsided) was arteriosclerosis epidemic generally, and the most likely cause of that was probably some infective agent unknown. At least that's what the epidemiological patterns suggests

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I'm fascinated to hear that smoking is less harmful to the Chinese. (No, I've never noticed this, but the long-term health effects of smoking are not the sort of thing one is often in a position to notice firsthand.)

It occurs to me that the Chinese are closely related to the American Indians, the people among whom the custom of tobacco-smoking first originated. If I head that tobacco was less harmful to the Indians only, I would assume that they had adapted to its use over the centuries, much as Europeans have (compared to Indians) adapted to the use of alcohol. But if the Chinese are also immune, it suggests that the causation runs the other way: that the Indians took up tobacco-smoking because, for whatever reason, it was harmless for them.

pyrrhus said...

Nicotine is apparently beneficial, and there is research suggesting that bacteria in the tobacco may be the problem...

Rich said...


Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Indeed, Chlamydia pneumoniae may be one of those infectious agents. But to your point, no one really knows and there are probably a few more.