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A little while back, some academics published a paper on moral grandstanding, which they defined as being any attempt to turn public discourse into a vanity project. That's a nice definition of what moral grandstanding is, because it sets out that there is valid public discourse, and then there is discourse that reaches a point at which all a person is doing is proclaiming their own moral superiority, and that latter thing  is blameworthy.

There's a similar concept I apply to my own life all the time. If I'm trying to solve a problem, or convey my feelings to someone, or argue for my way of things, that's a good -- or at least neutral -- thing. But, if what I'm doing ventures into resentment, then I've crossed the line. So, arguing with my wife about how we should invest our money is probably a worthwhile argument to have, unless I'm just using that argument as an excuse to lord something over her or needle her about something. Lecturing my daughter, or giving her a "time-in" or something when she does something wrong is normal and good parenting; but punishing her for the sake of punishing her, or rehashing old acts of misbehavior over and over, is resentful and should be avoided. Or, comparing my way of doing things with the way my neighbors do things is probably fine; but smugly declaring the superiority of my way is resentful and should be avoided.

You get the picture.

In both of the above examples, we have a situation in which we choose to differentiate between making a point because something can be learned, and making a point for the sake of some underlying negative emotion we're feeling. It's not always easy to know when you're doing which thing. It takes a good deal of practice and a large dose of self-awareness to identify when you're doing something for the wrong reasons, especially when what you're doing is perfectly fine when you're doing it for the right reasons. It's hard; it's complex; it's nuanced.

The reason I bring all this up is because this week the internet is talking about a company that decided to weigh in on a hot-button political issue in one of its advertisements. It is perfectly fine for a company to participate in public discourse, as far as I'm concerned. That company can do so at its own risk, knowing that not all of its customers will agree with the company's chosen message. But there is nothing to say that a company should not participate in public discourse.

That being said, it makes quite a bit of difference why a company chooses to do so. To argue for human dignity is a praiseworthy thing, if one is doing it from a place of conviction. If one is doing it merely to sell products, then it becomes disingenuous and also crass.

Disingenuousness is bad, because it erodes the customer's faith in the company's own words. That is, if the company doesn't voice its own core beliefs honestly, and instead voices whatever widely held belief will sell the most products, then the customer can credibly wonder what else the company is willing to lie about. Maybe everything.

Crassness is bad because it makes light of people's deeply held beliefs. Whatever we happen to believe about the issue the company is advertising about, we take it for granted that some things are important enough to avoid being used. It's good to be a shoulder to cry on, for example, unless your ultimate goal is to secure a date with the person you're comforting. Your ulterior motives make your consolation morally blameworthy, and so it goes for the company who voices a political opinion with the goal of selling products.

So, I'm not going to voice an opinion on the issue of masculinity today, because it hardly matters. What matters is that companies don't manipulate the public dialogue in order to SELL SELL SELL. It's gross.

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