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 thingis 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
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.
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.
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.