Countering Sound Bite Morality.

A sound and rational education on morality was something the Ancient Greeks promoted. Unfortunately, nowadays the concept is completely absent from our schools or societies. Either our children are taught religious doctrines (which is a piss-poor replacement for morality, but wholly appropriate to teach in state schools), or they are taught a superficial, state-approved curriculum of “tolerance”, “multiculturalism”, and obedience to parental and political authority (equal amongst other slaves, inferior to the masters).

This mode of thinking gives rise to Sound Bite Morality, which can also be called Bumper Sticker Morality (although Bumper Sticker Morality jumps directly to a conclusion instead of presenting a moral principle, however flawed). What I mean by Sound Bite Morality is simplistic principles which are applied without context, justification or discernment, such as “thou shalt not kill” (a well-known one). Because of this complete lack of support, Sound Bite principles only relate to morality in the most basic fashion, insofar as they give us a way to evaluate actions, but they have about as much to do with morality as Intelligent Design has to do with biology.

Being completely stripped of any content whatsoever, Sound Bite Morality makes a great tool of control, because you need someone to tell you how to apply it. It’s all well and good to say “thou shalt not kill”, but what does that mean concretely? Every day, our body kills millions of spermatozoa. Does that mean that we are all immoral by definition? What about when we walk and kill small insects? What about self-defense? Introducing the word “murder” introduces a lot of context, but at the expense of deviating from the doctrine. And also has the disadvantage that we no longer need to look up to pompous jackasses to tell us to kill murderers, but to not kill foetuses or an already-dead Terri Schiavo.

Any principle which cannot be applied by the individual is necessarily anti-individualistic. Obedience of the law is a particularly egregious example of this- the law is a construct of the ruling class, and therefore the ruling class is necessary in order to “obey the law”. And these principles are good to use as sound bites, which is of course what public opinion runs on.

Sound Bite morality drives out real morality like bad money drives out good (although not for the same reason, obviously). It’s easier to spread around a simple (and wrong) catch-phrase like “meat is murder” than to discuss the relationship between non-coercion, society and other species. But “meat is murder” sells, non-coercion does not.

So how do we counter this plague? For one thing, we can’t argue from nihilism in order to nullify our opponent’s position. That’s what the collectivists do to shed doubt on individual reasoning already, so although it may be technically correct that they have no grounds for their morality, it wouldn’t behoove us at all to do the same, it would be hard to convince others that nihilistic refutations can actually be turned against them, and it wouldn’t be efficient to do so. Sound Bite Moralists can do it because people already know the slogans they preach (i.e. “if the others are in doubt, we know what to believe).

What we need to do is to sweep away their rationalization and keep putting up the truth front and center. We need to point out that those puppet moralists don’t believe in virtue and promote absurdities. This is relatively easy to do because context-less premises always have exceptions. After poking these holes and destroying their Sound Bite, you can forge ahead with rational values or virtues that everyone recognizes, and demonstrate how they apply to the situation.

In the “shall not kill” example, I already pointed out one major hole (the sperm cycle). Assuming we are talking to a Christian, I would then immediately talk about how I subscribe to the virtue of non-coercion, as most people do, and that non-coercion is wholly incompatible with Christianity. According to Christian doctrine, salvation was granted to humans (whatever it means to “grant salvation”) through the execution of an innocent person. Also, non-coercion is highly incompatible with the Christian political agenda of forcing people to live the way they interpret their doctrines.

From one side of the religio-political spectrum we can go to another and look at the vegetarian screed “meat is murder”. This is the exact same kind of nonsense.

Now, to answer these moral screeds, you have to know what their belief system is all about. The religio-political is mainly concerned with inequality, injustice, and social warfare (through the imposition of a singular value system on the whole of society). The Greenie ideology is principally anti-poor (in what they oppose) and anti-man (in political concepts). They are against moral autonomy because they consider humans to be inherently immoral from a pseudo-environmentalist standpoint.

So when they say “meat is murder”, we should first point out that Greenies themselves advocate killing life- threshers kill millions of rodents and insects every year. The concept of “murder” is merely a diversion off the real issue, that Greenies contend that we should be ashamed of eating other animals. Their ideology promotes self-hatred for who we are and what we do as normal, natural human beings. Their only answer is to force people to integrate that self-hatred and turn what is a healthy daily habit into an obsessive dysfunction. We must make clear that we reject their vision of human beings as depraved, just as we reject the Christian’s “original sin” or the statist’ “individual selfishness”.

Then we get into Bumper Sticker Morality- things like “Free Tibet”, “Support our Troops”, or the perennial Christian excuse “I’m not perfect, just forgiven”. These pithy phrases hide their premises completely, and as such would take a much longer time to refute. For example, what should we “support our troops” for? Do we support murderers or do we put them in jail? How are they “our” troops? Don’t they take the orders of the ruling class? And so on.

Bumper Sticker Morality is not meant for dialogue or even sound bites. They are pure propaganda. Deconstruct them for yourself, and then throw them in the bin heap.

From here, it is only one small step to outright skipping propositions and using code-words like “democracy”, “pro-life” or “sweatshops”, which are even more compact and adaptable, and convey heavy moral meaning in the mind of the believers. You have to remember that propaganda is a fight for mindspace, with the properties inherent to that space. The smallest footprint it takes in the mind of a believer relative to its significance, the most efficient it is. This is why code-words and symbols are particularly efficient and widespread. When a politician raises his hind legs and invokes the word “democracy”, that has power for whatever he’s proposing. When an activist on television claims to be “pro-life” and attacks our freedom, he’ll be seen more favourably. Wave the flag and you are a friend- burn it and you are an enemy.

Countering code-words directly would be even more complicated than the two previous categories. One would need to unpack the implicit moral assumptions for each use of the concept. Fortunately, we don’t really need to do that, as we already have a tried-and-true technique: make better and more truthful code-words. Instead of “democracy”, we can say “mob rule”. Instead of “pro-life”, we can say “anti-choice”. By doing so, we are effectively arguing conceptually, but at their own level. Trying to reason with those who don’t think is a waste of time. As I will explain in my entry about code-words, they are little more than empty vessels used to induce agreement amongst disparate ideologies.

2 thoughts on “Countering Sound Bite Morality.

  1. ollysk2 September 18, 2006 at 14:08

    Very interesting Franc. I think it’s particularly fascinating to think of this idea of short phrase propaganda: it is essentially useless to anyone who does not already agree with it.

    For the most part, with notable exceptions, people aren’t going to buy into a particular ‘code word’ as you aptly put it, if they don’t already have assumptions built in. So if I’m in the U.K. (as an American), and someone has a bumper sticker that says “Support Labour”, I as an American might have no clue what that would mean; or I would take it entirely out of context (as ‘supporting labor’ in the U.S. has a much different context).

    If I’m opposed to the Labour party, then “Support Labour” does nothing for me either, except maybe piss me off; in no way will it change my mind.

    If I’m a Labour supporter, then this is a signal to me ‘friend’, or someone who agrees with me; and a reinforcement of ideals I’ve already decided on.

    In that sense, short phrase propaganda only serves as reinforcment for the believer, and as you said, not a true argument at all.

    Very good read, thanks,


  2. Raising the Flags. « Check Your Premises January 13, 2007 at 19:58

    […] 13th, 2007 In “Countering Sound Bite Morality,” I discussed sound bite morality, bumper sticker morality, and code-words. In and of itself, a […]

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