How to Defeat Moral Grandstanders

(And Stay Classy While Doing It)

In the latest video from IHS and Big Think, assistant professor at Bowling Green University Brandon Warmke further explains the cultural phenomenon of moral grandstanding and how best to combat it.

Warmke opens by addressing what moral grandstanding is: “[It] is the use of moral talk for self-promotion. It’s the thing that you say in order to satisfy your desire for moral recognition.”

This type of grandstanding is most common on social media, though Warmke notes it poses a challenge to truly identify. “[With moral grandstanding] there’s a certain kind of desire, a desire to impress other people, and that’s not the kind of access you have into someone’s head.” He adds that this same reason can make it difficult to call out the phenomenon when it occurs, admitting that doing so can create a counterproductive cycle of both parties accusing the other of being a grandstander.

With this in mind, what does Warmke recommend as the best approach to putting a stop to it? Ignoring grandstanders, of course. In other words, not allowing moral grandstanders to receive the attention they crave. “What grandstanders want is your praise, they want you to think that they are morally exceptional. So how do you disincentivize? Don’t give them the attention they seek.”

Instead, he advises that we as a society should be redirecting our recognition desire into tangible actions. He suggests getting active in volunteer work or helping out at a soup kitchen; putting those moral desires to good use. Then, if you still feel compelled to share it on social media, a measurable good deed will have also stemmed from it.

“One way to think about changing social norms… involves both changing your personal behavior, and then trying get other people to follow suit,” says Warmke.

This video is part of an extended series about civil discourse. To view additional videos from the series, visit the Institute for Humane Studies blog.

Prior videos in this series include:

Why a Great Education Means Engaging with Controversy
with Jon Zimmerman, University of Pennsylvania professor of history of education

How to Get Smarter About the Partisan Press
with Keith Whittington, Princeton University professor of politics

Social Media, Tribalism, and the Prevalence of Fake News
with Jonathan Rauch, a Brookings senior fellow

Self Command: Learn This Powerful Thinking Tool
with Emily Chamlee-Wright, IHS president

The Psychology of Moral Grandstanding
with Brandon Warmke, Bowling Green State University assistant professor of philosophy

Why Free Speech Has No Political Party
with Jon Zimmerman, University of Pennsylvania professor of history of education

John Stuart Mill’s Big Idea: Harsh Critics Make Good Thinkers
with Keith Whittington, Princeton University professor of politics

Why Pitting Prejudices Against Each Other Keeps Society Free
with Jonathan Rauch, Brookings senior fellow

Free Speech on College Campuses: A Bottom-up Approach
with Emily Chamlee-Wright, IHS president

See more posts: Big ThinkIdeasIHS NewsVideo 

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