Friday, August 21, 2015

Joseph Stalin's Relevance to Modern Selective Moral Outrage

"One single death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic."
~ Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR and responsible for 50-100 million deaths as a result of his tyrannical political regime.
This very line was actually quoted in an article I read in 2009 on the humor site entitled "What is the Monkeysphere?" The presentation makes reference to evolutionary assumptions, but there is a psychological truth underpinning the practical conclusions. That is known as Dunbar's Number, which is variously hypothesized to be between 50 and 300, and it represents the total number of people that any individual can maintain thriving relationships with at any one time. Thriving, so that any impact on one of those people will be emotionally significant to the person who is friends with them. It is only within this theoretical limit that a person has the mental capacity to feel a connection to others, so that they are vicariously affected by positive as well as negative impacts on that second person. Such as promotion, award recognition, the birth of a child....or losing one's job, illness, or death.

Cracked's "Monkeysphere" thesis is that outside of the people we know personally (or know enough about to feel a connection with, as in celebrities or famous people), if something good or bad happens to another person, we simply aren't affected. We don't care, because we don't know. They are too distant for it to matter to us on an intimate level. We can think about it, but we are severely limited in our ability to feel about it.

People do have the capacity to train themselves to be concerned for others that they do not know. We have a great capacity for developing selfless compassion and to practice treating distantly related people with an equity approaching that we give to more intimate friends and family, through the exercise of empathy. We act toward strangers as if it were deeply affecting us or someone close to us, knowing that for that person in question, the pain or joy really is close to home.

But it is not the natural thing for people to do. And even when they do, they often compartmentalize it. The irony is that it's sometimes easier to help strangers than to help people you dislike, simply because you don't know them enough to find something about them disagreeable.

See, it's because the 'Monkeysphere'  finds application both in harmonious relationships, and in acrimonious relationships. Just how you would be more devastated if your spouse, parent or sibling were knifed to death in front of you, but feel a hollow sorrow, or simply hollowness, when you hear of knife attacks on the other side of the globe, you also find it much easier to hate the influential national pundit who is promoting things you think are terrible, than to hate the nameless, faceless foreign terrorist who may or may not be responsible for anything in particular. We find it hard to get worked up about generalities, but when we connect it to something specific, then we become emotionally invested.

Lately, we are being exposed to numerous examples of the tragedy/statistic dichotomy that Joseph Stalin opined about.

Many lions die every year, from natural causes, from hunting, or from poaching, but when a lion with a name, who is described as a "national treasure," dies, the social media sphere whips up outrage.

Upwards of 30 million people are currently using the website Ashley Madison to hook up with other people hoping to cheat on their spouses without being caught, and there is no outrage at all. In fact, the company was planning to go public, meaning that people would buy and sell stocks, betting on the success of a company designed for the explicit purpose of facilitating and encouraging the destruction of marriages. And not only that, but when news broke recently that credit card information from users on this site had  been compromised, there was outrage. Not at the adultery, which is legal, but at the hacking, which is illegal. We now live in a country where violating the trust of your closest confidant is so passe' it's expected, but if someone dares to expose the adulterer, how dare they violate such a sacred thing as another person's privacy?

This is an abomination. Not the adultery itself. The fact that the whole country doesn't bat an eye. The fact that the country not only sees it, not only tolerates it, but defends it and gets offended by those who attack the assumption that your adultery should be kept secret out of respect for you, as if the adulterer's feelings need to be protected! As if THEY are a victim, and not the one they cheated on!
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. ~ Romans 1:32
30 million adulteries is a statistic.

But one single adultery is a media frenzy.

It turns out that Josh Duggar (and side note: 15,000 US government officials, at last report earlier this morning) was one of those 30 million.

The unknown millions don't cause much offense because of Dunbar's Number -- people watching simply don't know that many people, so it's too overwhelming to make sense to care about. But if someone they know of is involved, then they become more invested.

It's weird.

If what Josh did was considered wrong by the culture, there would be numerous headlines like the following:
"30 Million Shameless Adulterers in the USA."
"Expose of the Shocking Infidelity of 15,000 US Government Officials."
"Hooray! Ashley Madison Hackers Give Cheaters What They Deserve!"

but I have seen none. Have you? What I have seen are headlines indicating shock over the hack, not shock over the adultery. I've seen the morning news indicating that the Pentagon is afraid of employees being turned by blackmail -- but they apparently couldn't care enough to intervene to stop them from putting themselves in positions of indiscretion that could lead to blackmail in the first place. And I've seen the cliche'd criticism of Josh Duggar -- but not for his adultery.

Josh isn't being attacked because he's an adulterer. There's nothing wrong with adultery in the eyes of the nation. So it's not moral outrage. Josh is being attacked because he's promoted, and lobbied for, the advancement of morality that considers adultery to be wrong. He's being attacked because of inconsistency, of living a double life, being two-faced, being a hypocrite. And for once, the social-media complex is right on that fact.

But this begs a very poignant question.

Is this how we treat people who act inconsistently with their stated beliefs?

What a merciless society.

No, the truth is that there is a spiritual dimension to this. The enemies of God (meaning demons) are delighted with the opportunity to attempt to discourage others from considering Christianity, by finding themselves a Christian caught in public sin which they can slander and shame and smear to stain the conscience of every unbeliever who hears the news. Christianity must be worthless, after all, if it doesn't even restrain people from being child molesters, porn addicts and adulterers. So goes the attack.

And also in the spiritual dimension, people KNOW that adultery is wrong. You can't find anybody who would heap so much vitriol (here I'm making reference to social media postings by private individuals, which anyone can find to read with little difficulty) on somebody who is caught breaking their own rules. This sort of hatred is not inspired by conniving contestants on "Bachelor in Paradise," or of partisan politicians who promise to fight corruption, and take massive campaign donations from special interests, or even high profile celebrities who are caught in affairs or divorce.

The animosity derives from a crooked conscience that knows no mercy, which nevertheless has the imprint of the Law of God which inspires revulsion at sin. They hate Josh's infidelity because infidelity is wrong, even if they don't consciously admit it or even know it. They "show that the work of the Law is written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their conflicting thoughts accusing or even excusing them." (Romans 2:15)

The outrage against Josh Duggar is not just a sad commentary on our own nation's hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to morality. It is PROOF that even despite our "liberated" consciousnesses, everyone is equipped with a God-given sense of right and wrong, so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20) when denying the Bible's prescriptions for ethical conduct. There is no foundation for morality outside of the Biblical Worldview, so conversely, when someone senses outrage in their heart over the actions of Josh Duggar, their "conscience is bearing witness" to God's existence and the universality and absoluteness of His law. Which means that they are accountable to Him for what they do, and will be judged by His standard.

We are no better off than Josh, then, by the time we come face to face with this fact:

And the challenge I leave to the Duggar Family critics, who don't have the same outrage for the 30 million other Ashley Madison users,

Joseph Stalin mocks you from the grave.

~ Rak Chazak

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