Tips for avoiding moralism (from someone who has often fallen well short of the mark themselves)

As someone who, on the internet, has gotten stuck into people before and later deeply regretted it and felt like a damn hypocrite, I wanted to give some life advice on how to avoid over moralising. It’s something I think about a lot, but it’s also something I would be very keen to hear alternative perspectives on, so I encourage you to comment even if you wouldn’t normally.

  1. You should have four circles, the circle of things you would try to avoid doing yourself, the circle of things you would gently reprimand or counsel a friend against, the circle of things you would publicly condemn, and the circle of things that you think should be illegal (go-to-prison illegal, not just a small fine). Each circle should be smaller than the one proceeding it.

  2. Be aware of the fact that when you strongly publicly condemn someone for their behaviour, what is risked (causing serious psychological damage to someone) is often more than what is gained (a small chance that they or someone else will be deterred in the future), so only do it if you are very sure that it is deserved AND necessary.

  3. Before you condemn someone publicly honestly reflect on what percentage of the population have likely done something as bad. Not necessarily the same thing- but anything as bad. If it’s 10%, seriously reconsider, if it’s 20% don’t do it. Think honestly about your own behaviour and whether you’ve done stuff just as bad as well.

  4. There is always the option to condemn a behaviour, rather than condemning specific individuals for that behaviour. It often accomplishes the same thing with fewer downsides. When you do this, it’s often a good idea to make it clear that while you want everyone to stop performing the behaviour in question, you don’t regard all those who have as morally reprobate.

  5. If someone’s bad behaviour comes to light, and you want to talk about it for whatever reason, there are ways of doing that and acknowledging their wrongdoing that doesn’t turn into a full-blown moral punching bag session.

  6. Virtue does not consist in a display of fervour over shared values, virtue consists in doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.

  7. Don’t reify this stuff though. Not everything that could be called public condemnation is the same, and some forms of it are more dangerous than others. Comedy is usually a softer blow than a full-throated denunciation. Pointing out that someone is being rude to you in the middle of a Twitter argument is not the same as saying no one should love them because they cheated on their wife.

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