Selective Morality

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We’ve all heard of selective hearing… the ability to tune out everything you’re not interested in.

Maybe you’ve been accused of having it. (That’s usually how it’s used: accusatorily.)

Scientists actually have a name for it:

auditory selective attention

“Selective hearing” is characterized as the action in which people focus their attention on a specific source of a sound or spoken words. The sounds and noise in the surrounding environment are heard by the auditory system but only certain parts are processed in the brain.

I’ve observed another selective phenomenon in politics and the way society is portrayed…

Selective Morality

You can see it in the distinction people make between right and wrong, or the excuses given to justify “good” and “bad” behavior.

“Selective Morality” is the action in which people focus their attention on a specific fact or action that aligns with their view of correctness and ethicality. It is, seemingly, a byproduct of the multitudinous versions of reality we’re all walking around with.

You can see it in politics at this very moment in history with the impeachment process swirling around Washington DC. We saw it in the 2016 election with Whataboutism. We see it in how different news outlets choose to report on current events.

You can see it when siblings fight—“…but he did Xyz first!” Yes, children, but you retaliated. Everybody’s in trouble. Go sit on the couch and hold hands.

But, really, everybody’s in trouble when it comes to selective morality.

It is polarizing. It creates zealots and extremists. Because we all have the There is only me who is always right.” affliction Benjamin Franklin once described; and our sense of right and wrong is deeply rooted in our psyches, tied to our sense of safety and belonging in our social groups.

Basically, feeling “wrong” creates fear, so… nope, I reject that I might be wrong & will find the way I’m right. Ask any toddler.

Selective morality makes people excuse inarguably-undesirable behavior. It corrupts reason and humanity, and threatens polite society. Selective morality excuses slavery, misogyny, murder, rape… as long as someone feels justified by some authority, they feel free to engage in abhorrent behavior.

Being bolstered by the belief of one’s correctness has eclipsed humaneness and goodness. Ask Frederick Douglass or Rosa Parks, then white supremacists, about racism. Ask the Westboro Baptist Church how they view Matthew Shepherd’s murder.

Look at the arguments made by people on the Left and Right in the impeachment hearings currently happening in our country. That’s all politics is, the citizen-fueled force that keeps it rolling: the continuous question about how society should be governed… and the answers are as varied as the number off citizens.

When someone’s actions seem incongruous with the values they espouse, we take notice.

But, how do we address that without seeming like hypocrites ourselves or creating conflict?


A random idea that came to me while writing this:

Pay attention to what people choose to pay attention to. It’ll tell you everything.