Saturday, May 28, 2011

Moral Indignation is Jealousy with a Halo

There is an old saying: Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo. What does it mean? It means that people who react with indignation to the moral weakness of another are more often than not simply jealous of that which they claim to oppose. However, by claiming moral indignation, they avoid the negative stigma that comes with being jealous and are afforded the positive light of being on moral high-ground.

I observed something interesting on the Washington Metro several days ago.  I was seated on the train facing a middle-aged man in business attire gazing at his cell phone.  Standing off to the side was a young man; he was large and imposing,  intimidating in appearance.  He was dressed in athletic clothes and was carrying a pair of sneakers.  The train stopped.  An elderly woman with a walker got on the crowded train.  There were no seats available.  In a fit of fury the young man said to the business type seated across from him: "Hey, give her your seat."  He made a few other hostile comments that I can't recall.  The business type stood up to give the elderly woman his seat, but the abuse didn't stop.  The business type said "I didn't see her."  And it was my perception that he didn't see her; he had been busy looking at his cell phone.  The young man continued to glare at the business type.  He wouldn't let go of his hostility.  When the train stopped at the next station the business type stood at the door waiting to get off.  The young man said: "Go back to your law firm."  (There was no evidence the business type was a lawyer.)  Then in a gesture that technically constituted a battery the young man slapped the business type's shoulder and said: "I know where you work."  An apparent, but shallow, threat.

The young man's anger would be classified as moral indignation.  He took the moral high-ground admonishing a middle-aged man for not offering his seat to an elderly woman with a walker.  But the young man's affective investment was intense and personal, evidencing a continuing and inappropriate hostility.  The ridiculous comment about the law firm seemed to stamp the young man's behavior as having been grounded in jealousy.

I had a remote association to the incident on the subway.  The new anti-Semitism.  New antisemitism is the name of the concept that a new form of antisemitism has developed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, emanating simultaneously from the far-left, radical Islam, and the far-right, and tending to manifest itself as opposition to Zionism and the State of Israel.

The concept generally posits that much of what purports to be criticism of Israel by various individuals and world bodies, is, in fact, tantamount to demonization, and that, together with an alleged international resurgence of attacks on Jews and Jewish symbols, and an increased acceptance of antisemitic beliefs in public discourse, such demonization represents an evolution in the appearance of antisemitic beliefs.

Proponents of the concept argue that anti-Zionism, anti-Americanism, anti-globalization, third worldism, and demonization of Israel, or double standards applied to its conduct, may be linked to antisemitism, or constitute disguised antisemitism.  Israel occupies Arab land.  Jews steal Arab property and maintain an apartheid state!  Despicable!!  It is not we who are anti-Semitic; it is the Jews who are racists!!  Our condemnation is rationally based on the Jews' own behavior.  They should go back to where they came from: to Germany, Poland and Russia.

Another example of jealousy masquerading as moral indignation is the job harassment I experienced at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, where I worked as a paralegal from 1988-1991.   In May 1989 a coworker confirmed that there was a rumor current at the firm that I was homosexual.  I reported my concerns about the harassment, which featured rumors and innuendo, to two of the psychotherapists I saw during my employment.  Both of the therapists surmised that I was a victim of rumors and innuendo because of my underemployed status.  I was licensed to practice law but was employed as a paralegal.  In the view of the therapists my coworkers reaction to me was rationally based on my failure to actualize my professional credentials by practicing law.  On one occasion Dr. Palombo said to me, "You're a freak."The lawyer who terminated my employment at Akin Gump seemed to allude to the rationalization that my interpersonal difficulties at the firm resulted from my underemployed status.  At the termination meeting he said to me: "Maybe a law firm is not the right environment for you."  He seemed to suggest that I will tend to be the object of ridicule in any employment situation where my status as a nonpracticing lawyer is highlighted, as at a law firm.

But why would people have an emotional investment in the employment status of an insignificant employee in a large organization full of professionals?  Even if my underemployed status reflected some contemptible moral weakness on my part, why would people care?  Why would would the harassment last for three and one half years?


Gary Freedman said...

Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo. --H. G. Wells, The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman (1914)

Anonymous said...

Wrong...moral indignation is moral indignation....jealousy with a halo is jealousy with a halo

Unknown said...

Right. This the stamens moral indignation and jealously with a halo is complate wrong. Harassment is harassment.

Karem Elizibeth AW said...

Right. This the stamens moral indignation and jealously with a halo is complate wrong. Harassment is harassment.

John Coghlan said...

But why would people have an emotional investment in the employment status of an insignificant employee in a large organization full of professionals?

I can see how they would feel emotionally insecure at having to compete with someone who is so overqualified to do the same job as they are performing. How will they achieve recognition and reward