Moral Self Licensing

I came across an interesting post from one of my British friends. It is about moral self licensing. That is a psychological term about how people who are actually doing harm believe that they are doing good. That kinda describes one or maybe both of our political parties doesn’t it?

An example of moral self-licensing is those who call themselves pro-life but condone the death penalty, don’t have any sympathy for those in our country who can’t feed their children, or don’t care about those who come to our shores trying to escape death squads in their country. They think that since they are anti-abortion they get a pass on everything else. To me, that seems to be the utter definition of moral self-licensing.

When we believe we are generally doing good in one area we tend to give ourselves a pass on other immoral behaviors.

The dynamics of this irrational thinking seems to be all around us. In an increasingly polarized world, we become more vulnerable to making these kinds of errors in our personal lives. The more we think of our opponents as evil, as “deplorables,” the more we feel we are on the side of virtue and as a result, we become blind to our own shortcomings.

I have a neighbor who appears to be quite religious. He regularly attends his local non-denominational church and often helps those in our community. For that reason, he seems to have put on a righteous moral self-licensing jacket as he frequently complains about the idea of public welfare and those who take it. One day, he mentioned that his sister got governmental help while she was struggling between jobs. When I mentioned that is welfare he said yeah but unlike all those freeloaders who are stealing his tax money, his sister really needed it.

As mentioned above, we all have this kind of rationalization to one degree or another when things that don’t quite fit our brand/persona. Recognizing that fact and then doing something to eliminate it separates us from the hypocrites who refuse to see this very illogical rationalization.