Am I Moral if I’m Politically Correct? How morality and PC culture converge and diverge

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW
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“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Ideally political correctness is an attempt to highlight legitimate concerns of specific marginalized groups in larger society by shaping speech and conduct that conveys respect and value. Political correctness advocates a more diverse multicultural, gender, sexual orientations, and class-sensitive perspective.

Sounds noble.

Yet, the complexity of morality is reflected through the historical reality that all ideologies become corrupted. Political correctness is no different.Rather than enumerate the endless micro-aggressions that bear a resemblance to satire, we can conclude that as is true of all things in life, political correctness presents an ominous paradox worth investigating. As a psychotherapist I am led to question if one’s basic moral character can in fact be reformed, modified, refined to accommodate new values set forth by the dictums of political correctness. I am also led to speculate if it is collectively rational to assume that human nature can intrinsically accommodate dictates to be “good.”

While the primary intent of this article is to examine the psychological variables that can help us to understand why lofty ideological and moral mandates morph into a sad caricature, I am also curious about how the intricacies of morality contribute to this outcome, specifically as it relates to the conundrum of political correctness.

All the great philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics pondered over whether virtue can be taught and learned. Amid disparate views is a common consensus. Character is the foundation to virtue, and good character is rooted in the wisdom of common sense and disciplined practice that starts at a young age.

This assumption raises the question, how does innate disposition (one’s character) cooperate with discipline and conditioning so as to result in morality?

A confluence of parenting, which influences the struggle between pleasure and choosing moral standards (Freud) and behavioral reinforcement (Skinner), instructs children to conform to that which will lead to the fulfillment of their basic psychological and emotional needs.

Additionally one’s natural propensity to feel compassion and empathy is tied to being characterized as a ‘good’ person. This fosters inclusion and mitigates the threat of marginalization. The disapproval of one’s family and social world can evoke guilt and shame and even ignite survival fears. By complying with prescriptive norms, irrespective of empathic motivations, a secure place in the social domain is ensured.

Although moral conduct doesn’t necessarily require the involvement of emotions or even critical thinking, clearly conformity is not the apex of morality. A more evolved state of moral development and judgement can evolve as one matures and individuates.

At the post-conventional level of moral development (Kohlberg) the cultivation of personal principles and abstract reasoning belies societal mandates or even the need to belong. At this stage, morality as a means to an end is obsolete as absolute moral law, which characterizes this stage of moral development, harbors no ulterior motives. Philosopher Immanuel Kant referred to this as a ‘categorical imperative’.

This is rare for most adults to achieve.

In a nutshell, where we are developmentally largely determines how we define moral principles and accordingly, how we relate to and promulgate political correctness. Environment and genetics play a role in determining moral behavior, and greater sophistication with abstract reasoning leads to heightened moral development.

Our character, specifically our innate constitution is a critical factor in determining moral proclivities and whether we are inclined to blindly conform to politically correct dictums or critically evaluate the principles that instruct how individuals ought to treat one another, with respect to justice, others’ welfare, and rights.

Yet as John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself”. Hence, in order to assess the cultural impact of political correctness on moral development and codes of conduct, we need to examine how self-chosen values and individual conscience is influenced by the collective ‘Group Mind’ and how the need for power and control lends itself to corrupting our most noble principles.

The French sociologist Gustave Le Bon coined the term ‘Group Mind’, to describe how a collective singular mind emerges when a crowd assembles.Le Bon explained how individual responsibility, proclivities and choices are eclipsed by the desires and urges of the crowd, causing the eradication of individual critical thought.

THE SINGULAR GROUP MIND, LACKING THE FUNCTION OF CRITICAL THINKING, IS MALLEABLE TO INDOCTRINATION AND SUGGESTION BY POWERFUL LEADERS.

Psychiatrist Andrzej Łobaczewski explains that mainstream moral values are perverted by psychopathic leaders, due to collective biases. Specifically, our innate proclivity to maintain internal equilibrium and illusions of safety, compel us to rely on elaborate psychological defenses to deny threatening information. We see evidence of this on a global scale in which objective reality is dwarfed by deceptive ideologies. To ward off marginalization and stigma, the collective group mind succumbs to prescriptive beliefs.

Lobaczewski further contends, evil motivations are masked by a humane ideology. When followers succumb to pathological influence they lose site of their critical faculties and they lose the ability to distinguish normal human behavior from pathological. As a result, oppressive tactics fueled by leaders’ aggressive egocentric need to attain power and control may be rationalized as the ‘end justifying the means’.

When the collective colludes with a corrupt leader’s ideology, US-THEM posturing ensues. If you are not for us, then you must be against us. At this point competitive rancor usurps the possibility of rational discourse.

While there may not be a precise simple answer as to whether PC tenets shape or hinder morality, what is obvious is that the intensification of the political correctness culture wars is rooted in the fallibility of human nature.

As cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead stated, since “human nature is potentially aggressive and destructive and potentially orderly and constructive” harnessing one’s authority and strength can either destructively conflict or constructively converge with ethical tendencies.

Our developmental stuntedness along with collective proclivities to abdicate personal responsibility and forego abstract critical thinking gives unscrupulous leaders dominion to carry out sinister motives, under the guise of virtue.

When any deviation from the collective ‘rules of engagement’ are shamed and maligned, a forced civility results. As Freud and Jung proclaimed civility is emotionally uncomfortable, because it requires us to sublimate, manage, and control deeply ingrained and powerful raw impulses. The Shadow is repressed and goes underground, not out of existence. This is a dangerous proposition.

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” (Carl Jung)

When psychic energy is used to deny what is forbidden, that which could benefit from examination, is hidden. We enter denial. Controversial views are squelched. The Orwellian corruption of language and thought ensues. Art suffers. Condemnation is targeted at those who are deemed inherently ‘bad’, ironically based on gender, class and race.

As Nietzsche stated, we become what we hate.

It stands to reason that true moral aptitude can only occur through individuation. To individuate is to integrate consciousness (ego) with personal and collective facets of one’s personality and one’s life, in order to mature into a fully formed adult Self.

This process involves confronting one’s darkness and shattering illusions so that a formidable ability to transcend the group mind and the collective shadow can result. From this place one can thwart society’s efforts to condition consciousness and instead instinctually embody one’s personal truth. It is from this place of self governance that freedom is achieved, and as Jung so wisely stated, “Without freedom there can be no morality.”

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As a survivor (and thriver) of complex trauma and a seasoned therapist specializing in treating complex trauma, narcissistic abuse syndrome and addictions, I am intent on creating content that affords informative insight, hope and healing from psychological disorders. I aim for my creative content to assist readers with tapping into the resiliency of the human condition while recognizing the countless challenges of being human.

New York City, NY
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