Thursday, April 9, 2015

Moral Licensing: When good and bad are weighed in the scales, and good wins

This concept somewhat overlaps with the self-serving bias that I wrote about before. When we think of ourselves as a good person, or in the moral licensing case, as having done good works, then we subconsciously give ourselves permission to do something bad. You can see this played out in the everyday lives of many people, perhaps even yourself.

"Five more minutes on the weights, and I'll be able to get that frappachino." The "good" permits the "bad." It's a human tendency that we all are apt to unwittingly fall prey to.

First of all, though, I think the whole concept of what is good and what is bad needs to be called into question. Sometimes we deem things good or bad that are neither, as in my example of weights and coffee. In other cases, things that are truly morally repugnant are considered acceptable because the good has outweighed them in the minds of the doers. 

The leadership in TFI/COG could very easily develop an elevated sense of righteousness. After all, they were the ones "chosen" to "shepherd God's chosen people." Since they were clearly "good" to have such an exalted status, then how could they not feel moral license to do things that were bad? This has been demonstrated in the numerous incidents of abuse (sexual, physical, and psychological), as well as widespread embezzlement.

This brings to mind my life with certain leaders - which would include the majority of my years within the group. The most egregious of these were in my years in a Third World country (starting at age 19), when the preponderance of the members were living in virtual poverty, hardly able to even afford an electric fan, yet the leadership had air conditioned houses and the money to eat regularly in nice restaurants. As well, I was employed (sans salary) to care for their children, cook, and clean 24/7. Clearly, their "goodness" allowed for this lifestyle.  

Perhaps this moral licensing can also help to explain why so often the moral "greats" of our society (religious leaders and the like) often succumb to outrageous immoral temptations.

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