20 May 2012

Self-righteousness as Psychological Symptom

This report of a recent social psychological study popped up on my FB news feed and made me think about the bases of moralism - which regular readers will know I find deeply problematic when it migrates into politics.

As described the study seems a bit lame. I'd say - without having read the study itself - that people who become organic snobs would become some sort of snob anyway and that eating organic is simply their excuse. Does eating organic cause people to be jerks? Probably not. More likely it allows them to exhibit jerky propensities that they'd exhibit in some manner anyway. And I'd bet the food snobbery is correlated with rigid, judgmental behaviors on other dimensions too! (You know, 'I drive a Prius. And I don't just do yoga, I do this very, very strict sort that everyday lame-asses cannot possibly appreciate!' and so forth.) These are people who would've been Dana Carvey's 'church lady' in some other milieu but happen to have ended up at the food coop instead. I see it pretty much every time I go to Advantage Food Coop or out to visit August. His home town is full of this sort of moralistic acting out.

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Blogger Edward Nixon said...

But you don't go to Advantage Food Coop very often, not being a food snob and all. I haven't read the study report either, so I'll simply base this comment on your... what is the word? categorical typification of organic food eating people? Are you implying that the possibility of avoiding poisonous chemicals and also enjoying better flavour are inadequate inducements for seeking out organic products? Or are you just having a bad election season? (I see little point in actually publishing this; it's obviously mean in a one-to-one mode.)

20 May, 2012 08:23  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


Nice to hear from you.

I actually don't go to the local coop all that much, in part because I find it oppressive. I have had the pleasure of being lectured to there and I also can get the same items (mostly) at the local grocery chains much more cheaply. There is nothing wrong with buying healthier food or driving energy efficient cars or doing whatever type of yoga you like. I just don't feel it my duty to judge or patronize others who don't or can't do so. I don't appreciate it when others feel obliged to patronize and judge. Our coop made a set of really crappy policy decisions a while back that demonstrated more or less pure disregard for anyone who couldn't drive to the store. And their pricing is astoundingly unrealistic for an establishment located in a very high poverty city. The coop in Oregon where my son lives is in the process of fighting a unionization effort among employees and the board might as well be Monsanto or Shell Oil given the vehemence and gusto with which they demonize anyone who takes a view different from their own. Those are political-economic matters not assessments of personal virtue.

My problem actually comes not from the election season but from 10 years in Catholic schools being told that I will go to hell if I don't toe the party line. I didn't buy it as a kid; I don't buy it now.

I hope all is well.

20 May, 2012 09:10  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PS: It should not need saying that eating organic or local or whatever does not necessarily lead to the sort of snobbery noted here. It is not even uniformly correlated with it. Just sometimes and annoyingly so when it is.

20 May, 2012 09:15  
Blogger Barronsoft said...

I think it's important not to focus too much on the headline. I don't think the authors really wanted to suggest that organic shopping is what causes one to be a jerk. I think their argument about moral licensing is pretty sound.

20 May, 2012 12:45  
Blogger bastinptc said...

I know what you're trying to get at here, Jim. I see and experience the same type of attitude more often than I care to. Funny thing, that most of the organic growers I know don't have the attitude of their advocates. All the farmers want is a fair price for their product, which is not always (rarely) given. There is an economic factor that plays into this as much as anything else. Organics, hybrid vehicles and yoga lessons are out of the range of what most people can afford. When vocal advocates overlook this, well, then there are problems. Then, of course, sometimes there's a fine line between advocacy and hysteria, but I'll leave that alone for now except to say that next time you go to the Co-op, watch the faces as people shop.

20 May, 2012 13:02  

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