Bandwagon Morality is Not Real Morality

True moral conviction doesn’t come and go with the whims of public sentiment.

By Clint Roberts Published on November 12, 2017

It is the age of pretenders. Every day tweeters project moral outrage — yet I can’t help wondering. There are a whole lot of tweeters who look don’t look exactly like the most serious moral thinkers. They don’t look like the type who would post deeply-held, legitimate convictions. They look suspiciously like knee-jerk bandwagon jumpers instead.

Sports has always had bandwagon fans. The term is not a compliment. Bandwagon fans aren’t “true” fans. They haven’t been fans for long. They haven’t followed the team through ups and downs; when it was easy to be a fan, and when it wasn’t. They’re fans only when the team experiences a wave of success or attention. Only then do they hop on the “fanwagon,” as some call it. Usually they hop off again when things cool down and the joyride is over.

This is a good parallel to what we see in our culture now. Social media lends itself perfectly to this, with its immediacy and interconnectivity. Moral shifts happen en masse, like a school of minnows. One day a trend appears, prominent voices jump on board with it, and social media explodes with countless one-liners expressing shock and outrage. Why, it’s almost as if it had been bothering everybody all along

Moral When it’s Popular

Remember all of the years when leading Hollywood personalities were voices of social conscience on the treatment of women? Remember how they beat the drum about the sexual exploitation of females in that industry? Hmm … neither do I.

But once the wire was tripped, all of Tinseltown rode forth as champions of the cause. Their abruptly-constructed bandwagon came racing through the Twittersphere, picking up throngs of passengers.

But we all know how long this had been going on, day after day, year after year. Everyone apparently knew about it, talked about it, sometimes joked about it. It wasn’t trending, though, so they were silent and apathetic. No bandwagon. No guts. No moral heroes.

Like bandwagon sports fans, these bandwagon moral crusaders will lose interest and move on, once their newfound issue is no longer on a social winning streak.

I don’t think I’m being cynical. It’s reasonable to wonder about a brand new “fan” of a team that’s just suddenly started winning. Isn’t it equally reasonable to question a person’s moral commitment when he only started talking about it as soon as it became popular?

Don’t misread me here, though. I’m not suggesting that the new moral crusaders are dishonest when they say sexual harassment is wrong. What I doubt is whether they really care that much. It looks to me like they’re putting on, while the world is paying attention. The camera has turned this direction for the moment, and they’re mugging for it, “virtue signaling” while this particular virtue is popular.

Social Media Shouldn’t Rule Our Morals

This calls to mind the nation’s shift, virtually overnight, on gender and sexuality. Social media and omnipresent entertainment media provide high octane fuel for the engines of groupthink. The speed at which they shape public opinion is astonishing. Now we see it again in the speed at which large groups of people have jumped from “Who cares?” to stern moral crusader — on an issue that’s been active for decades, yet they’ve never said a word about it until now.

True moral conviction doesn’t rise and fall that way. It doesn’t come and go with the whims of public sentiment. It isn’t out to look pious on Twitter. It can’t be fully expressed in mere one-liners. Above all, it isn’t about popularity. History’s true moral reformers were rarely praised when they began calling attention to wrongs.

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Like bandwagon sports fans, these bandwagon moral crusaders will lose interest and move on, once their newfound issue is no longer on a social winning streak. Some new moral issue will appear, it will gather momentum, and there will be a new bandwagon to jump on. Whichever team is on a current “hot streak,” that’s the team whose jerseys will sell.

Wisdom includes moral understanding and depth. We need to be people of real convictions, well-reasoned and firm. Social media shouldn’t rule our moral beliefs. A bandwagon fan is no fan at all. Only a pretender.

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