Moral Licensing : Why otherwise good people do bad things

Moral Licensing is a fairly new phrase coined in the field of social psychology. It explains how past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, UN-ethical, or otherwise problematic. Behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral.I have to confess, I only came across this phrase listening to the first season of Malcolm Gladwell’sRevisionist History podcast. The first episode of the Revisionist History podcast titled : The Lady Vanishes Gladwell discusses a work of art created in 1874 called Roll Call. Roll Call is a remarkable work of art for numerous reasons, but the  painter of the art work  Elizabeth Southern Thompson, a.k.a Lady Butler is more remarkable for this story. Lady Butler was the first woman to have her art work hung on the line ( at eye sight) by the royal academy art exhibition in gallery two.  This was a great deal back in the day and it seemed like an indication of progress with respect to gender rights in the British arts world. It should be said that this exposure was deserved. Roll Call was and is a truly magnificent piece of art (see picture here) so much as that it presently hangs in Saint Jame’s Palace having been possessed by Queen Victoria.

MORALE LICENSING - Moral Licensing : Why otherwise good people do bad things

Well, the story of roll call and Elizabeth Southern Thompson, a.k.a Lady Butler is a unique example of moral licensing because, despite her  artistic excellence,  Lady Butler was denied a sit in the royal academy. A group of elite artist made up of forty male members. Of course, she was denied this position because of her gender. You see, these members of the royal arts academy displayed classic traits of moral licensing. They believe that had adequately demonstrated their open mindedness by displaying Elizabeth Thompson’s work at the royal academy art exhibition  at eye sight, they felt they could discriminate against her without accusation of sexism.

Now lets bring the conversation to more contemporary times. During and before the 2016 general elections primaries, President Donald Trump has been known used racially divisive means to say the least. Couple with the fact that he championed the birther movement against President Barack Obama, it is baffling the  13% (approximately 8.4 million) of 2012 Obama voters  backed  Trump in his bid towards the oval office. These group of people voted for the first African American president of the United States, then felt justified voting for one of the most racially divisive political figures in recent history.

Another instance of moral licensing happened to me directly. My god-father forwarded the following whatsApp message to me a couple of days ago….

"*THE WILL OF GOD - DONALD J. TRUMP.* Donald J. Trump - says a lot of wrong things, but God uses anyone; in the scriptures, the Lord used animals, heathen Kings, etc to bring about His will. Many supported Obama 8 years ago as the First Black President, but the things he has done against Christianity and Morality are deeply astonishing in History: *Christian bakeries in U.S have been closed down by judges appointed by Obama for refusing to bake cakes for homosexual marriages* *People have been told to stop saying Happy Christmas and to say happy holidays because Obama believes that the Christ in Christmas offends none Christians in a country where about 80% are Christians.* *Obama has withdrawn money meant for the education of children from schools that have refused to allow boys and girls to use the same bathrooms and toilets.* *Obama ordered Chaplains in US army to stop using the Name of Jesus during funerals.* *Christian companies have been forced to employ homosexuals by Obama judges* *laws have been made that allows 15 years old children to have a sex change operation without parental consent.* *The Bible has been removed from the beds of US Christian soldiers by Presidential order* *Did nothing for Africa and actually punished African Countries with funds withdrawal because of our broad dislike for homosexuality.* *He sanctioned Nigeria because President Jonathan signed a bill against homosexuality.* *He refused to visit his father’s country of Kenya because President Uhuru Kenyata is against homosexuality – he only visited Kenya last year; 7 years into his presidency so that it will not be on record that he never visited his fatherland as President, and when he visited, he tried to get President Kenyata to legalize homosexual marriage in secret.* Hillary Clinton – supports everything Obama does. Hillary would have continued all of Obama’s policies against Followers of Christ. Many people like her because she is a woman and would have become the first female President just as we supported Obama when we saw he could become the first Black President. *America is the most influential country in the world: once Obama came out to endorse homosexual marriage 4 years ago – the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of France did the same thing within weeks.* According to Trump’s son, one of the things that his father rarely gets credit for, is the way he raised them: *“How many children of billionaires turn out like us – no drugs, no alcohol, no tattoos, very responsible”.* Trump Jr. Clinton ran for the office to protect Obama’s legacy. *Jesus said “He or she that is not for us, is against us”.* Please, let's support President DONALD J TRUMP with our prayers and love from within and far, that he may accomplish: *THE WILL OF GOD.* DONALD'S VICTORY ... A VICTORY FOR THE CHURCH! A VICTORY FOR THE KINGDOM! A VICTORY FOR MISSIONS! Thank God, who has not left his heritage, the church at a time like this Thank God, who has heard the silent cries and prayers of the global intercessors for the American church Thank God, who has not left the church Who has not left the church at the mercy of abortionists Who has not left the church at the mercy of gays Who has not left the church at the mercy of lesbians Who has not left the church at the mercy of transgenders Who has not left the church at the mercy of bestials Who has not left the church at the mercy of the terrorists By this victory, the agenda to run over America with Islam b4 year 2050 has just suffered a terrible blow and huge setback The plan to declare Eid el Kabir holiday by 2050 has just suffered a huge setback The plan to create unisex bathrooms all over America like they did during Democrat Convention has just suffered a setback The plan to plant public masturbation centres all over America has just suffered a terrible setback The plan to spread the law approving permitting sex between animals and humans has just suffered a setback Thank God who has not left his heritage to the Sanbalat and Tobiahs who are bent to run over the walls of Jerusalem on the basis of political correctness Thank you Lord for this victory for a Cyrus that will hasten the exit of the Tobiahs and rebuilding of the broken walls of American church May God grant President Donald Trump the political will to effect all these and many more for revival and restoration in Jesus name Thank you Jesus!!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! God bless America!!! Please forward this message at least once. I JUST DID TO YOU."

Firstly, the vast majority of the message reads like a message a far right wing media publication like Breitbart would develop and broadcast. It is filled with lies and fear mongering. The scariest part of this message is the clear homophobic sentiment that is shared by a significant demographic in our world today. This demographic includes people like my god – father whom by every measurable standard are good people, but their “goodness” appears to have a limit and the LGBTQ community is where their “goodness” ends. These people are the right – wing,  white evangelical Christians.

This group overwhelmingly voted for President Trump in the last election. In fact 81% of white evangelicals voted  Trump and they still constitute the vast majority of his supporters till date despite his job approval rating plummeting. Keep in mind that this man is far from what your typical christian would call a godly man. Prior to his election, he had made clearly racist comments towards blacks and Latinos, he had entangled in the Trump University scam where he is alleged to have swindled innocent people of their hard earned money, he had been caught on tape confessing to sexual misconducts, been through numerous wives and even pronounced 2nd Corinthians “two Corinthians” on his visit to Liberty University during campaign run. But all this did not deter the evangelical faithfuls. You see, I believe moral values do not play a role on how evangelical vote. The question I believe they ask themselves is : who does he hate? If their  hatred align, then they have their candidate.

Republican senate candidate Judge Roy Moore is a more recent example of moral licensing. Moore is well known for his dislike for gays, Muslims and non whites, so how he was even a viable candidate for the senate sit in the great state of Alabama is baffling. Most baffling is the unwavering support he seemed to get from white voters. Roy Moore , a man who had been accused of publicly dating a 17 year old girl, sexually touched a 14 year old while he was in his thirties and about nine other questionable sexual behaviors towards minors including attempted rape (all with good evidence). So given that all of his alleged victims are white , let us see how white folks voted in the special elections.

moore vote - Moral Licensing : Why otherwise good people do bad things

So, white voters who could easily have been sisters, mothers, fathers or brothers to Moore’s alleged accusers still believe he was their man. 72% of white women and 63% of white male voters went with the alleged sexual predator. Wonder how white evangelicals voted? The Washington Post reported that 80 percent of white evangelicals who voted selecting Moore in the special election. Of course , this is not to suggest that Moore’s voters are bad people, Moore shares their social ideals and if ignoring his predatory behavior would help uphold their other moral  values, so be it.

Finally, to the far left. The so call anti-fascist group popularly known as anti-fa . These morons are attempting to stop fascism with fascist tactics. Clearly, they have a noble cause, but when your solution to speech you don’t agree with is violence, then you have lost the moral high ground. The antidote to bad speech is more (good) speech not censorship or violence.

Trying to out  asshole an asshole never works. It only reduces you to their level where they would then beat you with experience.

In conclusion, this is not to condemn any particular group of people. We all exhibit trait of moral licensing based on our individual biases, but we have to be cognizance of it when we exhibiting such poor judgements.


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