Lexicon for the Moral Maze

Do you find yourself confused or bewildered by what passes for moral debate in the social milieu these days? Asking yourself why so many people seem to be so hot under the collar about things that would have passed as normal behaviour only a few years ago? Don’t worry. It’s a common problem people have in acclimatising to the new postmodern framework within which all discussion is conducted about which kinds of behaviour, attitudes or opinions are appropriate and which are not. Here to help you is a useful lexicon we have put together to assist you in jargon-busting.

  • “It’s all about …”
    When someone introduces a proposal with this phrase, what it means is that there are associated unintended consequences, probably of an undesirable nature that you should not give consideration to lest your uncritical enthusiasm for what the speaker is proposing be dampened.
  • “I’m not doing this for the money.”
    I’m doing this for the money but I would like you to believe otherwise.
  • “It’s the principle which is at stake”
    This is pretty similar to the previous claim and is usually offered as a defence for a disproportionate response to some perceived injustice or slight.
  • “We need to establish an independent body to …”
    It is sought to control some behaviour against which there are no laws, based on the subjective judgment of a group of unaccountable, self-certifying “experts,” ideally well-versed in postmodern ideology appointed to act as judge, jury and executioner.
  • “We need to take a zero tolerance approach”
    This is usually trotted out as a precursor for the previous item. The speaker seeks to present their pharisaic intolerance as a virtue.
  • “Celebrating diversity”
    The speaker seeks to make the majority of the population feel guilty about the fact they are in the majority and that their friends and even their pets look a bit like them; and to allege they are thereby oppressing diverse others. Culpability is in inverse proportion to the accused’s degree of familiarity with the circumstances and complaints of those purportedly being oppressed.
  • “Promoting inclusivity”
    This one is pretty much a synonym for the previous one. The demands tend to be greater here, though, since you can celebrate someone (or claim to do so) in absentia, whereas inclusivity has a greater onus to go out and find these oppressed minority people and possibly even offer them a job at a suitably elevated position in your company.
  • “What you say is offensive”
    Although no one has been personally offended by your words, you have offended against the implicit rules of postmodern political correctness. To discourage you from erring further in this way, I will broadcast your comments on social media and if possible the national press in the hope that someone can be persuaded to take umbrage and complain. I will then look to fan the flames by accusing you publicly of causing the bad feeling that has resulted from my intervention, indeed suggesting that this was your intention. With luck you might lose your livelihood or, if you are a minister in a Conservative government, you may be forced to resign.
  • “No platform for racists”
    When a speaker is prevented from addressing the audience which ze (nominative pronoun) has been invited to share hir (possessive determinar) views with for the above purported reason, it is usually because those issuing the ban disagree with the speaker’s politics but are unable to offer a convincing critique.
  • “No platform for fascists”
    See the previous item.
  • “No platform for misogynists”
    See the previous item. In this case the person issuing the ban probably also is looking to draw attention to their mastery of polysyllabic phraseology with Greek etymology. A good way to test if there is substance behind such patent braggadocio is to ask them if they are able to state the antonym of misogyny…
  • “No platform for …”
    [Ed.: I think the readers will have got the idea by now.]
  • “False consciousness”
    This phrase is used to describe the bigoted mindset of the speaker’s detractors. An associated phenomenon which helps you identify this state of mind is that the more arguments the dissenters are able to adduce to defend their entrenched position, the more serious is the infection considered to be.
  • “The rich should pay their share”
    The burden of financing burgeoning public spending should fall on people earning more than me, or with more accumulated wealth than me, or both.
  • “It is time for affirmative action”
    I view established human rights as dispensable in advancing the cause of social justice defined as a state of the world where some groups are accorded greater privilege than others in accord with their professed experience of injustice. In this regard, the further back in time the injustice occurred, the more seriously it needs to be taken.
  • “Despite Brexit, …”
    The speaker is about to confide some good news about recent UK economic performance, but wants to ensure that in so doing he is not seen as a rabid, uneducated, jingoistic, swivel-eyed loon.
  • “On account of Brexit, …”
    In this case the news is not good and no disclaimer need be made.

Hopefully after digesting this list you will be better equipped to detect such virtue signalling when you hear it and so save yourself a lot of time you might otherwise have wasted listening to sanctimonious humbug passed off as moral argument.

By Colin Turfus

Colin Turfus is a quantitative risk manager with 16 years experience in investment banking. He has a PhD in applied mathematics from Cambridge University and has published research in fluid dynamics, astronomy and quantitative finance.

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