The repugnance of Internet moral scolds

Maybe this is just a difference of aesthetic taste. In the same way that some people are viscerally offended by hunting or adultery, there’s something deeply repugnant to me about moral scolds. They’re just ugly: shrill, nasty, humorless, their faces squinched up with prim, complacent hate. I remember in grade school, whenever some poor kid got in trouble, the other kids in class would raise a kind of cruel, punitive croon, with the same slow rising tone and momentum as the opening of the song “Le Freak” by Chic or the warp engines revving up on Star Trek: “Aaaaawwwwwww….” It seemed like such a traitorous, suck-uppy thing to do. Whose side were they all on, anyway? The teachers’? The principal’s? What a craven pack of collaborators — enthusiastic enforcers of their own oppression.

About 94 percent of the discourse on the internet now consists of this gleeful jeering at someone else’s disgrace. I may not condone the transgressor’s misdeeds — they may even disgust me as much as they do everyone else — but as soon as this loathsome noise starts up, I find myself always instinctively on the side of the supposed offender. Seeing your own reactions mirrored by other people is instructively repulsive. (When you’re flirting with a girl, you always feel you’re being genuine and charming, but when you overhear some other guy hitting on someone, it’s so transparent and sleazy it makes you cringe.)

I’m not a moral philosopher; I’m just some guy. But when I look at the shrine of hate erected at that dentist’s office, or listen to the witch-trial hisses and spitting over the Ashley Madison scandal — or read those commenters who explain, with prim sanctimony, that the latest victim of a police shooting got what he deserved because he was, after all, breaking the law — all I know is, I’d rather be an adulterer than a stone-thrower.

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