Thursday, May 7, 2009

Morality is Subjective

This post is not contradictory to my previous post. It is referring to people who are not me, and people who should not be you. Unfortunately, if you haven't read my post on morality NOT being subjective, you probably will be one of the people I'm talking about here. So please, read that post first.

I watch Survivor. I really, really like that show. It's one of my favorite shows because it displays a more or less pure version of human behavior. I don't really care about immunity or anything else. What I love about it is the human drama and more importantly, seeing people manipulating other people.

Unlike other games, success in Survivor is directly tied to your likability. You can go far on being a physical player but you cannot win the game on it alone. The strategy in the game is simple yet deep. It is one of the purest forms of competition ever devised - where the only thing that wins the game is votes cast for or against you by the people you play the game with.

In Survivor, subjective morality is practically the name of the game.

Lying and deception are by their very nature amoral. I can think of very few (none offhand) people who would say to me that lying is okay, or that intentionally deceiving people is okay. It happens all the time in Survivor, though. Most of the time I cheer people on who deceive others in that game because deception is central to a strong game.

Interestingly enough though, even though almost everyone (there are exceptions) is sort of morally bankrupt out there, certain competitors show up as 'good guys' and others as 'bad guys'. Often times the good guys are not actually very good guys and are deceptive schemers. The bad guys almost always are deceptive schemers.

Morally we sort of pick sides, though - as though deceiving a certain amount is okay, or in a certain way is okay. Morally we say things like, "I won't lie to these people" or "I won't do this to these people" but is it really okay to lie just to some people? Isn't that the same as saying "I won't kill these people, but everyone else is okay"?

So this article is about moving people. Morality is subjective in most people's minds. I'm gonna teach you how to use it. Use it for good, please.

Everyone has their own idea of what is good and evil. Moreover - everything someone does is eventually justified in a good light in their minds. Not all people are vulnerable to this but the people that aren't are generally extremely emo/depressed people. Even most emo people are vulnerable to this. Even I am, although I am pretty good at recognizing this trick so don't try to use it on me.

People want to think of themselves as good people. Before I watched Survivor tonight I was talking with my parents at dinner (they took me out to a Japanese place, yummy) about accidentally leaving money at a restaurant. My stepdad joked that the people there would suddenly pretend not to speak English if he were to lose money there. I knew this not to be true because if he were to lose money in the restaurant and come back for it, it would make the person who found it feel like they were stealing. Most people would give the money back.

The people that wouldn't exist but are much rarer. People like that genuinely believe that what they did wasn't stealing. They'll justify it in their mind, like 'they lost it, they shouldn't have lost it so it's mine' or they will not think of you as a real person. Some way it will be justified in their mind as morally correct. However, if you challenge the people about it you are very likely to feel guilty because the person who the money belongs to is right there. It feels like stealing.

In this way you can theoretically bend people's morals in order to make what you want them to do look morally right. You can tell them things like "finders keepers," or you can say "you should let the front desk know because they probably left it there on accident." Those two statements reinforce morals (peer pressure) and make people feel better when they make the choice you want them to make. Please don't suggest the finders keepers line.

The main reason I suggest this is because if you ask people to think about the people they are hurting, they'll feel guilty. If you suggest moral ways of solving their problem, you can convince them to do the right thing.

So let's say you've got a friend who is a griefer of whatever kind. I'll use the trashtalking halo or SF or whatever player who disses on everyone who sucks and is generally not fun to be around. If you point out the morally good thing to do (explain what they did wrong nicely) and suggest it as a superior option, ideally making them feel a little guilty about the person they emotionally hurt, they're more likely to stop their behavior. If you morally reinforce them over this time period, they'll be likely to change their ways and be a much better player (in terms of behavior, probably in terms of skill too, since they'll have more people to play against!)

One more thing that is sort of related to this is the stubborn idea that everyone believes the same thing you do. I of course do not think that everyone believes the same thing I do. I try not to push too hard my ideas on people. You shouldn't either. If someone doesn't want to listen, you can treat it as their loss. More though, if someone wants to start a fight over some belief that you have, you should probably not fight too hard. I do, and it almost always makes people not like me.


Anyway, so morality isn't subjective... except in everyone else's mind. Use this power wisely, guys.


  1. I wish I'd been able to keep track of Survivor, because you're right, it's a GOOD show. Very much puts a magnifying glass to the moral 'workings' of humans when you give them one single objective - beat everyone else. And it's funny to notice when people aren't reinforcing good behaviour (i.e. don't say nasty crap about that person in order to get them voted off) how EVIL some humans can be.

    Morality isn't subjective. Very VERY true. I always thought that I was a bit of an oddball for taking that opinion. Glad to see I'm not all that isolated after all.

  2. I love Survivor because the singular goal is so simple. It's not just 'beat everyone else'. It's beat everyone else, sure. But the arena is social. The pieces of the puzzle are slightly complex with the immunity factors, the actual survival factors, exile island, and the jury at the end. But the complexity is not that much compared to all the nuance of say, Top Chef where there is a ton of little nuances to cooking well.

    If you have time on the internet, you can watch Survivor at