Trump, Egocentrism and Morality

Is America morphing into Soviet-style "what aboutism"?

Is America morphing into Soviet-style “what aboutism”?

Is America losing its moral grounding?

Is there no longer any difference between US and Soviet-style morality?

When asked if Vladimir Putin’s killing bothered him (he’s murdered political enemies for instance) Donald Trump retorted,

What, you think our country’s so innocent?

Masha Gessen immigrated here from the former Soviet Union and worries that “what aboutism” creates a false moral equivalency, as she wrote in the New York Times.

“What aboutism” resonates with Soviet-style propaganda: When accused of anything just say that your opponent is not pure. “But what about them…?”

Everyone does it. There is no moral ground. Just winners and losers.

Winners and losers — a Trumpian mindset.

But “winners and losers” leads us away from moral behavior and into “Might makes right.”

The egocentric mindset

Ken Wilber is a philosopher who studies societal evolution. Turns out that both individuals and societies evolve over time. But some people and cultures get stuck in the early stages.

At the earliest phase we are egocentric. It’s all about me. I seek reward. I avoid punishment. Toddlers and early societies are all about themselves. And ruled by people who believe might makes right.

Trump certainly fits the egocentric mindset. I don’t know that he ever does anything to benefit anyone but himself.

  • As a businessman he hired contractors and refused to pay them.
  • He refuses to pay taxes that would help the country because he personally benefits by not paying.
  • He conned students into taking courses at his non-university
  • He forces himself on women

And more…

But then, might makes right.

Higher stages of evolution

The next stage of evolution finds us emerging out of the me-focus to care about our closest communities. We become ethnocentric. White straight Protestant males care about white straight Protestant males… Gangs care about their own members… I care about my country… and to hell with anyone else.

At the next stage we gain the capacity to think in global and “universal” ways. This stage began with the Renaissance and grew with the Enlightenment. The view is rational and grounded in reason and science. Its focus is progress and achievement.

At the next stage we grow inclusive and caring toward one another and the earth. Relationships, harmony and dialogue are key values. All cultures are equal. This is a partnership mindset.

Wilbur describes each of these stages as “the flatlands” because if you are in any of these stages you cannot understand — or you reject — most everything about the other levels outright.

Next up is the integral stage from whence we can see some value in each of the other stages and utilize that which is positive while letting go of the negative. Flexibility and functionality are high priorities. Equality is complemented with awareness of degrees of excellence where appropriate. And morality is not entirely relative, but based on a question of harm.

“Might makes right” is the new America?

Many of us worry that America is devolving.

And we reject the notion that morality is relative. If you harm someone — kill them for reasons other than self-defense, or cripple them physically, mentally or emotionally — that is wrong, regardless of culture.

If a powerful group is exploiting a less powerful group for gain (slavery or genocide…) that is wrong.

This is not merely might makes right.

All killing is not equal. If you kill a political enemy, that is much worse than fighting to defend your country or allies against fascism or genocide, for instance.

We can behave morally

Ms. Gessen worries that one of the norms DJT has attacked since taking office is our striving to act in line with our moral values — to be better.

I worry too.

Related Posts

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on February 24, 2017, in politics/class inequality and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. “As a businessman he hired contractors and refused to pay them.”

    Sounds dodgy, but nobody knows what is wrong with the work they performed. If you’re building billions and billions worth of buildings, sooner or later there will be some disgruntled contractor.

    “He refuses to pay taxes that would help the country ”

    Refusing to pay taxes assumes he was assessed as liable for taxes but refused to pay. You also refuse to pay taxes, because you could pay more if you wanted, but refuse.

    “He forces himself on women”

    Which part of “they LET you do it”, is confusing to you?

    How come you didn’t mention anything about how Hillary screwed Bernie Sanders with subterfuge and lies? Or how she illegally released FBI files to discredit women about Bill’s sexual adventures? Or about the tapes of her as a lawyer laughing that she knew her child raping client was guilty but but had beaten the polygraph. If you want a make a general point about political leaders, wouldn’t it be better to not alienate half of your readership before you even get to making a point?

    “All killing is not equal. If you kill a political enemy, that is much worse than fighting to defend your country or allies against fascism or genocide, for instance.”

    Really. So Paul von Hindenburg’s attempt to destroy Hitler at the 1932 election was “worse” shooting bullets at German conscripts? Or perhaps Claus von Stauffenberg’s 1944 bomb attempt against his political enemy of Hitler was “worse” than shooting bullets at German conscripts?

    “And we reject the notion that morality is relative. If you harm someone — kill them for reasons other than self-defense, or cripple them physically, mentally or emotionally — that is wrong, regardless of culture.”

    That bastard Claus von Stauffenberg, trying assassinate Hitler. I mean, Claus’s life wasn’t in danger so he can’t claim self defence. He was one son of a bitch wasn’t he?

    “If a powerful group is exploiting a less powerful group for gain (slavery or genocide…) that is wrong.”

    Glad to hear you don’t buy iPhones, Samsungs, Thai built cars, Chinese clothing, and so forth. Must be time consuming sheering your own sheep and running a loom though. Not to mention running your own semiconductor facility to make the computer you typed this on.

    “All cultures are equal. This is a partnership mindset.”

    I see, so patriarchal cultures are equal to other cultures. Rape cultures are equal to other cultures. I’ll wait and watch for you to delete all your old articles since you’ve done a complete about face on your previous values.

    • Well, I see that you are well schooled in “what aboutism” so you are kind of making my point. Someone at a higher level simply wouldn’t do what Trump has done. And when Apple and others do things that are wrong many people, including me, work to fight against them.

      On this:
      ““All cultures are equal. This is a partnership mindset.” I see, so patriarchal cultures are equal to other cultures. Rape cultures are equal to other cultures. I’ll wait and watch for you to delete all your old articles since you’ve done a complete about face on your previous values.”

      That is a flatlands mindset. That perspective hasn’t moved up to Integral, which rejects relative morality, recognizing that all cultures are not equal. Some hurt people much more than others do.

  2. I’ve been to airports in Europe and ridden on the highways of Spain. The USA’s infrastructure is in sad shape. It is like what they tell you on the airplanes, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. If you don’t help yourself, you can’t help anyone else.

    As for Trump trashing, my gosh it never stops from the media, Hollywood, everywhere, it is absolutely endless, but the folks in the middle thought the USA had moved too far left. I suspect these are the same people who gave Obama two terms.

    • Where Americans are politically depends on how you ask the question. If you are very specific they mostly side with Democrats.

      For instance most Americans want affordable healthcare, Medicare, Social Security, etc. They do not want these things privatized like the Republican elite do.

      Or, I agree about our infrastructure problem. We need infrastructure both for America’s well-being and because it creates good jobs and good wages. Democrats have been trying to get a big infrastructure bill passed for years but have been stymied by Republicans. I know this personally because I have lobbied both sides. Kevin McCarthy – second in command in the Republican House — seems to be on board, but the rest of the GOP seem to be foot-dragging.

      And I agree that we must put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others. Otherwise we will all die. But that is an integral mindset. Those at the integral level do not simply dismiss all of the other ways of seeing. Focus on yourself can help both yourself and others. But when you only help yourself and don’t care about the harm done to others, that’s a problem.

  3. “Is America losing its moral grounding?”

    WOW! You are only asking this question now? Where have you been for the past 30 years? The Right has been asking this for a very long time. I thought it was called the cultural war..

    All because of our new President Trump…now the Left is worried about America losing its morality. You must be kidding me! Seriously.

    “When asked if Vladimir Putin’s killing bothered him (he’s murdered political enemies for instance) Donald Trump retorted,

    What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

    Remember when President Obama signed an Executive Order authorizing the killing of US citizens who were committing acts of terrorism? A US citizen by the name of Anwar al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico, was killed in Yemen in one of President Obama drone attacks. Where was your and the Left’s moral outrage over this rubbish?

    All of this bluster and talk about “aboutism” is just a red herring. It is just part of the ongoing attack against a President that you refuse to accept. Why? Because, the Left has become the New Fascist in America.

    Here is a quote from Winston Churchill,

    “The fascists of the future are the anti-fascists of today.”

    A lot of the stuff President Obama ACTUALLY did the Left was silent. President Obama deported over 2 million illegals. Now when President Trump wants to do the same, he is accused of all sorts of evil…President Obama attacked Fox News. Where was the “media” outrage? In fact, I can recall him only giving ONE interview to Fox with Bret Baer over Obamacare. Let’s not forget all the lies he told to get it passed!

    It is truly outrageous how the Left is behaving today. You are stifling free speech. Anyone who dares to disagree is labeled all sorts of ugly names. Well, that is not the country I live in. Nor will it ever be the country I live in. Just as the communist failed, the Left in America is doomed to failure as well.

    There is a large swath of America, myself included, who are pushing back against this New Fascism of the Left, along with its own moral decadence.

    The NYT, CNN, and the rest of the elite media and a lot of other liberal media outlets who are nothing but mouthpieces of the Left and the Democrats can stuff it. How can 90% of its member have donated money to HRC, cried on election night when she lost, and yet call themselves objective. It’s a farce! If you were a judge and had done those things, could you be fair and impartial? Clearly not.

    It is sad that things have come to this in America. But, I love my country as much as any one else. So, I am going to fight for those things that I feel are dear and precious to me. If that mean supporting our current President, then I am OK with doing so.

    Lastly, it’s funny how you cite a former Soviet Emigre. Do you know the vast majority of East European immigrants to the USA overwhelmingly support Donald Trump and Republicans.

    • Many liberals bemoan the fact that our Progressive moral grounding isn’t talked about much.

      Because religious conservatives often vote based on being anti-gay marriage, anti-gay rights, anti transgender rights, and antiabortion people act like the right is the only side with moral ground.

      But the left has a very strong moral grounding, based on this: we recognize everyone’s worth and dignity.

      And so we are pro equal rights for women, people of color, LGBT+… and for abortion-rights because making abortion illegal has little effect on the abortion rate. Desperate women and girls will find a way to do it themselves if they can’t get it done legally. And then women and girls die. Progressives are for things that are actually effective in keeping the abortion rate down like comprehensive sex education, access to contraception, and no shame in using it.

      And we believe that the working class should have equal voice with corporate elites — something the GOP is against based on Supreme Court appointees who consistently rule to entrench the power of big money in politics — which drowns out the rest of our voices.

      That’s why there has been a culture war for years with those who want to limit the rights of women, minorities, and LGBT+ versus those who recognize the worth and dignity of us all.

      I have no problem with authorizing the killing of a US citizen who has committed acts of terrorism. I’m surprised that you do.

      And deporting illegal immigrants is different from a Muslim ban.

      It’s not just “bluster” about “Aboutism.” We worry that the Trump administration is drawing us closer to the Soviet-inspired morality of Vladmir Putin.

      I’m aware of that plenty of immigrants from the former Soviet Union lean right. (Many of them are my students.) And I understand it, too. The former USSR went way too far left. To go as far left as they did is to end up with a totalitarian system (unless you are an Israeli kibbutz where everyone agrees to do this.)

      Suppressing free speech isn’t something you only find on the left. You find it in any dictatorship/totalitarian system. On the left I am disappointed by university students who suppress free-speech — we must have conversations. And on the right I am disappointed by a President who is suppressing a free press. Even George W. Bush says it’s wrong. And at one time Sean Spicer also said that banning media outlets is something only dictatorships do.
      “That is what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.”
      http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/321133-spicer-in-december-barring-media-is-what-a-dictatorship-does

      I think I mentioned that I was hopeful that at least Trump would be a populist. But he hasn’t behaved like one. If he had I wouldn’t be so upset with him. But he has done the following:

      * nominated an anti-Labor Secretary
      * nominated a right wing supreme court justice who will side with big money over us
      * is repealing Financial protections against Wall Street
      * is repealing consumer protections, generally — which enriches corporate elite’s but hurts us
      * is repealing environmental protections — which enriches big oil/coal but hurts us

      I worry that instead of pushing Trump to help ordinary people, his supporters will support him no matter what he does.

      • ” Sean Spicer also said that banning media outlets is something only dictatorships do.”

        Which media outlets have been shut down, banned, their assets seized, TV channels shuttered, and printing pressed halted? I must have missed that news article.

        I don’t see why anybody, President included, should have their personal liberty so constrained as that they MUST talk to people they don’t want to talk to. How would you feel if your university put out a memo saying you must hold a press conference every day and answer questions from right wing extremists, Nazis and skin heads?

      • I’ll be writing more on this later but where you can’t (Yet) shut down the press you can try to get people to self-censor, As Trump is doing by trying to create distrust toward the media.

        That makes it easy to manipulate people. If they will only listen to what YOU say, you can lie to them and apparently they will believe everything you say.

        (But even now Trump has banned certain well-respected media from the pressroom. Scary stuff.)

      • You seem to be under the misapprehension that the media is by nature this impartial observer, which would only be corrupted by a naughty politician like Trump.

        Look, I’m no Trump fan, I think he’s a bit of a clown honestly, and he says a lot of stupid things. But by the same token, during the election phase, I’d see these headlines about what Trump said that in isolation sounded outrageous. Then I’d go watch the original footage, and maybe 80% of the time, it was either a complete fabrication, or else it was take so far out of context as to be essentially a lie. As far as I see, if Trump made the media self-censor their headline driven, fake news philosophy, it would lead to more truth not less. The election result shows that the American people are not buying the rubbish that the media are churning out anyway.

        In any case, all the self-censoring actually happens within the news organisations already. In my part of the world we all know which papers are the right wing ones, and which are the left wing ones, and anyone with any discernment knows to read anything in those papers in light of that. Both sides write articles that are outrageously biased. In such a cess pool of bad reporting, how can Trump simply choosing to NOT do something, be noteworthy as contributing to the problem?

      • I’ve noticed that some men will go to the original footage and not get what the problem is – like when Trump bragged about assaulting women. I think these men don’t understand how harmful to the Haviar is, so they don’t get the outrage.

        One study found that fake news on right wing media was much more likely to be shared, and even go viral, then fake news on left-wing media. That tells you something right there.

  4. The fact that Trump has so many defenders indicates to me that millions are either blind to, or excusers of, his amorality (to describe his character charitably). Sad (to borrow one of his favorite dismissive put-downs).

  5. “He refuses to pay taxes that would help the country because he personally benefits by not paying.”

    So Trump paid $38 million in taxes in one year alone. How about an apology, a mea culpa, and an admission that Trump never said that he didn’t pay taxes.

    • He made millions and millions more than me and yet he paid a lower tax rate. So he has gotten out of paying taxes, as he has admitted before. I haven’t worked to get out of paying taxes like he has.

      I also want to see his tax releases to see whether he has a conflict of interest while dealing with Russia. Might he put his own interests ahead of our country’s? Based on his past experience that seems likely.

      • So this is hilarious. In response to pointing out you are factually wrong, you say “Yeah, but what about Russia? What about, what about, what about? Do you see a problem here? It’s called what aboutism.

        Obama paid 18.7%, he also earns more than you and paid even less. So how about you rewrite this article and replace Trump with Obama since by your own criteria, he is the bigger villian.

      • My question,”What about Russia” wasn’t “what about-ism.” I wasn’t saying “Russia does it too.” I’m concerned that Trump will put his own economic interests above our country’s.

        Everyone is trying to figure out why he is being such a bully to every other country except for Russia – who is one of our biggest threats. He is bullying our friends but using kid gloves with Russia. Is it because of business interests there, that he doesn’t want to damage? We would know if we could see the contents of his tax return.

        Yet people like you would rather defend Trump then see if he is a possible threat to the United States.

        You are right that Obama also paid a lower tax rate than me. But on the positive side he isn’t consistently selfish. The laws he backed generally worked against him economically. That’s what wealthy Democrats do. They work for laws that work against them, knowing that they are better for the good of the country. I do the same thing.

Thoughts? (Comments will appear after moderation)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: