Saturday, September 26, 2009

Offroading the Moral High Ground

"Hummer Owners Claim Moral High Ground To Excuse Overconsumption, Study Finds"
How's THAT for a headline? Unfortunately, I haven't read the study myself - mainly because, so far, I've been too cheap to pay the University of Chicago ten dollars to download a PDF copy. But from the short Science Daily article and other peices I read concerning the study, I didn't see anything that indicates that the authors of the study explicitly defined owning a Hummer as "overconsumption," or that the people they interviewed lived lavish lifestyles as a whole.
"Our analysis of the underlying American identity discourses revealed that being under siege by (moral) critics is an historically established feature of being an American," write the authors.
You think? But here's the thing. People who own Hummers DO take flack, and a lot of it, from "(moral) critics." Some of this is because it's pretty easy to use one's personal understanding of morality to be a jackass. But it's also inherent in the idea of morality. Once you define an action (or inaction) as a moral imperative, criticism and condemnation of people who do otherwise is a pretty simple next step.
"Hummer Owners Take The High Ground, Defend Overconsumption With Patriotism"
Of course, those people who like to aim their weekly Two Minutes Hate at Hummers and those who love them had no problem taking aim at the 20 subjects (yep, the study covers just 20 Hummer owners*) and savaging them in blogs and online message boards didn't seem to realize that they were busily validating the very feeling of "being under siege by (moral) critics" that the study described. It seems that utter blindness to blatantly obvious irony is another side effect of strongly-held moral beliefs.

* I find it difficult to believe that 20 people would honestly be considered to be a representative sample of Hummer owners. Self-selection bias in respondents aside, as of 2008, the H3 alone had sold just North of 150,000 units. Not to mention the fact that when you're doing a study on "Consumer Identity Work as Moral Protagonism," you kind of have to rule out everyone who sees their auto purchasing decisions as having the same moral weight as the shoes they wear to work that day.

No comments: