The following article is the second in a series by the writer William Collins, each article being a chapter from his book The Destructivists. In the first article, Our Parlous Society, he introduced the overarching theme of his book, Moral Usurpation, and in this one, the 7th chapter, he begins to explain how that usurpation is achieved. Ratnaguna.
Moral Infantilism is the first part of Moral Usurpation.
Chapters 7 to 11 present the five key parts of the modus operandi of Moral Usurpation. These parts are respectively: Moral Infantilism, Moral Vampirism, the creation of zealots, the appeal to the elites, and the feedback mechanisms. This chapter addresses the first of these.
Moral Infantilism is the key to manipulating the public perception of the moral right. It is the mechanism whereby potential sources of moral probity can be spun so as to transfer power to the infantilist, and thereby to progress covert aims.
What must be borne in mind throughout is that any source of ostensible moral rectitude can, to the possessor of it, be converted into a form of power. It is not necessary that the claim to this moral cachet be valid, or that the ethical position from which the appeal is made would withstand scrutiny. It is only necessary that the issue can be spun to appear so. The objective is that, in due course, the infantilised perspective will be adopted into the social morality and thus become the dominant belief. Such an established source of moral probity should be regarded as analogous to a battery, or a monetary currency: a source of power which may be deployed in many ways. It is not necessary for the infantilist to have any genuine concern for the apparent recipients of this moral concern. Victims may be, and frequently are, cynically exploited.
The key elements of Moral Infantilism are,
- Promoting only one side of an issue;
- Encouraging extreme simplicity – all complexity, nuance, context and balance is ignored, everything is 100% good or 100% bad;
- Disagreement is conflated, deliberately, with evil intent, and extends even to the slightest departure from ideological purity: if you do not 100% agree, then you are 100% wicked.
As a result of the above approaches, division is created: the public becomes divided into good people and bad people, no in-between. Recall that division into such in-groups and out-groups is always a feature of these totalist mindsets (see chapter 5).
One of the great attractions of the mental orientation of the infantilist is that it lowers cognitive load: it makes life easy. Under Moral Infantilism there are no moral dilemmas. All moral issues are immediately clear.
The above key features of infantilism are aided by misinforming the public or keeping them ignorant. This is achieved by controlling sources of information, especially the media, academia and education, and by vilification or mobbing of any individual attempting to present another perspective, even if part of a genuinely balanced picture.
Information is controlled by omission, distortion and untruth. Omission is the most powerful weapon, and to be preferred. What is said is accurate. But half the truth is a whole lie, and a type of lie which is difficult to detect. It is worth emphasising just how wildly misleading is this sin of omission. It is this practice which allows a catchphrase like “men are violent” to be universally used with little push-back, despite only a small percentage of men being violent. There is no shortage of perfectly true and extremely nasty cases of men exercising violence against women. By referring endlessly to these, but never drawing attention to women’s own violence or that around 95% of men are not violent, the infantilisation of the moral axis of violence is accomplished. What I have just described is the near-universal behaviour of the mainstream news media.
Outright untruth is the weakest tactic, though it becomes more common as complacency sets in. It is safest to deploy untruth in the context of historical conditions, about which wildly inaccurate mythologies are common. These go unchallenged due to widespread ignorance of history. Distortion is also a powerful method. It may be achieved by clever presentation of statistics (there are many tricks available) or by exaggerating statistics. All these methods are used as routine.
Dissenting voices are discouraged by subjecting those who make the attempt to severe ad hominem attacks. Addressing counterarguments is avoided and this is deliberate, and a very important part of the strategy. To address counterarguments would be to admit that an alternative view is, in principle, possible. That is never entertained. Infantilism will not admit that a different perspective can be other than thoroughly hateful. By refusing to debate, an image of the opposition as being too vile even to converse with is promoted, whilst also avoiding the embarrassment of defeat. The tactic with dissent is to discourage it by making dissent personally discomforting, if necessary by destroying the person’s life with accusations. Outspoken individuals are being “cancelled” all the time. This is a key part of the modus operandi of Moral Infantilism: its purpose is simply to prevent any alternative perspectives being heard or any factual evidence that might undermine the infantilised position becoming generally known.
Moral Infantilism may be interpreted as a mechanism for implementing Repressive Tolerance (Marcuse, 1965): tolerate only your infantilised view, be completely intolerant of all else. But it is a particularly virulent form of this tactic because it makes the infantilised position appear morally compelled.
Because there is no engagement in argument, logical consistency is unnecessary. Because logical consistency is not required, a member of an in-group may be presented as a victim lacking in agency in one situation, but as strong and capable as anyone else when it suits. Infantilism absolves one from the burden of rational coherence.
This is why attempts to defeat an infantilised position using empirical evidence and rational arguments do not work. Facts and reason are irrelevant because the infantilised position is not based upon them but upon a confected moral perception situated in the emotional psyche.
So, pointing out that the moral infantilist’s position is logically contradictory, or in flagrant conflict with known facts, will avail you nothing because the infantilist has no interest in reasoned argument. Unfortunately, neither does the public because the social morality is stabilised by conformance and by the social emotions, that is by emotion not reason. Moreover, the public are misinformed by the media and have not the inclination, or often the ability, to discover the truth for themselves. Wilful ignorance plays its part; it’s easy to conform, it’s discomforting to be a dissident.
In passing I note that the rejection of any need for rational coherence provides the relationship between Moral Infantilism and postmodernism’s rejection of objective truth, of which more later.
But the most pernicious aspect of moral infantilism is its resistance to being discredited. Raising counter-arguments will bring a hostile reaction whose rabidity is in proportion to the quality of the counter-argument and the status of the dissident. No ground will ever be conceded and so, instead of progress towards mutual understanding, division is deepened. The insidious product of this infantilised response to push-back is to further progress the Divide and Conquer strategy (chapter 5). Heads they win, tails we lose.
Marcuse, Herbert. (1965). Repressive Tolerance. In A Critique of Pure Tolerance by Robert Paul Wolff, Barrington Moore, Jr., and Herbert Marcuse (Beacon), pp. 95-137.