Back in the 16th Century, the Catholic Church got in trouble because – among other things – it allowed the wealthy to buy grace. They could pay the Church and be forgiven their sins – presumably freeing them to go right on sinning.
I’ve remarked in the past (can’t find the posts, and I’m in a hurry to go do chores) that one thing that’s made me uncomfortable with modern liberalism is my observation that the staunch liberals that I know are often pretty bad people; their personal behavior is often worse than the staunch conservatives I know. And that troubles me a lot.
While we like to believe we live our lives flying high in the rarified air of ideas and policies and grand dreams, the reality is that we live it sandwiched between our neighbors. And to me, any value system that privileges the ethereal while ignoring the concrete is suspect. What is, is.
I’ve taken some shots for this from progressives who have challenged my notions for a lot of reasons; the plural of anecdote is definitely not fact, etc.
But now, someone’s gone and done a study. Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto (pdf – h/t Register UK):
Consumer choices not only reflect price and quality preferences but also social and moral values as witnessed in the remarkable growth of the global market for organic and environmentally friendly products. Building on recent research on behavioral priming and moral regulation, we find that mere exposure to green products and the purchase of them lead to markedly different behavioral consequences. In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products.
Their study suggests that thinking about environmentally conscious products leads to more altruism and honesty; buying environmentally sound products, however leads to selfishness and dishonest behavior.
That’s consistent with some of my personal experience, as well as studies which have shown (for example) that conservatives are more charitable than liberals.
And this bothers the hell out of me.
I was discussing Michael Moore’s latest with a friend and I explained that I was troubled by his technique, and by his personal hypocrisy. I explained that I have two friends who do low-income housing with nonprofits in New York and here in Los Angeles. Each of them created, early in their careers, a limited-equity coop that they chose to live in. Each of their personal residences could be sold (even in today’s climate) for nearly a million dollars on the open market – but they will never see that because they made the moral choice to live the values they espouse. That’s the kind of liberalism I support.
It appears, sadly, to be almost too rare to mention.