The Pandemic Of Morality Complex
Updated: Feb 14
By Aman Karan
Morality in the simplest term means a set of principles that concerns itself with the distinction between good and bad or right and wrong behaviour. More specifically, morality is a particular system of values and principles of conduct that is accepted by a society or a community. Morality is a vast concept and it is something that cannot be grasped solely by definitions. Different scholars, philosophers and thinkers have different perceptions of morality.
One cannot talk about morals without referring to Immanuel Kant. Kant was a German philosopher who introduced his idea of morality in the name of Categorical Imperative. According to Kant, there is a fundamental law of morality that applies to every individual. This fundamental law is Categorical Imperative. Kant describes categorical imperative as principles of conduct and behaviour that is absolute in nature. According to Kant, morality is supreme and fundamental in all agents. He argues that moral reasons override any sort of other reasons. For example, your self-interested reasoning may suggest you to cheat, but if morality is grounded in the Categorical Imperative, then your moral reasoning of not cheating would override your self-interest.
But, Friedrich Nietzsche, another philosopher, argued against this. He disregarded Kant’s Categorical Imperative to a great extent. Nietzsche contended that this idea of morality being supreme and fundamental, proves to be harmful for individuality. The concept of collective morality destroys the individual’s goals and halts their progress. In his book The Antichrist, Nietzsche said that virtue must be a person’s own invention and the influence of society or community should not be a source of righteousness (Nietzsche, 1895). He argued that virtue which comes from the concept of virtue, as a duty or as a universal thing, as stated by Kant, such virtue is a source of danger (Nietzsche, 1895). He meant that morality shouldn’t be something “fundamental” or objective. It should come from within an individual. Nietzsche’s notion of morality was more subjective as compared to Kant’s categorical imperative which was more objective. Nietzsche’s morality was based on the theory of “perspectivism.” The theory suggests that morality and truth are result of an individual’s own perspective. What is true for someone might not be true for someone. For example, if I say that FC Barcelona is the best football club in the world, that is my perspective of the truth as I have my own markers of ‘best’ while others might have others. He classified morality into two groups – master morality and slave morality. Individuals who were more concerned with the pride, fame and power had master morality whereas those with slave morality valued more kindness, empathy, and sympathy.
But where does “morality” play a role in technology, specifically in the vast world of social media? It has been shown in a lot of research that social media affects the moral development of children (Burns, 2016). This article outlines the negative side of the impact of social media on morality. Morality comes in as a complex or a tool for feeling superior to others on social media platforms. It works as a catalyst for people with moral complex or moral superiority to be condescending. A moral complex can be explained as a belief that one’s actions are justified and one’s opinions are more virtuous than others because they have higher moral values. Moral complex is as pertinent today and can be seen whenever the state is in some turmoil or, as showed in this article, in a pandemic.
The Pandemic of Moral Complex
Complex, in psychological terms means, is a core pattern of behaviour that is organized around a common theme, such as power or status (Schultz & Schultz, 2017). Complexes such as moral complex, ego complex, god complex, and so on, lie on the negative side of the spectrum. Moral complex is seen when a person patronizes others because they think that their moral values are higher than others. For instance, when someone thinks they have higher moral values just because they don’t indulge themselves in vices such as drinking, smoking, and so on and so forth. This belief system is increasing as in the new age of social media as anyone can reach an audience of few hundred, even thousand, people and project their views and their values upon them and sometimes, many times, in a condescending way.
The foundation of this pandemic of moral complex comes from something so trivial as engagement on one’s platform or in more contemporary terms, “reach”. The term that is used to denote people with an enormous reach on these platforms is “influencer”. Where does this cause a problem? When an influencer (someone who has a larger reach), posts an opinion online and it is regarded as the “right” or “appropriate” opinion, even if it’s something immoral. Society, or more specifically the online sphere, considers the opinions of these influencers morally superior on the basis of weightage on respective platforms. The online society is built in such a way where an influencer’s immorality is often overlooked on the account of their popularity. The responsibility of “fact-checking” gets lost in the confusion of considering a person credible on the account of their followers. It trickles down to the people who are engaging with these posts endorsing such opinions thinking that since it is shared by an influencer, it must be right. The major problem in this is the carelessness of influencers to post and “influence” their followers without fact-checking and without being informed about the topic. For example, during the time of farmer’s protest, many influencers posted on online media inciting violence without being properly informed. Another example would be the case of Manav Singh, a minor who committed suicide after an up and coming influencer backed the claim that he was a sexual offender. The influencer’s followers went on to harass Manav Singh, who at the end couldn’t take the pressure and took his own life. Later on, the influencer deleted her post.
This moral complex reached its peak during the time of Coronavirus or COVID-19. While these social media platforms proved to be a significant tool for helping people during this pandemic, and majority of people genuinely helped, it also brought forth the arrogance of a small section of people. The minority of people who acted in a larger-than-life way just because they shared something that was helpful or something which was relevant. Many started to patronize those who weren’t active in process and who weren’t helping people in the same way, that is, on the internet. That is not to say that posting relevant and helpful things is problematic, but if moral superiority is a consequence of performing one’s civic duty is a consequence, that is not desirable. Conceit became central when these people showed self-importance or narcissism in serving those who were in need, it was no longer out of goodness but out of pity. This is what Nietzsche reasoned, that morality should come from within a person and not from their surroundings, so the virtue that comes from the place of haughtiness, pride, conceit, and pity is no virtue at all and is wrong to a great extent.
A poll was conducted in Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University where it was found that social media can enhance or support a young person’s moral development. 40% of adults agreed that social media deters a young person’s character or moral development while 15% said that social media could enhance or support it (Vinesh, 2020). The poll proved that the 40% of adults who were on the negative side of impact of social media contended that it lacks certain positive characteristics for youth such as self-control, humility and honesty.
The ignorance of this section of arrogant people who feel that the only way to go on about life is according to the standard set by them will turn to the internet into a type of dystopia. Teenagers who are getting influenced will suffer injustice just on the fact that their opinion is different than a so-and-so influencer. It is necessary to take notice of this type of pandemic that will last much longer than COVID-19. It will prove to be harmful in the long run as societies will be filled with people with a mindset that their idea of morality is better than the person next to them. This would in turn create complexes and would falter the development of society and the development of individuals since no originality would persist. Everyone will think in competitive terms and terms of who they follow without developing their original thought. Their morality would rise as a counterargument rather than their own values and principles.
To conclude, the only way to dodge this dystopia is to become self-aware and realize what you are putting out online is reaching an audience. One should indulge in the regular practice of fact-checking before supporting any issue. And lastly, the feeling empathy and understanding should be fundamental, that there are people with different views and different opinions.
Burns, J. (2016, July 18). Social media harms moral development, parents say. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/education-36824176.
Nietzsche, F. W. (1895). The Antichrist. The General Press.
Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2017). Theories of personality. Cengage Learning.
Vinesh. (2020, October 31). Is social media affecting your moral development? Medium. https://medium.com/techno101/is-social-media-affecting-your-moral-development-8ce30fabf666.