Moral Decline? Nah, Just Your Perception at Work

June 12, 2023

Here’s a graph from the academic paper “The Illusion of Moral Decline.”


Is it even necessary to read the complete paper after studying the illustration? Of course not. Nevertheless, let’s look at a couple of statements in the write up to get ready for that in-class, blank bluebook semester examination, shall we?

Statement 1 from the write up:

… objective indicators of immorality have decreased significantly over the last few centuries.

Well, there you go. That’s clear. Imagine what life was like before modern day morality kicked in.

Statement 2 from the write up:

… we suggest that one of them has to do with the fact that when two well-established psychological phenomena work in tandem, they can produce an illusion of moral decline.

Okay. Illusion. This morning I drove past people sleeping under an overpass. A police vehicle with lights and siren blaring raced past me as I drove to the gym (a gym which is no longer open 24×7 due to safety concerns). I listened to a report about people struggling amidst the flood water in Ukraine. In short, a typical morning in rural Kentucky. Oh, I forgot to mention the gunfire, I could hear as I walked my dog at a local park. I hope it was squirrel hunters but in this area who knows?

6 8 paper published

MidJourney created this illustration of the paper’s authors celebrating the publication of their study about the illusion of immorality. The behavior is a manifestation of morality itself, and it is a testament to the importance of crystal clear graphs.

Statement 3 from the write up:

Participants in the foregoing studies believed that morality has declined, and they believed this in every decade and in every nation we studied….About all these things, they were almost certainly mistaken.

My take on the study includes these perceptions (yours hopefully will be more informed than mine):

  1. The influence of social media gets slight attention
  2. Large-scale immoral actions get little attention. I am tempted to list examples, but I am afraid of legal eagles and aggrieved academics with time on their hands.
  3. The impact of intentionally weaponized information on behavior in the US and other nation states which provide an infrastructure suitable to permit wide use of digitally-enabled content.

In order to avoid problems, I will list some common and proper nouns or phrases and invite you think about these in terms of the glory word “morality”. Have fun with your mental gymnastics:

  • Catholic priests and children
  • Covid information and pharmaceutical companies
  • Epstein, Andrew, and MIT
  • Special operation and elementary school children
  • Sudan and minerals
  • US politicians’ campaign promises.

Wasn’t that fun? I did not have to mention social media, self harm, people between the ages of 10 and 16, and statements like “Senator, thank you for that question…”

I would not do well with a written test watched by attentive journal authors. By the way, isn’t perception reality?

Stephen E Arnold, June 12, 2023


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