Eating organic food may make you into a self-righteous jerk, a new study says.
The study suggests that people who choose organic foods are likely to “harshen moral judgments” as their choices lead to a feeling of self-righteousness.
“There’s a line of research showing that when people can pat themselves on the back for their moral behavior, they can become self-righteous,” said Kendall Eskine, a psychologist at Loyola University New Orleans and the lead author, reported the Today Show.
Researchers describe the phenomenon as “moral licensing” which means that those who carry out good deeds feel entitled to engage in other immoral behavior.
Well, yeah. We’ve all been around people like that. Mary Eberstadt wrote a great essay three years ago exploring how for a certain kind of person, the kind of moralizing people used to do about sex is now applied to food. It’s not the organic food that does it, but the cultural context that leads some people to eat organics. But please don’t be under the illusion that this applies only to foodies. My late sister was incredibly harsh in her judgment of people who ate organic food (e.g., moi), and I’ve seen that a lot too in conservative circles. Reverse snobbery. “Moral licensing” is a common human phenomenon; it’s simply a matter of where one chooses to draw the lines.
A long, long time ago, I made plans to share an apartment with a college friend. We were both moving to Washington, and each needed a roommate, so we planned to live together. Just before we moved in, he came out as gay. I didn’t care. We lived together uneventfully, until one day, he disappeared. He skipped town leaving me holding the bag on our lease, costing me a lot of money. I subsequently discovered that he was telling his friends that because I was a conservative, and a member of the oppressor class, he felt justified in treating me this way. I never said boo to him about his sexuality; indeed, I chose to move in with him knowing that he was gay. Yet he not only trashed me behind my back and left me owing lots of money on the lease, he also took advantage of my letting him use my laptop to create his resume to go into my private e-mail file and spread information he found there. I didn’t learn any of this until after he had left town, and a mutual friend spilled the beans. This was so shocking to me; it was entirely out of character for the guy I had known and liked so much in college.
My friend had a fiancee back then who came out as a lesbian while he was away one summer on a project, and revealed this to him when he returned to their home. She did some pretty horrible, psychologically cruel things to him in the aftermath, things so bad they required strong antidepressants and years of intense therapy to recover from. He told me that he figured that some gay people like his ex-fiancee and my ex-roommate allow themselves, after coming out, to feel free to do immoral things they never would have done otherwise — this, as compensation for having had to live a lie. In this scenario, my ex-roommate felt entitled to treat me nastily, and to be crusading and self-righteous. Anything morally questionable about this didn’t really matter; he licensed himself to treat people he regarded as morally tainted in ways that he would never have done before. In other words, he felt entitled to be a jackass, because it was his privilege for being one of the Righteous.
To be clear, I don’t think this is a gay phenomenon, an organic-foodie phenomenon, a liberal or a conservative or religious or secular phenomenon. It’s a human phenomenon. The fruit of moral licensing is hypocrisy.