Moral Failing Fallacy


Here’s something that’s taken me a long time to be able to identify and an even longer time to express succinctly.

Very often, when we analyze our own mistakes and failings, we tend to stop short when we arrive at something that sounds like a moral failing.

  • Why am I playing video games and procrastinating all the time instead of doing work? Because I’m lazy. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I overeating even though I’m obese? Because I’m greedy. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I never able to trust my loved ones? Because I’m jealous. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I always late, tardy, unreliable? Because I’m selfish. Horrible person.

It’s an incredibly powerful, unquestioned assumption. Man is intrinsically sinful and terrible, and if you find yourself engaging in behaviors that are sinful, it’s because you’re a sinful, terrible person. You’re a naughty child. You’re irresponsible. You’re selfish. That is WHO YOU ARE. Your parents were horrible, their parents were horrible. Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf.

A great, powerful, unquestioned assumption about what it means to be a human being: sinful.

This usually makes you either feel guilty and ashamed, or angry and resentful. Two sides of the same coin. To cope with this emotion, you’ll probably indulge in even more destructive behavior. I’m so ashamed that I’m fat, I need to eat. I’m so angry that I’m a smoker, I need to smoke. I’m worthless. I’m pathetic.

In “Games People Play”, Eric Berne describes how, over time, people develop into specific roles that they play out in predictable scripts with one another. One of my favorite examples of this is the “Every Facebook Argument Ever” (attached in comments) which very beautifully captures the cycle of drama that happens on Facebook every single day.

What’s interesting is that this also happens in families, in workplaces, and most importantly– within ourselves.

Here’s an example of an unspoken fictional conversation inside a person’s head that you might relate to. Maybe imagine it’s just Anger, Disgust and Fear teaming up against Sadness, and Joy is nowhere to be found:

A: “FUCK! You’re late for the meeting! Why didn’t you wake up earlier? I set an alarm for you and everything!”
B: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep. I was tired. I don’t know. I’m just an irresponsible, terrible person.”
A: “OMG. We are so screwed. Look what you made us do. WTF.”
B: “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”
A: “It’s happened a thousand times already. Obviously you’re going to do it again.”
B: “…”
A: “Why do you do this? Why? How can we fix this?”
B: “I don’t know. I’ve tried everything. I’m just horrible.”
A: “Fuck. This is so embarrassing, shameful. I’m so angry. I need to drink, smoke, insult people on the Internet.”
B: “I’m sorry.”
A: “Don’t lie to me. You’re obviously not. You’re full of shit, just like everybody says. Pathetic.”
B: “…”

When you surface it, it becomes obvious that it’s abusive language. And it perpetuates a horrible cycle that just keeps going. I imagine that if this spirals further, you get depression, and suicidal thoughts.

It’s so unpleasant that people do anything to escape or avoid it, and they don’t have the tools they need to confront it. The demons are too loud, and the victim is too weak and untrained to fight back.

In the absence of self-love we self-flagellate, which is unconscionably damaging. We become victims of broken homes INSIDE OUR OWN HEADS.

As long as this is the case, life cannot and will not get better.

A person who hates herself for smoking will not be able to quit smoking. A person who hates themselves for procrastinating will not be able to fix their problem by reading a bunch of “life hacks”.

Originally posted on Facebook.

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