Moral Indignation

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Whenever anyone is caught in a less than honorable act a chorus of moral indignation is sure to follow. The irony  from the psychoanalytic point of view is that it’s the people who make the most noise, who let their moral indignation be known in no uncertain terms, who are most likely to frequently engage in less than honorable acts themselves.

The object of moral indignation functions as a receptacle for the transfer of pent up psychic energy. This person is on the receiving end of projection, a scapegoat forced to take on the burden of sins for the entire village. Through this process of projection villagers gain temporary reprieve from secret, repressed feelings of guilt and doubt around their own conduct, around their own practice of life. It’s someone else who’s the villain for a time, someone else who’s culpable, someone else who’s the sinner, someone else whose acts should be condemned.

Those who are quick to forgive in life are able to do so because they recognize their own failings, they don’t repress the undesirable aspects of their personalities but accept themselves as they are, frailties and all. They see the good and the bad in themselves, they admit that they sometimes make mistakes, which lets them accept and forgive the failings of others even though these actions cannot be condoned.

We’re not saying that indignation, even outrage, is always the wrong response, sometimes it’s the only correct response when faced with injustice or evil. But the sort of sanctimonious, moral indignation we’re talking about here has a different quality, it’s not meant to right wrongs, not meant as the impetus to create a more just and loving world, but rather to unburden an uncomfortable psychic load, to point the finger at somebody else in order to feel morally superior for a while.