The Problem with Moralism

Moralists tend to raise ethical standards when their political enemies are concerned, but disregard them when it is their allies’ turn.

Filipinos have become familiar with frequent upsurges in moralism, but it is frightening to see it having an ever-stronger grip on its educated class. The latest manifestation of this came as soon as the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines decided to give an honorary doctorate on President Duterte, a traditional offer to presidents on their first term.

But this decision quickly ventilated online resistance of the democratic elite against the president, whom they accused as an abuser of human rights, with a foul mouth and boorish behavior, and surely undeserving of the (moral) standards of the honorary degree. 
Moralism is the habit or practice of moralizing, and has an often exaggerated emphasis on morality especially in politics. Moralism has become ascendant even as the level of morality in society has declined, by common observation.

Nora Aunor did not get her National Artist award at the time of President Benigno Aquino II because of her critics’ concerns about her moral uprightness. More recently, the guardians of morality came back when Speaker Bebot Alvarez admitted having extramarital girlfriends in his quarrel with Cong. Tony Boy Floirendo, who also admitted to having the same. Never mind that the respective legal spouses of the two men seemed to have taken things in stride.

Curiously, while Sen. Leila De Lima reluctantly admitted her affair with her married driver and while VP Leni Robredo was also having public displays of affection with a married politician, the democratic-elite moralists seem to have looked the other way, even accusing critics of Sen. De Lima as “slut-shamers.”

This, then, is moralism’s main problem: its very biased application. Moralists tend to raise ethical standards when their political enemies are concerned, but disregard them when it is their allies’ turn. And since morality cannot be adjudicated by the polity, it becomes a matter of which side you’re on.

Morality is irrelevant in assessing artistry, as is the case with Nora Aunor who was robbed of her National Artist award. Morality is also irrelevant in assessing political savvy needed by politicians to see things through. Morality is better left to philosophers, while we get on with the business at hand.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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