Yet another form of group think/counter mass formation.
Since the fall of 2022 I have been struggling to describe a behavioral group dynamic that I keep observing which is operating within the “medical freedom movement”, and have used the historic term “Jacobin” (referring to one particularly brutal phase of the French revolution) to define a process which commonly tears apart almost all resistance movements. This natural process is actively exploited by opponents using methods such as “Bad Jacketing”; accusations of controlled opposition and the like, to sow mistrust and accelerate fragmentation.
But recently I have discovered more modern terms for the process. Moral outbidding and its consequence – Purity spirals, and “Othering”. These terms and the social behaviors which they describe are related to group think as well as to counter mass formation, but carry their own nuances.
Last night I allowed myself to remain on a podcast with a defrocked UK surgeon for 2.5 hours of the most aggressive, accusatory interview I have ever had. Bad on me. It started off with the surgeon telling me that a lot of people hated me (I should have just left then), and then proceeded to a series of accusations and purity tests which I was told to answer with yes or no, and then berated if I gave an answer which failed the host’s purity standards.
It was like a rollup of almost all of the hater memes that I have been subjected to over the last three years. With the notable exception that in this instance at least I was not accused of being a mass murderer. I did my best to stay calm, but did resort to calling out BS at a couple of points.
Afterwards, having blown the evening on this abusive exercise, I resorted to my go-to defense mechanism of intellectualizing what just happened. Thinking back over the experience, what I found particularly intriguing was that I had lead off the interview by mentioning the rise of purity spirals in these splinter hate groups, but the host just ignored that point rather than following up with the obvious question.
What the heck is a purity spiral?
Purity Spiral: Urban Dictionary A social ratchet effect within a community. A process of moral outbidding, unchecked, which corrodes the group from within, rewarding those who put themselves at the extremes, and punishing nuance relentlessly.
A purity spiral can contain all of these things, but it is defined by the fact that it takes place in a defined community or society, where being purer-than-thou is always being rewarded, and holding a divergent, ‘less pure’ opinion is normally punished, a dynamic which leads to an inevitable escalation as only the most extreme can ‘win’.
After Louise denounced Nike as bourgeois, the village fell into a purity spiral where first Nikes, then all sneakers, then all shoes, and later, socks, were burnt on a pyre by the villagers.
Foot amputations followed in the Spring.
Near as I can tell, the terms “moral outbidding” and “purity spiral” can be traced back to a 2020 UnHerd essay and a BBC broadcast by Gavin Haynes, with the curious title “How knitters got knotted in a purity spiral. A process of moral outbidding is corroding small communities from within”. The following is an abstract of key insights described in that essay.
A purity spiral occurs when a community becomes fixated on implementing a single value that has no upper limit, and no single agreed interpretation. The result is a moral feeding frenzy.
It is a social dynamic that plays out across that community — a process of moral outbidding, unchecked, which corrodes the group from within, rewarding those who put themselves at the extremes, and punishing nuance and divergence relentlessly.
A purity spiral propagates itself through the tipping points of preference falsification: through self-censorship, and through loyalty tests that weed out its detractors long before they can band together. In that sense, once one takes hold, its momentum can be very difficult to halt.
But while a purity spiral often concerns morality, it is not about morality. It’s about purity — a very different concept. Morality doesn’t need to exist with reference to anything other than itself. Purity, on the other hand, is an inherently relative value — the game is always one of purer-than-thou.
Lately we’ve been witnessing more and more small worlds fall apart under the weight of their vast moral centre of gravity.
I’ve become fascinated by the link between what we see in examples like these, and a dynamic we’ve seen play out through history.
In 1967, Mao’s Red Guards took to the streets determined to root out the ‘four olds’ of traditional Chinese culture, killing hundreds of thousands in the process. By 1968, they had fallen apart as factions fought each other to represent the truest version of Maoism. In 1794, Robespierre found himself on the same tumbrel he had prescribed for so many other problematic persons.
In both cases, a bidding war for morality turned into a proxy war for power.
Like “Mass Formation”, “Moral outbidding” and “Purity spirals” are new terms reflecting group dynamic insights, and are not (yet) used by mainstream modern psychology. The closest accepted term in psychology which I can find is “Moral grandstanding”, which is related to another newer term which has gained wide acceptance because it fits this type of social dynamic – “Virtue signaling”, commonly used in reference to a behavior pattern most often seen in members of the liberal/progressive or left wing of the US political spectrum.
Writing in “Psychology Today”, Sandro Galea M.D. poses “The Challenge of Moral Grandstanding. When the wish to look good prevents us from truly doing good.”
- Moral grandstanding is projecting the appearance of morality as a means of reaping the social benefits of being seen as a good person.
- People morally grandstand about health, such as by criticizing those who have not adhered to public health guidance during the pandemic.
- Moral grandstanding can have negative consequences, including functioning as a distraction and leading people to mistake posturing for progress.
We are living in an age of the visible moral gesture. It seems that all events of some note in our cultural or political life are accompanied by statements of support or opprobrium from anyone with a Twitter account. Social media has democratized the opportunity to weigh in. It allows us to instantly speak in support of, or against, causes we feel are worthy of attention, with hashtags amplifying our words.
There seems to me no question that some of this social media statement-ing has brought attention to important issues, elevating necessary conversations. But it also seems worth wondering if our focus on these gestures is really helping advance the cause of creating a better world. Could our outpouring of moral gestures on the occasion of, well, everything, be less effective than we think it to be? Could it even be a distraction from what we should be doing to shape a better future?
These questions raise the uncomfortable issue of moral grandstanding. By moral grandstanding, a term originating in psychology, I mean acting and speaking in ways which project the appearance of morality not for the sake of issues themselves, but as a means of reaping the social benefits of being seen to be a good person. It is similar to a term many of us have heard, “virtue signaling.” Such behavior has long been with us. History and literature are full of examples of people who have achieved status by broadcasting a virtue which they may or may not actually possess. Moral grandstanding, and the tendency towards hypocrisy, is also warned against in some of the major religions, as in this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, a tenet of Christianity.
Given the proliferation of moral grandstanding in the social media age, it seems worth asking two questions. First, do we morally grandstand about health? Second, if so, how does this negatively affect our efforts towards a healthier world?
That we indeed morally grandstand about health is, I think, clear. We have seen this in the morally-tinged criticisms of those who have not followed public health guidance during the pandemic, and in the tendency, common on public health Twitter, to weigh in on social and political issues using language which reflects undue confidence in our place on the right side of history.
Here are three other related concepts which are useful in understanding the purity spirals that are occurring in various subgroups and cliques. All of these are actively exploited by chaos agents and professional PsyWar infiltrators such as the UK’s 77th Brigade:
Emotional appeal is a persuasive technique that relies on descriptive language and imagery to evoke an emotional response and convince the recipient of a particular point of view. An emotional appeal manipulates the audience’s emotions, especially when there is a lack of factual evidence.
Gang Stalking (Cyber) is a form of cyberstalking or cyberbullying, in which a group of people target an individual online to harass them through repeated threat threats, fear inducing behavior, bullying, teasing, intimidation, gossip and bad jacketing.
Sophistry is the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving. It is a technique often used by corporate media and factcheckers.
Which leads us to Othering
“Othering” is a phenomenon where individuals or groups are defined, labeled and targeted as not fitting in within the norms of a social group. This is a tactic used by the deep state, politicians and the media. Chaos agents as well as propaganda are used to create a sense of divide. This influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed as being part of the in-group versus those who are seen as being part of the out-group. This can happen on both a small and very large scale.
Those individuals and cliques/cults that are caught up in promoting purity spirals fail to recognize that, by constantly pushing group think further and further from objective, documentable reality, they are playing right into the hands of chaos agents and propagandists. As these groups are driven by the psychosocial dynamics of moral outbidding, their increasingly strident positions become divorced from the objective, observable truth which the majority of the populace can perceive in their own daily lives. In turn, this process makes these cliques and cults easy targets for those who employ the PsyWar tactic of “Othering” to delegitimize not just the radicalized splinter group, but also those in adjacent communities which share common objectives with the clique/cult which has become consumed by the dynamics of a moral outbidding purity spiral.
It becomes a trivial propagandist exercise to lump fringe extremes with the protest movement which birthed them, and thereby delegitimize all concerned.
- Recognize moral outbidding, purity spirals, gang stalking, the use of emotional appeals and Othering.
- Avoid falling victim to these psychosocial forces and processes
- Call out others who are (perhaps unwittingly) deploying these strategies and tactics, and point out the damage that they are doing to their greater (shared) objectives by falling victim to those who intentionally provoke these processes to promote divisiveness and fragmentation
About the author: Robert W. Malone MD, MS is the inventor of mRNA & DNA vaccines, RNA as a drug. Scientist, physician, writer, podcaster, commentator, advocate and a believer in fundamental freedom of speech. You may become a free or paid subscriber to his Substack at this link. Malone’s frequent emails are treasured here on arrival for abundant facts, wisdom and humor. A previous post on Tulsa Today by Dr. Malone titled PsyWars: Fifth Gen. Warefare & Sovereignty is a reproduction of his public speech to the Pandemic Strategies Conference in Stockholm, Sweden on January 21, 2023 which is recommended and, we believe, of great significance for Americans seeking to understand the current narratives of continual crisis.
For prior related essays in this series, please see the following
SEP 13, 2022
DEC 30, 2023
DEC 09, 2021
FEB 26, 2022
AUG 16, 2022