February 09, 2015

Positional goods

In a world where you can become top dog simply by being holier-than-thou, everybody else must necessarily be your moral inferior. And when moral superiority becomes the coin of the realm, the currency will be counted in "positional goods."

A positional good, explains Kristian Niemietz, is one that

is acquired in order to set oneself apart from others. Positional goods therefore have a peculiar property: the utility their consumers derive from them is inversely related to the number of people who can access them.

The existence of positional goods illuminates the essential fallacy of the "Lake Wobegon effect," particularly when it comes to moral outrage: not everybody can be above average, even when the item in question is a subjective one defined purely by perception.

Thus it follows that any standard of political correctness, once achieved, demands ever more strident definitions of political correctness. The only way to maintain a morally superior status is to continually tighten the requirements for belonging to the club.

But when everybody tries to join the club, as Yogi Berra quipped, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." Or as Niemietz puts it,

We cannot all be morally superior to each other. Once you have successfully exorcised a word or an opinion, how do you differentiate yourself from others now? You need new things to be outraged about, new ways of asserting your imagined moral superiority.

Hence the growing legions of sociopathic Santa Clauses checking their lists and checking them twice to decide who's been naughty and who's been nice.

Except there already exists an established system operating outside the rule of law. It's also a hierarchical social order that harangues heretics, enforces taboos, subjects sinners to public sanctions, and promising to redeem the penitent through acts of penance.

It's called religion.

That's right. No sooner had the enlightened elite declared that God was dead, but they busily set about reinventing the Mosaic Law. Or maybe they believed all along that religion was the opiate of the masses and this time wanted to be the pushers.

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# posted by Anonymous Dan
2/15/2015 8:35 AM   
Dr. Seuss "The Sneetches"