Let’s return to the definition of “grandstanding” in the new book called Grandstanding, by Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke:

What is “grandstanding”?

Grandstanders want to impress others with their moral qual-ities. We call this the Recognition Desire.
Grandstanders try to satisfy that desire by saying something in public moral discourse. We call this public display the Grandstanding Expression.

You can therefore think of grandstanding in terms of a simple formula:

Grandstanding = Recognition Desire + Grandstanding Expression

Grandstanders try to get others to think of them as morally respectable. Sometimes they want to be thought of as one of the gang. Other times, they want to be thought of as morally exceptional. Either way, they usually want to be seen as morally better than others.

It happens and it is happening all day long on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Especially the second and third convey a sense of “look at me.” But Grandstanding ramps it up with a desire for moral recognition for one’s claims.

Each of these chapters has been insightful but I find the chapter on respect even more so. Grandstanding trades in disrespecting other people in a number of ways, and they look at three: (1) it showcases one person over another, (2) it deceives others, and (3) it free-rides on the good moral talk of others.

It uses other people.

Again, morality is not a convenient excuse to use another person. Morality requires us to treat other people according to their worth as human beings, not as mere instruments. Showcasing fails to do so.

Showcasing turns others into punching bags.

Sometimes grandstanders pounces on innocent people unjustly and disrespects, sometimes with life consequences, the innocent. Even when people are guilty the consequences of grandstanding through showcasing outweigh the act of the person guilty.

Some grandstanders ... go through life looking for opportunities to pounce on others’ moral mistakes, real or imagined, to demonstrate to others what good people they are. We call this kind of demonstration showcasing. Showcasing involves using others by recruiting them into a public display designed to show off the moral qualities of the grandstander. Showcasers might do this by piling on in cases of public shaming, ramping up or trumping up accusations of wrongdoing, or engaging in accusatory expressions of outrage or other negative emotions. Showcasers are grandstanders who satisfy their Recognition Desire by using the alleged moral failures of others to show off their own moral superiority.

Image: Cover Photo

I would add that they do this also to rally their friends into crowdpounding. There are two well-known examples of this, and I am not saying I have never done this because I have, and both concerned Rob Bell. (You know the stories.) Both instances made him a punching bag for those who disagreed with him. And both of these sources clearly decided in the wake of those actions to avoid such moral talk. Anyone, however, with social media runs the risk of grandstanding, showcasing, and crowdpounding.

More to the point about showcasing: we are not good judges of our own morality and our own motives. We over rate ourselves. We therefore under rate others. We therefore pounce in ways that disrespect others because we have over respected our own judgments and under rated their motives and actions.

Our point is that when we try to impress our in-groups by showcasing, we will often blame and shame innocent people, whether we believe this is what we are doing or not.

We need to lower our confidence in our own judgments of others.
We need to lower our confidence in our own judgments of others.
We need to lower our confidence in our own judgments of others.

Say it again.

Showcasing often deceives, intentionally and not, others.

We cultivate ourselves as trustworthy when we showcase our moral talk against others.

But you run a high risk of deceiving others about youself and the one on whom you pounce.

Some, of course, do this intentionally while others do this to show they are part of the inside group, the “woke” group on that topic, the ones “in the know.”

We know that most humans think better of their moral qualities than is warranted. So, we should be wary of the temptation to grandstand to feel better about ourselves. If we do so, we risk feeding into our own delusions, and drifting further and further from an accurate impression of who we are and what we care about.

Showcasing works by free-riding on the good will and good moral talk of others.

Culture and society work by cooperation, and assuming and trusting cooperation permits some to take advantage of the good cooperation of others. Chicago has a reputation, deserved or not, of “vote early, vote often.” Let’s say that’s true. It works because the vast majority, if not almost all people, vote honestly and vote once.

How do we do this with moral talk?

We abuse the common resource of moral talk when we moralize excessively, make plainly false or absurd moral claims, or use moral talk in nakedly self-serving ways.

This works because most moral talk isn’t excessive, is close to truth, doesn’t resort to absurdities, and isn’t self-serving.

Their norm for moral talk: don’t self-promote. Check yourself and if there’s a doubt, don’t.