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What I Hate About Moral Grandstanding In 250 Words Or More

So the other day I had to take a significantly circuitous route to the post office because a main artery of the downtown area of my (formerly dignified, working-class, redneck) home town had been blocked off for an event foreign to my experience. It involved a couple hundred otherwise normal-looking men awkwardly stumbling down the street in high heels, some of whom were carrying signs that said things like “Stop Rape Now!” I hesitated to let fly with my usual torrent of irreverence when first I saw them, fearing there might have been an actual rape in our ordinarily placid community which might have been the raison d’etre of this public display of righteousness. I don’t take the local paper, so there’s a good chance I may not have known. Otherwise I almost certainly would have followed my first impulse, which was to exasperatedly exclaim to nobody in particular in the crowded post office that I was sure grateful these noisesome, disruptive asses were out actively countering that nefarious pro-rape faction that had, of late, been terrorizing the realm. Somebody has to.

The high-heeled men, several of whom were obviously firefighters, bankers, high-fallutin’ power execs, Community Leaders and other alphas of a manly nature, congregated in the lawn in front of the court house, whereupon one or several of them ascended a makeshift stage and set to speechifying. I couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, so my mind went to work a-speculating. Based on the signs I saw, I imagined it to have gone roughly thus: “Are all of you disgusted by rape?” Crowd: “Hell yeah!”  Speaker: “Well alright then. I guess let’s go home now.”

I later determined that the event was, in fact, a fundraiser for the Battered Persons Advocacy, a local group which does the Lord’s work trying to prevent domestic abuse and to help its victims when it occurs. The idea was that by donning high heels for a few city blocks, these men were “standing in the shoes” of battered persons.  Or at least persons who got their feet battered by punishingly impractical footwear.  It was unclear how the other battered “persons” were being accounted for in this symphony of substanceless symbolism. Any notion of equating “women” with “high heels” as being “profoundly and self-evidently sexist” was apparently suspended as well. Finally, since none of these men had ever likely been battered themselves apart from drunken brawls in which they’d voluntarily participated, equating an ungainly walk over a block or two of asphalt to the daily hell lived by helpless victims seems insulting to any lingering intelligence still floating about the ether of this dumbed-down world.

So I was inconvenienced on my way to the post office. Was it for a worthy cause? Maybe. Were the men who were very obviously having a lot of laughs attempting to negotiate city streets in hooker shoes “raising awareness” of something? If it was that rape and domestic abuse are Very Bad Things, thank you, but as a minimally sentient being, I was aware already. But hey, if it boosted your already inflated opinion of your own righteousness . . . did I mention it frustrated my access to the post office?

In the current narcissism pandemic, moral grandstanding is just another selfie. Instead of “me in some exotic locale–ain’t you jealous?”, it’s “me standing next to an ennobling cause, absorbing its healthful rays–ain’t I saintly?” No. But hey, at least you’re really, really annoying.

Grandstanding, of course, also serves as a shoddy stand-in for actual moral acts which are, let’s face it, work. Making a big, righteous noise takes minutes. Living a moral life takes a lifetime. This isn’t to say that many, probably most, of the high-heeled awareness-raisers aren’t moral men, but that anything noble residing within them is somehow diminished by the loud quackery of a demonstration. It’s an adult acting out–a behavior differing in degree, though not kind, from the same one we discourage in our children.

And it made getting to the post office annoying.

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