Saturday, July 25, 2015

On Hulk Hogan and the Definition of Morality

Hey folks! Pardon the repetition of the same refrain from the last several months, but "Pardon my recent absence...." I've been attending to a variety of other things in life, including my new duties as a Managing Editor at Catholic Stand. Go check out that site! Right now!

Back? OK, good.

I return to this platform with the intention of sharing briefer thoughts, until I reach a point where I can again expand and expound at length on subjects that alternate between incredibly fascinating and mind-numbing-ly boring. And what better topic to begin with than professional wrestling?

It is known to some that I have a penchant for pro wrestling that has been re-awakened in the past few years. Say what you want about it being "fake," etc. (though ask Mick Foley just how you "fake" a 20-foot fall off the top of a steel cage), but the athleticism and story-telling in this genre of entertainment is exciting and amusing when its at its best. And everyone and their mum paid attention to the squared circle in the 80s, when the likes of Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan popped out of our screens with their larger-than-life personalities and physiques. Everybody knows Hulk Hogan. Heretofore undiscovered tribes in the Amazon will probably be discovered to be ripping their shirts in half and asking "Whatcha gonna do, brother?" of the anthropologists who encounter them. And the Hulkster is back in the news, though not for the best of reasons.

Hulk Hogan's contract with the WWE was terminated and his likeness scrubbed from the WWE website after video of Hogan making racist remarks was released to the press. As a further fun fact, this video clip came from that most quintessentially 21st-century American genre of film: a sex tape. Apparently Hogan made these comments during an evening in which he cheated with his friend's wife, and the two thought it would be a good idea to film their adultery, because creating visual evidence of something most people have the decency and shame to try to hide is all the rage these days.

OK, enough preamble; here's the interesting bit. I was listening to some reaction commentary from two wrestling podcasters, and their position was fascinating to me: they were very upset over the use of racist language; but the adultery did not seem to bother them too much. In fact, one of them said at one point, "This is awful... I mean, not the sex tape... you know, I mean, morality--it's so subjective, everybody has their own opinion...."

Do you notice the disconnect here? When discussing Hogan's racist remarks, the podcasters use strongly objective language: what he said was "wrong," "reprehensible," "disgusting." When discussing Hogan's adultery, their hard language melts into "morality is subjective."

Is the question of racial hatred not a moral one? Is there no moral quality or element to prejudice and animus based on a person's skin color or ethnic background? What kind of definition of morality are we working with? What kind of world has formed around us where a man can be filmed cheating on his wife with another man's wife, and the part most objected to is some salty language used to refer to his daughter's boyfriend? Really? The last is absolute and objective, but sleeping with another man's wife and filming it is "whatever"?

A classical definition of morality would be something like "evaluation of actions and motives in relation to human nature and the promotion of human flourishing," or perhaps more simply, "what makes us good." In our common parlance "morality" has been separated from any notion of a comprehensive framework for evaluating the goodness of actions. In many people's minds, "morality" has been whittled down to "opinions on sexual matters," while "wrong" or "evil" is applied only to the offenses against secular society, e.g. intolerance, judgmentalism, and not recycling your soda can.

I still can't figure out the principle behind the modern conception of good and bad. The main pillar seems to be tolerance, but it is applied unevenly. In their minds, when a woman wants to end the life of a biologically distinct person presently residing in her uterus, it's "My body, my choice, don't legislate your morality." When a person wants to purchase and ingest sugary drinks or fatty foods, it's "Ban them, tax them, shame those who buy them, don't let people hurt themselves!" In their minds, promoting ideas based in biblical principles is offensive and should be restricted, but pornography is constitutionally protected speech. In their minds, the Constitution should be interpreted strictly, as when they say that the Second Amendment is to be deemed null and in desuetude because there appears to be a conditional clause attached to the right to bear arms; yet this stricture opens and loosens in other matters until a torrent of heretofore unknown constitutionally protected rights to things like birth control, abortion, and same-sex marriage come flooding out. In their minds, Christianity (and Catholicism in particular) can be mocked and derided, but other religions (especially Islam) are to be treated "with respect, and honor, and tolerance." I don't get it.

As our society continues to wander way from its Christian roots, it maintains some of its rightful prejudices against bad things, but has lost its principles, so that it often can no longer distinguish good from bad. To borrow Chesterton's line, “They have the prejudice; and long may they retain it! We have the principle, and they are welcome to it when they want it.”


  1. Try Zukerman's "Society without God" religious belief isn't really a pre-requisite for a good society.

    Or you could just consider some of the date from the USA as your "society continues to wander way from its Christian roots"
    - crime rates are falling
    - divorce and infidelity rates falling
    - teen pregnancy falling
    (admittedly the data is a little dated)

    But there's plenty out there to suggest that there is no relationship between religion and societal health. If anything there's an easily demonstrated reverse correlation.

  2. Perhaps "falling" is a relative term. *Source: US Census Bureau*

  3. I would have thought that falling is a relative term by definition ;)