August 10, 2017

Reviving the original meaning of "demoralize."

Here's something in the "Suggestions" section of James Damore's suddenly famous memo:
De-moralize diversity.

As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits, dismiss anyone that disagrees as immoral, and harshly punish those we see as villains to protect the “victims.”
The hyphen in "de-moralize" shows the writer meant to distinguish his word from the usual "demoralize" and to push us to see the new, unusual meaning he intends and thinks the reader can figure out.

(I'm reminded of an essay I wrote in junior high school. Taking the position that grades should be abolished, I titled the essay "The De-Grading System." Ironically, I received a C, and I've never forgotten what the teacher wrote on it: "Great title, but what are you talking about?")

Damore's use of "de-moralize" jumped out at me, because I've been listening to the wonderful lectures "English in America: A Linguistic History," and I happened to learn just the other day that "demoralize" was the one word that was first used by Noah Webster.

As a lexicographer, Noah Webster was focused on recording the words other people used and not on inventing words of his own, but he did also write a piece called "The Revolution in France" (1794), which contained this passage:
However necessary might be the revolution in France, and however noble the object, such great changes and a long war will have an effect on the moral character of the nation, which is deeply to be deplored. All wars have, if I may use a new but emphatic word, a demoralizing tendency; but the revolution in France, in addition to the usual influence of war, is attended with a total change in the minds of the people. They are released, not only from the ordinary restraints of law, but from all their former habits of thinking. From the fetters of a debasing religious system, the people are let loose in the wide field of mental licentiousness; and as men naturally run from one extreme to another, the French will probably rush into the wildest vagaries of opinion, both in their political and moral creeds. The decree of the convention authorizing divorces, upon the application of either party, alleging only unsuitableness of temper, hereby offering allurements to infidelity and domestic broils, is a singular proof of the little regard in which the morals of the nation are held by the ruling party. The efforts made by the convention to exterminate every thing that looks like imposing restraint upon the passions, by the fear of a supreme being and future punishments, are a most extraordinary experiment in government, to ascertain whether nations can exist in peace, order and harmony, without any such restraints. It is an experiment to prove that impressions of a supreme being and a divine providence, which men have hitherto considered as natural, are all the illusions of imagination; the effect of a wrong education. It is an experiment to try whether atheism and materialism, as articles of national creed, will not render men more happy in society than a belief in a God, a Providence and the Immortality of the soul. The experiment is new; it is bold; it is astonishing.
The Oxford English Dictionary identifies that as the first published use of the word. You can see that it means to do the reverse of moralizing. To moralize is "To interpret morally or symbolically; to explain the moral meaning of." And Webster's addition of the prefix "de" is easily understood as reversing the process.

Webster didn't use a hyphen. He just said: I'm creating a new word. But Damore's hyphen does the same thing, nudging you to build the easily understood parts into a word that you'll be able to figure out. Interestingly, we have to figure this idea of reversing the process of moralizing all over again, because the original meaning of the word, Webster's meaning, is almost never used anymore. In OED parlance, it's "archaic." (It's not obsolete, however, because The South Bend Tribune used it in 1998 to say "The whole unclean and sordid spectacle that has enriched the press, the media and the legal establishment at the expense of demoralizing young adults and people in general." We need not digress into what that "unclean and sordid spectacle" was. Though it sounds exciting, it's irrelevant to the subject at hand, the meaning of "demoralize.")

The word "demoralize" — as ordinary speakers of the language use it — has come to refer not to the destruction of moral principles but the destruction of morale. (I wonder if it was ever pronounced "de-morale-ize.") Somehow this newer meaning overwhelmed the original meaning, perhaps because it caught on in the military context, where there were so many occasions to deploy it and perhaps  because we haven't felt much of a need to talk about the reverse process of moralizing.

Of course, we still use and easily understand the word "moralizing." We continue to talk about infusing a subject with ideas about morality. The oldest related word is the adjective "moral," which means: "Of or relating to human character or behaviour considered as good or bad; of or relating to the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil, in relation to the actions, desires, or character of responsible human beings; ethical." That goes back to the 14th century. The word "morale" is much more recent. Though it once meant the same as "morals," the usage we understand now — hope and confidence — arose in the military context, just like "demoralize," as we understand it today.

So my question for you is: Should we — on the occasion of the Damore memo — revive the original meaning of "demoralize"? It would confuse people for a while, but we could help them by retaining the hyphen until the new usage catches on. The benefit would be the parallelism with "moralize." Since we tend to object to "moralizing," "demoralizing" could be a useful word pointing the way to a needed process that should be applied where moralizing has already occurred. As Damore used the word, it was a call for sober scientific research and rational reflection: We've loaded too much morality into diversity, so let's demoralize it, clear out the obstructions, and figure out what's really going on.

72 comments:

rhhardin said...

Moralizing is superficial, as if nothing can be a problem to abstraction.

Michael K said...

Lawyers love words. Scientists and Engineers love data.

You really should watch the Jordan Peterson/ Damore video interview.

sparrow said...

I like it in that it's a useful term to describe the rejection of morality but since it's likely to be misunderstood I'd avoid it. I'd rather be clear and simple than clever and opaque.

tcrosse said...

Would 'Secularize' work better ?

Chuck said...

Not that it matters; but the last notable use of "demoralizing" in our popular political discourse was Justice (then-Judge) Gorsuch using the words "demoralizing" and "disheartening" to describe his reaction to President Trump's trash-talking of federal district judges who ruled against his travel bans.

Trump of course claimed that when Senator Blumenthal quoted Judge Gorsuch on those words, Blumenthal was "mischaracterizing" Gorsuch. But a few weeks later, Gorsuch very pointedly repeated the same two words in questioning on the subject by Blumenthal.

http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/325103-gorsuch-backs-up-dem-senator-in-dispute-with-trump

FWBuff said...

Maybe, with a nod to the man who revived the archaic meaning, we could use the word "Damore-alize"?

Mike said...

Progressivism has a weird relationship to language in that they seem to continually and enthusiastically co-opt religious terms to re-purpose them as political in nature. "Facts" are not good or bad, evil or holy. So Damore is onto something here that tracks with my experience. Not only does this language manipulation serve their purpose of labeling the opponents of Progressivism as heretics and evildoers, it serves to muddy the cultural waters, confuse a public that is growing less attached to Religion and farther away from the time when the Bible was a common knowledge base among learned people and average Americans alike.

It is not simply their goal to sever the relationship of these words to The Word, but to replace God as the One who judges with themselves, with their friends in Culture and Politics, with their condemnation of men, whiteness and objective Truth. To them, there are no constants, other than their own Will to Power. Thus when the modern American hears the terms linked together like "Will and Grace" they think of homosexuals and TV comedy, and only the few remaining troglodytes like me automatically associate those terms with "free will" and "God's grace."

buwaya said...

You are correct that demoralize comes from a military context, as in morale. Both are of that set of military terms from the French - demoraliser

CStanley said...

I think his suggestion is confused.

As soon as we start to moralize an issue, we stop thinking about it in terms of costs and benefits

Who is the royal "we" who does this, and does the objectivity automatically and necessarily cease when thinking in terms of morality?

Answers: the "we" is the progressive left, and no, those things don't necessarily follow from moralizing. They are happening because the left has chosen "shut up" as their sole rebuttal and lately, as their enforcement tactic.

Sebastian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sebastian said...

Whatever. Demoralizing is just another way of moralizing. As Webster showed: the "demoralizing" French Revolution imposed a new morality. It is was the very model of prog tyranny, requiring a new correct way thinking. Progs demoralize to remoralize.

Google just adds search surveillance and billions of dollars to the old prog dream.

Of course, I support Damore's attempt to demoralize, as a way to instill a more reasonable common-sense morality. But the SJW resistance shows that they like their moralizing fine as it is. The transvaluation of values has been the point since 1789.

CStanley said...

Moral position: that racial and gender diversity in a workplace is a worthy goal.

This can be both a subjective value (it's just the right thing to do, to allow equal opportunities to all members of a society) AND can be analyzed for efficacy in increasing productivity. The methods used to achieve the diversity as well as the benchmarks aimed for can affect whether or not the objectives are achievable, so that maybe the analysis shows that aiming for gender parity actually harms productivity but aiming for a minimum of 28% or 30% female maximizes both employee satisfaction (women not feeling that they work in a hostile boys club environment) as well as productivity (because that might represent the real number of women who, with the right incentives, can perform as well or better than male peers in this industry.)

Drago said...

I like it in that it's a useful term to describe the rejection of morality but since it's likely to be misunderstood I'd avoid it.

As in 'I wonder what ever happened to the "One-ders"' (O-need-ers)

jwl said...

"We've loaded too much morality into diversity, so let's demoralize it, clear out the obstructions, and figure out what's really going on."

Diversity is secular religion to progressives, they believe their morals make them superior human beings, very unlikely they would be keen to take morals out of diversity program. Anyone who tried to remove left wing shibboleths would be tarred and feathered like numerous other heretics who have made similar arguments.

Ann Althouse said...

"You really should watch the Jordan Peterson/ Damore video interview."

As I said in another post, I did. I watched the whole thing. I may write something about it later. I don't know if I'd call it an "interview."

Gahrie said...

How about we start with de-politicizing everything?

Bob Ellison said...

So many words to rescue. Demoralize, socialism, ____-phobia, diversity. I don't see it likely to happen. Some day maybe we'll change the spellings and pronunciations, and it won't matter anymore.

Gahrie said...

Not that it matters; but the last notable use of "demoralizing" in our popular political discourse was Justice (then-Judge) Gorsuch using the words "demoralizing" and "disheartening" to describe his reaction to President Trump's trash-talking of federal district judges who ruled against his travel bans.

You're right Chuckles..it doesn't matter.

So why do you keep bringing it up?

AReasonableMan said...

Transitions.

Daniel Jackson said...

I concur that there is a strong need to objectify certain critical assumptions, like affirmative action, in the Civil Religion of our society.

I am fascinated by the quote from Noah Webster about France circa 1794. Over two hundred years later, I think this idea to evaluate the French LAIC experiment is equally in order. If ever there is a case of De-Moralization of a society, France is the case.

Webster's observations from two hundred years ago about the risks (positive and negative) of de-coupling social norms from a transcendental "morality", let alone diety, would appear quite accurate. Indeed, the declining birthrates, absurdly low marriage rates, continued classism, and pervasive demoralized feelings of the "other" sense of the word.

Perhaps, with moralities (of all sorts) there is a point of diminishing marginal returns between too much and too little moral (which used to refer to benefits and costs, as in a Moral Hazard) bases to social choices.

Ironic that the Left in the States leans heavily on a moral basis (Thou Shalt NOT or Thou Shalt) whereas the Left in France uses none of this guilt tripping using social rejection and isolation to bring individuals into line. It's more like the stage theory of Lawrence Kolhberg where people comply with rules because IT IS THE LAW!

AReasonableMan said...

Golfing.

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Pleased and surprised to see all the pushback on the Damore firing. I have to wonder if he didn't know how controversial his essay would be. If you're going to be a lion you're going to have to fight jackals occasionally.

Ann Althouse said...

Here's what I said about Peterson in the other comments thread (last night's café): "I watched the entire Peterson video. I should write something about it. Peterson had no idea how to draw Damore out and seemed only too willing to fill up all the available space on his own. Phallocracy in action??"

CStanley said...

I suspect what Damore really meant was that secular values should not be treated like religious dogma, and I'd agree with that.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

per Ayn Rand - we need to "epistemize" morality - enter into the process of discovering what it is.

http://aynrandlexicon.com/ayn-rand-ideas/the-objectivist-ethics.html

Noah Webster's comments indicate French were on the verge of it but flubbed it due to Rousseau's influence and the mistakes were further entrenched into political philosophy by Kant's philosophy. Kant was a great admirer of Rousseau.

“You wanted to know John Galt’s identity. I am the man who has asked that question.

“Yes, this is an age of moral crisis. . . . Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality . . . but to discover it.”

Ralph L said...

From the fetters of a debasing religious system, the people are let loose in the wide field of mental licentiousness
Is this Webster's presumed anti-Catholic pejorative or does he mean something else?

Dr Weevil said...

Count your younger self lucky, AA:
As a teacher, if I were grading a mediocre paper with a 'De-Grading' pun in the title, I would be strongly tempted to go with the obvious and hard-to-resist D-grading pun and give it a D.

Fernandinande said...

The hyphen in "de-moralize" shows the writer meant to distinguish his word from the usual "demoralize" and to push us

No, he's not "pushing" anybody. Why do you feel pushed?

I love the way you keep inserting (get it?) violent and perhaps "rapey" imagery into these discussions: "shoot - suddenly force - face up to - his terms - right now"

It really is quite funny.

to see the new, unusual meaning he intends and thinks the reader can figure out.

The correct word is "amoral" and it's not a new or unusual idea in any way.

Ralph L said...

IIRC, he'd already moralized that diversity was a good thing (virt-sig to keep people reading). The de-moralization must come in with the how and how far.

Gahrie said...

Phallocracy in action??"

You mean civilization?

What is the alternative to Phallocracy?

Where is the civilization, culture, science created by women?

Instead of all the labeling, insults and attacks, how about women simply say thank you to men for creating a civilization, culture and nation that has created the highest standard of living, highest social status for women, and most equality for women in human history?

Feste said...

Damore de-monized for de-monismizing.

Chuck said...

Gahrie said...
"Not that it matters; but the last notable use of 'demoralizing' in our popular political discourse was Justice (then-Judge) Gorsuch using the words 'demoralizing' and 'disheartening' to describe his reaction to President Trump's trash-talking of federal district judges who ruled against his travel bans."

You're right Chuckles..it doesn't matter.

So why do you keep bringing it up?

To stick my finger in Trump's eye.

And, because I was right about the entire dispute. On the day that Gorsuch first called it "demoralizing" and "disheartening," and Trump attacked Bluenmthal, I said that we'd soon find out who was right and who was wrong. And in yet another completely unsurprising development in the saga of Trump's false public statements, it turned out that Trump was yet again wrong. And wrong in an almost clinically-provable way.

Thanks for asking. Trump's continuing record of recklessly untrue things does matter, to me.

Gahrie said...

To stick my finger in Trump's eye....And, because I was right about the entire dispute.

So basically because you're an asshole?

Ralph L said...

Phallocracy in action?
No, it's the Charlie Rose school of interviewing.

Michael K said...

"I did. I watched the whole thing."

Good. Your criticism of Peterson is one I've seen before and your use of Peterson had no idea how to draw Damore out and seemed only too willing to fill up all the available space on his own. Phallocracy in action??"

Is pretty interesting. Damore is really a nerd and seems to have trouble expressing himself verbally. He sought out Peterson and says he is a fan. I don't know if you watched that part as it was at the end.

Yes, Peterson is a bit professorial but he has gotten very popular, especially with young very bright people.

I think that is encouraging. I'll be interested to see your post.

Darrell said...

Chuck's record of recklessly untrue things continues unabated, as well.

Ralph L said...

Don't forget, Gahrie, nearly eliminating maternal mortality.

Dr Weevil said...

Ralph L:
Now that maternal mortality is taken care of, on to maternal morality!

Dr Weevil said...

I could have made a 'low T' joke in my last, but didn't think of it in time.

Ralph L said...

They've managed to mess that up without organized male help.

Fernandinande said...

Michael K said...
Lawyers love words.


And some people - cough cough (not saying you) - love word games and think these little word games act like a sort of magic spell to confuse the opponents.

In response to Damore's awkwardly-worded statement of wanting to remove the moral content from some issue (rather than "de-moralize", which already means something else, a far better neologism would have been "amoralize"), she wrote > 1000 words about some words that really don't have anything at all to with the subject of not viewing "diversity" as a moral issue.

Ralph L said...

In fairness to DaMore, he'd just been internationally outed and fired the day before, so he didn't have much time or probably energy to prepare. Kudos for appearing at all.

William said...

I've read that 35% of the people at Google agree with Damore. My guess is that figure does not include the occult Trump bump. I would ask whether these engineers are now demoralized or--perhaps, the better word--repressed by Damore's firing....... Many generals have taken the position that if you shoot the deserters, morale will improve or, in a worst case scenario, morale will be rendered irrelevant. Such a tactic works until such time as there's a large scale mutiny,

stever said...

Morale > demoralize

Moral > de-moralize

I guess

William said...

Damore is extremely low key and not much of a salesman for his ideas. That paradoxically works for him. It's impossible to claim that he's some kind rabid hate mongerer.

R.J. Chatt said...

1794 "... It is an experiment to try whether atheism and materialism, as articles of national creed, will not render men more happy in society than a belief in a God, a Providence and the Immortality of the soul. The experiment is new; it is bold; it is astonishing ..." Noah Webster.

Do we have an answer yet about the "demoralizing" effect of the French Revolution, and whether the people are happier? Just better fed. Check French film "Les Liaisons dangereuses," and others on immorality and malaise.

Is Democracy a threat to the will of God, AKA sharia law, as devout Muslims avow?

How is the morale in France these days? Under attack. I think there is a relationship between morale and faith and faith and morality. Can a people really have confidence without faith and morality? I don't think so.

BTW, the Bible is quite concerned about justice and love for God and the belief that God created all out of love and infinite abundance, but never advances the cause of diversity as such. I prefer the notion of equality of opportunity in the workplace, not social engineering. But I'm not sure how you measure equality of opportunity.

n.n said...

Diversity of "color" (i.e. class), not individuals. One of the moral principles we can recognize on faith or as axiomatic is individual dignity. MLK was certainly not the first, but a recent famous proponent of the latter definition.

Ray said...

The current context for some, moral and morale mean the same thing. So if your acting morally, therefore you have great morale. So why you not act with great morality?

The challenge is all morals are not created equally...

Scott M said...

unmoralize?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Empathy, Professor Althouse. You're a champion of empathy--you helpfully remind us to keep empathy (and emotion generally) in mind when we make arguments or want to be persuasive.
Empathy rests on a moral framework. You can't have an appeal to empathy without an undergirding of moral judgement.

Damore's call to demoralize the topic is therefore unacceptable to you. It's exactly what you've warned against doing, in fact! It's why the Reason people don't have a chance of persuading you. More broadly it's why the Left so often wins nice centrist people with arguments that really shouldn't be persuasive (logically and factually unsound, etc)...and the ratchet goes click-click-click.

Nancy said...

Has no one else read Gertrude Himmelfarb's excellent 1995 book, "The De-Moralization of Society"?

stever said...

I'm only 60 so my life experiences are limited. In practical terms -- for me -- morale and moral aren't connected.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Williams said...That paradoxically works for him. It's impossible to claim that he's some kind rabid hate mongerer.

You are wrong. Go on Twitter. Possibly you meant to say "It's impossible to credibly claim..." but even there you'd have to contend with the fact that LOTS of people find such claims credible.

The Media can't even bother to give a plausible bad summary of the memo--witness CNN's headline and anchor's repeated claims that the memo said women were inferior and didn't "deserve to touch a computer." It's ridiculous, and false, but I'll bet a lot of people believe it.

Fernandinande said...

Scott M said...
unmoralize?


"Unmoralized" already means (a person) not influenced by morals or morality. I thunk up "dismoral" also, but...

"amoral" applies to ideas and acts as being neither moral nor immoral (=neutral?) and/or not subject to moral judgments, like wondering about the weather; or wearing or not wearing a bow-tie as long as it doesn't both spin and light up; or having certain ratios of people of various sexes and races on some project. amoral+ize = make or become amoral.

Bow tie -
Spins XOR lights-up: neutral.
Spins AND lights-up: too much of a good thing, namely neutrality.

ENDWORDGAME

Cruising Troll said...

methinks that any attempt to reclaim the word to it's original(?) non-hypenated meaning will run into one huge stumbling block.

The military "morale" related term. I've been reading military history and fiction nearly my entire life, and I've never run across a good alternative to "demoralize". There are alternatives, many quite colorful, but none of them capture it in a single word.

Joanne Jacobs said...

I think "secularize" is the mot juste.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Mike @ 9:54

Excellent comment.

Daniel Jackson said...

NO! NOT "secularize!"

THAT is the problem. The issue is not striping away a "moral" component in its evaluative sense. It is minimizing the moral component. Look to France for so-called secularization.

Some morality is good; too much is the problem.

Marc Puckett said...

Nancy, Was skimming the comments as fast as I could hoping I could cite GH's book, which I'd make every newly-elected and newly-hired public official read twice (but it's a long list).

Marc Puckett said...

AA, I wasn't sure what you meant by 'phallocracy in action?' I supposed that you were referring to JP 'mansplaining' (can that term be used when it's two men in question?-- I confuse all the new-fangled terms) rather than creating space for James Damore to explain himself but perhaps you were meaning something I totally missed. Now I am almost inclined to continue watching the damn video, since you made it through, and Michael K. too. I haven't read all those ten pages, either.

Marc Puckett said...

I see that I can't keep up today-- new post up.

Richard Dolan said...

"As Damore used the word, it was a call for sober scientific research and rational reflection: We've loaded too much morality into diversity, so let's demoralize it, clear out the obstructions, and figure out what's really going on."

This is all likely to end up where it started, with little to show in the way of progress. Morality involves an inquiry into good and bad, better and worse. There are different ways of measuring and discussing what course of conduct is good or bad, better or worse in any situation, but they're all just forms of moralizing. Damore's talk about "loading too much morality into diversity" strikes me as an engineer's way of saying that the wrong measure of good-and-bad was being employed. Invoking "sober scientific research and rational reflection" as the touchstone amounts to an invitation to apply a utilitarian conception of good and bad, better and worse -- at least, that's the standard form of moralizing that tries to measure (scientifically, objectively, so its adherents might say) what's the better course of action. But all of that is just a different form of moralizing -- there's really no 'de-' going on.

Daniel Jackson said...

Right on, Richard Dolan; it is a question of value.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

dear professor emerita,

This was in 1961 and way before your time at UW.

The Objectivist Ethics by Ayn Rand was Paper delivered by Ayn Rand at the University of Wisconsin Symposium on “Ethics in Our Time” in Madison, Wisconsin, on February 9, 1961.

May I request your evaluation of the word-smithing in this document.
My own interest and ability in word choice was heightened and improved after reading this.

Interested in lawyer's take on this.

thank you.

rcocean said...

I've seen "Demoralized" in so many military books, i never knew it had any other meaning.

I'm not really a fan of "De-" "Dis-" and "Un-" words. How lazy just to attach a prefix and get the opposite meaning. Even worse, people do this when perfectly good words already exist with more - or less - the same meaning.

I'm very unhappy and unsympathetic to the whole idea. Its very ungood for the language.

BTW, what does gruntled mean?

Bad Lieutenant said...

Chuck said...
Not that it matters


Then why say it? Oh, because you want Ann to ban you from the blog. you could always just withdraw so I guess you want the drama and a nice girly flounce-off.

There's something very feminine about you, Chuck.

Gahrie said...

BTW, what does gruntled mean?

Pleased or satisfied.

It really is a real word.

Gahrie said...

But interestingly, "disgruntled" came first. Disgruntle goes back to 1682. Gruntle first appears in the 1920's.

Fabi said...

I'm quite gruntled to learn that gruntle is an actual word.

Luke Lea said...

The answer is yes, we need to introduce the new old word de-moralize into today's discussion of human biodiversity issues. We need to de-moralize the whole subject human biodiversity and look at it instead as a matter of fact, a challenging reality in our brave new multi-racial society, which we must somehow square with our liberal ideals and institutions.

Shall it be affirmative action for all, affirmative action for none, or affirmative action for some? Which of these alternatives can we square with equality under the law?

Should our governing elites of tomorrow, meaning the Harvard student bodies of today, reflect the racial, ethnic, and geographical diversity of America? Shall they be a representative sample of the best and the brightest? How about the student bodies of MIT and CalTech?

I do not know the answer to these questions. But I do know that realism is the first desideratum for moral responsibility in this world. (At this point I'm not sure if I have de-moralized or re-moralized the subject.)

Henry said...

destigmatize

jnseward said...

As the old morality recedes, the new PC morality replaces it, with a vengeance. http://pubblog.com/justopinions/?p=2296