On Tiger Woods, Gossip and Morality

You might have noticed that Tiger Woods has been in the news recently. Did he have an affair? Or even affairs?

I think a lot of us are a bit sickened at how the media and our culture swarms around scandals of this sort. No excuses, but I think it's just human nature. Our minds are attuned to gossip with a moral slant. It makes adaptive sense. In the small hunting-gathering cultures, the place where the brain evolved, sharing gossip about our neighbors' moral lives was important. We need to know who we can trust or depend on. Who keeps their promises? Who will cheat us?

The trouble is, like with pornography, the modern media world hits the brain in this soft spot. We are drawn to tales of moral failing but this time it's about people whom we will never meet or interact with. I'll never need to trust or rely on Tiger Woods. So I don't need a lot of information about his moral consistency. But my brain doesn't know that. I have this virtual relationship with Tiger Woods and, thus, am irrationally drawn into a story that doesn't concern me.

But here's a good side about the Tiger Woods gossip. We want the people we cheer for to be good people. Of course, that doesn't make any sense. If Tiger Woods is unfaithful to his wife (and I have no idea if he was or not) what does that have to do with my admiration of his golf swing?

But, in an odd way, the two are linked. We don't want to root for people who are morally suspect. True, we can separate the two domains, but the shine of these people is dimmed somewhat.

I think this is a good thing. We want to admire goodness. We seem to crave it. I think this is why we feel disappointed in people like Tiger Woods (if any of it is true). Yes, it's irrational to expect goodness from celebrities or athletes. Why in the world would we expect any of these people to act like saints? And yet we feel disappointment and disillusionment. Why? I think it's because we crave goodness in the world. We want to cheer it. And if the people we've been cheering for turn out to be morally despicable then, well, we feel that our praise has been wasted or misplaced. And I think that feeling is a good thing. It suggests that we want nice guys to finish first. And that desire seems diagnostic of a moral sense deep in every human heart.

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One thought on “On Tiger Woods, Gossip and Morality”

  1. A classic example of why the media is not to be trusted. Whether or not this guy had an affair is none of our business anyway. And if it was, the media could at least try to report consistent facts...


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