Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Scrupulosity, a useful concept for understanding some moral warriors

Simon Kongshøj wrote,
I recently learned about a concept from the psychology of religion: Scrupulosity. This isn't the same as being scrupulous (which is a good thing), but means a pathological concern with own sins and sinfulness, which drives the sufferer to compulsively engage in religious ritual in self-harming or self-denying ways: Going to confession daily, "confessing" minor unwelcome stray thoughts, excessive fasting, self-flagellation, etc. In the Catholic world, scrupulosity has been studied since at least the 1600s, where priests would write about how they desperately attempted to calm down some of their churchgoers who had become unable to function socially and unable to maintain normal daily lives. Today, it's considered a form of OCD.

But the Catholic church in the 1600s was a major social institution, and the priest *had* to be concerned about whether some of his churchgoers became so dysfunctional they couldn't contribute to society anymore. In a cult, where isolation from the surrounding society can be considered a value, leaders are probably more likely to try to *strengthen* these impulses in sick members. And the more miserable their lives become, the more demands for self-sacrifice the leaders can make.

I think certain strands of modern progressive politics can form a very fertile substrate for a kind of secular scrupulosity. And in activist communities that pride themselves on being a counterculture in opposition to the surrounding society, much as I think such a counterculture is *good* and *necessary*, I think the cult-like expression of it is likely to flourish, except that the pressure of a cult leader might be replaced with peer pressure from the community.