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Man enforcing social norms with his finger

Taboos are the way that culture enforces social norms of behavior that may not be applicable to the legal system. The most common taboos throughout history revolve around our sexual morality, but they also include things like cannibalism and farting in an elevator.

This page refers to taboos, but these could be any mechanism for the enforcement of norms outside the legal system.

The Need for Modern Taboos

As belief and participation in religion declines, so has the ability to enforce taboos and other social norms. In many cases this is a good thing. The sexual revolution freed us from many unnecessarily and debilitating taboos, allowing people who enjoy sex outside of procreation (everyone) to openly be themselves. However, there are some traditional taboos that have been lost that we are starting to miss.

Losing the taboo on vulgarity has led to a proliferation of abusive and hateful language both on social media and in in the mainstream media. There has been a slow and steady increase in the use of vulgarity ever since the first shit hit the airwaves on NYPD Blue. Though it has made TV dialog more realistic, it has not improved the level of discourse. A new taboo is needed to improve civility and focus on having reasoned debate on important topics instead of using vulgarity to evoke emotional outrage and clickbait quotes.

Other new taboos that we really need:

Taboos Only Work On the In-Group

Only when bad behavior is shunned by our in-group will we be able to eliminate it from our culture. You cannot shun someone who doesn't want to hang out with you. If we want to raise the level of discourse the only thing we can do is lead by example and enforce the taboos in our in-group that we want to see in our opposition.

In the short term this may seem like political disarmament, where your in-group loses people to high ethical standards that are not being upheld by the opposition. But the opposition can either raise their own standards to match or cede the moral high ground and inevitably lose the support of decent people. The strategy of high ethical standards will always pay off in the long run.

This is also why a universal in-group is needed in a modern, connected world where people from any culture must interact with each other on a regular basis. The propaganda you spread to cause outrage and sew political division in other countries will inevitably be shared with your own citizens and everyone else in the world. A meme war is like a nuclear war--the fallout impacts everyone. Only when all fire is friendly fire can war finally become a thing of the past, and this has to start with a universal enforcement of norms on global communications platforms.

Is This Just Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture is an example of a modern enforcement of taboos through shunning. It is controversial due to the fundamental disagreement that large parts of the population have over what should be taboo, and the vindictive and political way it has been selectively enforced.

There needs to be a new consensus created to calm the cancel culture controversy.

This will require restoring trust through a taboo on the presumption of guilt to help eliminate the fear of false cancellation. It will also require an update to which norms are enforced by cancel culture (see above). If people realize that they can use cancel culture to prevent billionaires from avoiding taxes, driving down wages, or grifting your grandparents, then they may see more utility and less fear of getting falsely accused.

There must also be fairness in the application of these norms and the resulting consequences, otherwise consensus will never be reached.

The Auto Ad Hominem

An ad hominem is a logical fallacy that substitutes a personal attack for an argument against the point being made. With the spread of cancel culture, art and ideas are being discredited through nothing more than their association with people who have reprehensible behavior or beliefs in other parts of their life. Bad faith debaters no longer have to make ad hominem attacks when we already seek out discrediting information on our heroes and use it to remove their good ideas from the cultural conversation.

This tendency is part of the reason why the wiki format was chosen for its anonymity. The ideas presented should stand on their own, regardless of the credentials, experience, or shortcomings of its authors. The collaborative nature means that eventually few pages will even have a single author, which contributes to ad hominem resiliency.

In an era where privacy is no longer possible due to the sheer volume of personal information made available to the world, it is increasingly necessary for the culture to separate art and ideas from the worst things that its creator has ever done. In cases like this, notions like original sin and forgiveness can be a benefit. We have all done reprehensible things, and we all deserve an opportunity for redemption. Reinforcing this notion through social norms can go a long way towards providing a path for our most capable people to continue to contribute after their shortcomings have been exposed.

Taboos On The Tube

Taboos around the world

Weirdest taboos from around the world

Sade - The Sweetest Taboo