Ethics of gossip

  me suit

Last time the social detectives covered the following:  “Is it possible that the nature of gossip as a mode of storytelling has been so embedded in the human process that it is endemically a part of the way we communicate?”

In this second look at the social dimension of gossip we will be looking at one of the most questioned components of its use – its ethical value. Whether or not you are broadly experienced with gossip as a positive or negative force in your life, or whether you study the morality of interpersonal social communication in humanities, the content within information, ( whether personal or impersonal), is scrutinised for its ethical consequences before being disseminated.

Why is gossiping seen consistently as a negative character trait of a personality, but only when the personality in question has been caught under the spotlight by a supposed righteous few?

Ethical Question

In Emry Westcott’s paper on The Ethics of Gossiping, he develops a system that he demonstrates in flowchart form (like a 60 year old lonely Raelien drawing a world map, to pretend that his nonsense has some relevance to the realm of science – There is a process of seven steps that a person must take their gossip through, before deciding whether to deploy the information.

Much like with Kant’s five steps in his First Formulation of a universal law, we are supposed to have some intrapersonal boardroom meeting with ourselves where we spend twenty or so minutes discussing how to brand our gossip for universal audiences and to better censor our message.

Maybe some people are truly in touch with their inner daemon to the extent that they can quickly loop once through a cerebral morality function before speaking. Personally I think this is a ridiculous expectation, and at least Immanuel Kant knew to only expect this level of consideration for moral laws. And even then he claimed it was a background/unconscious force.

Gossip can also play a role in reconciliation between two parties who are fighting one another. The role of the messenger is an often overlooked piece of the gossip drama. The go-between for two people has considerable power in the way in which he or she chooses to report what each party says and does. Some people might think that the ethical considerations for gossip relate just to to the content of the gossip. However, I would posit that one of the foremost ethical considerations in gossip is where the information goes and what gets done with it.

When gossiping is taken to the land of the workplace, the considerations start to pile on. The crossroads or carrefours (in le French!) about who to trust with private or important information is vitally important to your job.Especially if your boss is the titular power hungry  But certainly one of the worst fates for someone in a hierarchical structure of money and power, is that of the gossip bomb holder.

The gossip bomb holder is the unfortunate soul,(could be any of us), who is left holding a piece of gossip in flow, but who is quickly outed by others. Even though the initial gossip mongers generated the gossip with far more opprobrious intent , the last person seen holding(speaking) is sadly the mastermind/villain(even donning a cape and all).

For the purposes of hiding a system that implicates all those who inform it, this person will be socially deformed and scarred for their mistake of deciding to use personal material about another person that was suddenly deemed “not cool”.

When Rene Girard discussed female Nazi collaborators in France, he looked into the psychology of a community sacrifice. He developed the theory of a ‘pharmakos’. A ‘pharmakos’  was a selected sacrifice that a community makes when the distinctive barriers of enemy and ally break down, and the cycle of violence is threatening to turn inwards. Usually it is a young female who is attractive and therefore marginalised, and at a developing stage where formalities of social grace have yet to be bestowed. In the case of a gossip war, the lines of distinction are always blurred and unclear, the need for a pharmakos is far higher.

Moral event horizons in a gossip war

‘He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.’

The thing about ethics in a gossip war is that they sort of don’t exist. It’s always the side that’s willing to play dirtier that will win. There is a sense in which the rules are informed by the gossip enemy. If you are fighting with a dirty fighter it is okay to fight dirty and if not well they won’t be around to say anything about it. What makes gossip war crimes okay is a paranoia surrounding the whole gossip war. If you don’t use the gossip chemical weapons the other side will use them.

Another approach to dealing with gossip guilt is to remember that society is full of relatively powerless social actors. Remember all of that good psychoanalysis stuff. Remember that it is important to reject global accusations of – for example, dependency, narcissism, exploitation, arrogance. Remember that people are always more than a combination of labels and suggest that you were talking poetically about people and it’s not your fault if they went too far with it. Enjoy the protection that ‘balanced’ assessments of the self provide. Introduce evidence of times you were a big ole generous Krishna consciousness pansy having a laugh with a cow and not the time you ate a steak (Yalom, Theory and practice of group psychotherapy).

Revelling in gossip as a way of dealing with gossip guilt

There are many ways of dealing with gossip guilt. One is to revel in gossip guilt to build up an image of a man who has had awful experiences that have hardened him. He is not naive. His eyes are open to the distrustful and exploitative goings on of the world. His gossip is but an experienced man’s way of moving through the world.

Another element of assuaging gossip guilt is to remind yourself that people are always free actors. If they choose to act on information that you have provided to them it is still ultimately their choice. Not only that but unpredictability of how people people share, understand and act upon information also lessens the guilt burden. One is reminded that one cannot view an isolated piece of gossip without its social context.

Who first gossiped about the information? Who passed on the gossip information? Did someone cause a person to reconsider information in a new emotional way?

Having an out

Not wanting to be pinned down as the gossip psycho when holding a piece of gossip that’s readied to explode, you are best to have developed an excuse,explanation or general conversational escape, for such dilemmas. Try remember the last person who exchanged the loaded information with you, were they a friend? Are they known for discussing such things? is gossiping in their nature? And so on.


Then try use this person as your explanation for why you were talking about dangerous things in the first place. These conversations generally have no real original source, there is no patient zero or lone gunman when it comes to large group gossip. Even if there is a gossip mastermind it becomes irrelevant.This is because honesty decays as information increasingly gets the subjective treatment. It is usually an ouroboros like flow of information that has taken on mutations from subjective interpretations that are themselves biased and dysfunctional.

Another tactic is to out everybody. So going back to measures of last resort; your ‘friends’ are all tenuously fulfilling their familiar position(of being friends, like being dicks) and they’re looking for a sacrifice (pharmakos) to push the cycle of violence/insult onto someone before an endless regress of gossip attacks. You can generally tell from your social position that you do not have the standing, comic tactics or sense of well being necessary to escape the judgement. So you tell each one of the individually what they have said about one another.

Pull no punches and do not hold back the crude language, mention everything they have said about each other even if it is out of context. You are in the rather glorious position of being the loser, where you have nothing more that you could possibly lose in the group, so not only do you have the self-informed logic to go about and seek out the other gossipers, but you have your justification when someone is thinking over why you’re duplicitously informing them of what another has said. They would think something in the way of “why would he lie at this point”. (Yet another tactic is to out the person who outed everybody while also outing everybody.)



Having just talked about measures of last resort it seems appropriate to take a look at the collapse of someone’s reputation in a group. If you are in the unfortunate position of having lost a gossip war then take these words to heart.

“Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.”

Josephine Hart, Damage

Lost a friend group? Then build another. Or relish the downtime with yourself and your many inner-spectators who have been dying to talk to you again about what they have seen. Mostly bad. But ignore them and talk to your friends. Wait you have no friends. LoL. Either way remember that all that is waiting behind the pretence of human effort that these mediocre circles at a badly lit club (that likely was once a meat packing plant) seem to revel in, is just the abyss.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s