Smug Index

Boston prides itself on being a haven of high-minded thinking—something that’s also made us insufferable.

By Paul Kix | Boston Magazine |

Both of these studies fall within the larger field of moral psychology, which argues that a cultural preference becomes a value only after it is moralized. So what does that mean? Think of smoking. As bans on smoking have become the cultural norm, a new moral value has gradually emerged. Initially, as the behavior became recognized as unhealthy, more and more people began to consider it morally repugnant. But with the behavior now moralized, it’s smokers themselves whom increasing numbers of people consider repugnant.

What’s fascinating about moral psychology is that it’s up to a community to define its own values. Which explains why gay marriage is okay in Massachusetts but not Mississippi. But as these values harden, those who don’t live up to them suffer the consequence: moral approbation. Eskine, the Loyola professor, has experienced it himself. He has nothing against the organic ideal or the better angels of anyone’s progressive nature. For a long time, he says, he was even a vegan himself. But he also remembers a time he was shopping at a fair-trade co-op in Brooklyn and placed a bag of flour into his cart—not organic flour, just plain old flour—and a nearby shopper caught him in the act. He might as well have been butchering a calf right there in the aisle. “The look I got from this woman,” he says. “Sanctimonious. That’s a perfect term for it.”

This sort of thing happens everywhere, of course. But it’s wildly prevalent in the Boston area, it seems. Life Alive asks you to “notice how you feel after eating.” Newbury Comics uses plastic bags that say, “I’m Saving the Planet—What Are You Doing?” And activists in Jamaica Plain recently took things to another level. Desperate to preserve a feeling of diversity there after Whole Foods revealed plans to move in—a move that threatened the survival of a Latin grocery, and thus the activists’ feeling that they were living in an authentic neighborhood—they launched a long campaign to prevent all chain markets from moving in.

But the fact is, it’s always been this way. Generation after generation, Bostonians have felt sanctimony is their natural right.

  • CraigInDaVille

    Is there irony in the fact that the writer seems to think that the smugness quotient in Boston is higher than elsewhere and thus worthy of comment? Try living in a place like Santa Cruz, CA, for a few years, then move to Boston and tell me whether the anecdotal evidence is as strong as you think.

    • Jonathan

      Exactly. Boston barely registers on the smug scale of liberal cities – in fact, it could still use more progressive thought.

  • Heidi

    Smug? Look in the mirror. Your whole topic is smug and self righteous. You have pretended to be a journalist to insult people based on a single study? People who choose to buy organics perhaps struggle to do so because environmental and food safety is important to them. They are actually caring for self and others by spending more. Who is to say giving change to the homeless is more generous? Altruism comes in varied forms. You sit in judgement without thinking deeply. Life Alive’s community is not dogmatic, nor preachy (like yourself) we just work to promote holistic sustainability and share the knowledge. Our choices to give our energy and excess to this cause in addition to or instead of others is just a fact of life for most of us. We are appreciative of the opportunity to learn, give and feel our power to make a difference at Life Alive. Noticing how you feel after eating organic therapeutic food and paying more for it to support fair wages and sustainable agriculture is not smugness, it’s just feeling good inside…and that’s a blessing in todays world when there is so much suffering and stress around us.

    • DevilPatrick

      U so crazy

      • DevilPatrick

        So you take your parents money, spend it on overpriced grass and that makes you altruistic?? Whoooooo whatever gets u thru the night

        • Anonymous

          And how do you know that she’s spending her parents’ money? Not everyone here is a college kid living on their parents’ dime.

          • DevilPatrick

            Well maybe she dropped out who cares? I’m sure she still pays for her PBR with plastic at the bar. She post months ago she prob summering in the hamptons rite now. She makes a good argument about the self-righteousness of the author in the first sentence of her manifesto. Then proceeds to (unironically i might add) spew the most self-righteous penis-shrinking hairy bullshit that has been witnessed outside of an Emperor Obama teleprompter. Eat what u wanna eat babe no one cares. I know girls like this and they’re all chubby cuz they’re hitting the life alive/whole foods scene, then goin home drinkin a box of wine and inhaling a pound of cheese lets be real.

  • Anonymous

    So, you’re arguing that people who work for non-profits do less to help others on a regular basis? And the foundation of your argument is that after work, they don’t volunteer or donate money to charity. So, the 40+ hours a week spent actually doing the service work doesn’t count, huh?

    I’m one of those smug Bostonians you’re talking about here. I ride my bike to work at a non-profit and I eat at Life Alive occasionally. Contrary to your article, I bike because I can’t afford a car and the MBTA ride takes twice as long (plus it still costs money). I volunteer at least 2 hours a week outside of work, and I don’t believe that Life Alive’s food will cure me of anything — I just think it tastes good (mmmm, ginger!). Additionally, if you actually understood how giving works in America, you’d know that the majority of charity dollars go to religious institutions (mostly people donating to their own houses of worship). If you account for religious giving, the Northeast is actually ahead of the rest of the nation in terms of personal giving as a percentage of income.

    I wasn’t born here, and I did have some trouble adjusting at first. We can come off as smug, but that’s just on the surface. Not everyone is a fixie-riding, skinny jeans-wearing, PBR-drinking, eco-fanatic hipster. Yes, some are, and some even own businesses. I don’t magically become a hipster just by buying their products. Like everyone else, I’m an actual human being with diverse interests that don’t fit into any one stereotype. So next time you see my walking into Life Alive, maybe you could dial back on your own smug judgement.