Wednesday, July 29, 2015

TOMS shoes, virtue and virtue signalling

I want to be very clear here: A desire to help people in need is a good thing. Paying a little more for a pair of shoes or a messenger bag because you want your purchase to help people is commendable. If that’s you, well done! 
But TOMS and the many other companies like it are the charitable equivalents of yes men. They’re telling you what they think you want to hear in order to get what they want (for you to purchase trendy, pricey accessories), not what you need to hear in order to do what you want (to have your purchase to do as much good in the world as it can) 
TOMS tells you that you that making the world a better place is all about you: that you know best how to help poor people, and that you are so powerful that it will take barely any effort on your part to make a huge difference in the world. 
This is hardly a message that’s limited to TOMS.
Why don't you donate both your kidneys? Sure, you'd die, but you'd help two other people live; perhaps you'd even save two other lives. You'd be dying for a good cause!

As I've said before, we tend to evaluate moral arguments entirely in terms of outputs. That's what, Amanda Taub, the writer of the Vox piece above is doing. She asks, quite reasonably, how much does buying a pair of TOMS shoes really do to help poor people, especially when compared to other things you might do, and figures out that the answer is "not much". That's a good thing I suppose, although I'd be more inclined to wonder why Vox readers get university educations if they still need to have this explained to them after graduating. No one should need more than thirty seconds to figure out that these campaigns are all relatively ineffective. That includes, by the way, the food banks you give to at the checkout of your local grocery store.

But what if we're asking the wrong questions. We start with a simplistic assumption that being good is selfless (that's the input end of a type of moral argument). We move from that to an assessment that says a morally good action is the one that has nothing in it for me while helping others in the most effective way possible. Therefore, don't buy any shoes at all and donate the money you'd spend to a real charity.

It seems to me that TOMS are playing on two things.

  1. TOMS shoes aren't exactly practical. The number of pairs of shoes you really need is probably one. The number of TOMS shoes you really need is zero. If you could only afford one pair of shoes, you'd never buy TOMS. There's a guy who is always outside the local liquor store whose figured this out. You feel guilty about the self indulgence when you by booze instead of simply staying home and drinking water so you're an easy mark.
  2. They are selling you a way of virtue signalling—buying the shoes is a way of telling everyone that you stand for what is good, never mind that what is "good" here shows a kindergarten-level understanding of morality. Adult: What did you learn at school today little boy? Little boy: Sharing is good! The little boy isn't stupid. He knows what answer is going to get him approval. But the little boy also knows that it's all a con. Do you? 
Let's be honest with ourselves and ask what would happen if TOMS shoes weren't doing this charity giveaway? Then we'd just be buying a pair of shoes for ourselves. Be honest, not only do you not consider not buying shoes and giving the money to charity, you don't even go looking for bargains so you'll have more left over for charity when shoe shopping. Sure, there are better ways to help but what if the most likely alternative is doing nothing at all?

The real problem here is not on the doing good end. Sure, there are lots of things you might do to help the poor but you're not going to quit your job, get medical training and go to work in an African hospital—you've already determined to keep leading your life pretty much as it is.

Here's an alternative: be honest about the inputs and your moral decision making will improve. You have no intention of being selfless. Every good and meaningful moral decision you have ever made was driven by your desire to improve yourself. Yes, you care about others but you do so because you want to make something beautiful and good of yourself. Be honest enough to admit that and you should be able to see that buying TOMS shoes is a pretty poor investment not only for the people who need help but they are also a poor investment for your project of making yourself into something beautiful and good when compared to simply living a good life and being a good friend, a good spouse, a good man or woman and a good citizen.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Some thoughts about narcissism

1. Is narcissism too useful for explaining moral failure?

Any time we find something that is really good at explaining human behaviour (or physics or biology for that matter) we should get suspicious. If it seems like a really good explainer, it just might be too good to be true.

2. To analyze is to take apart

Human behaviour is individual and varied and we diminish other people by slotting them into a category like narcissism. A human being is a rich and varied creature who should not be reduced to a bundle of motives and tendencies. 

3. Narcissism is a syndrome

That is to say, it is a group of characteristics that go together. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic narcissism is:
I think that list could use some editing as it seems repetitive to me. 

In any case, any honest person, never mind narcissists, should reasonably worry that some of those apply to them.

I go with the Last Psychiatrist school that links narcissism with an inability to experience guilt, a lack of respect for others boundaries and a tendency to see yourself as the star with everyone else a bit player. I think you need all three but the most important is the inability to experience guilt.

4. Moral emotions

While many emotions are linked to morality, the two most important are shame and guilt. Shame is the primary moral emotion, the one that we learn first. As children we feel shame when our mother is unhappy with us and this is the beginning of our moral development. 

To develop guilt we must first develop an internal moral compass, more commonly known as a conscience. Guilt, while often maligned, is our friend. This chart, which I've used before, gives a good idea why.

Where guilt and shame are at odds are the corners where we need guilt. Consider the top right corner where I believe I did a morally bad thing but others don't. Imagine how much worse you would be if you didn't have guilt. Guilt, like any emotion, can be misplaced but you'd never question your actions except when there was a chance of getting caught if you were incapable of feeling guilt.

The lower left corner is even worse. To live there is to live in a personal hell. That said, it happens to everyone at some point in their life. And think how much worse it would be if you were incapable of experiencing guilt because you had a poorly developed conscience. Then you'd only feel shame and you'd be forever at the mercy of what others thought or at what you feared others might be thinking.

5. Anticipatory shame

It took me a long time to develop a proper moral compass. One of the reasons I was attracted to, and later married, the Lemon Girl is that she does have a strong moral compass. Watching her when we first worked together, I could see that, contrary to what I'd believed all my life, her well-developed conscience gave her greater moral freedom than I had.

I thought a conscience was a burden, a thing that would constantly hem you in. I thought that because, not having much of one, I was using anticipatory shame to do the work that guilt would do. I never really examined my conscience but instead scared myself straight by imagining how awful it would be if others knew the worst about me. That way of thinking really was imprisoning.

6. Was I a narcissist then?

I considered the possibility very seriously. For a narcissist, shame is something to be deflected, thrown back at others, and few things could be as shameful as confronting your own narcissism. I forced myself to consider that I might be. In the end, I think I'm what Dr. Robert Glover called a nice guy. 

Why? Because of the nature of my problem with boundaries. Narcissists have a problem in that they fail to respect other people's boundaries. Instead, I failed to defend my own. I didn't stand up for myself. Far from lacking respect for other people's boundaries, I was letting them build them halfway up what was, metaphorically speaking, my own front lawn.

And that is why I propose to stop talking about narcissism. Looking forward at my own moral development, it has no use. 

7. Conscience is mostly an anterior phenomenon

We think of conscience as something that comes after the fact; we think of it as that niggling sense of guilt or, just as likely, anticipatory shame that comes after we've done something. And that is certainly one thing conscience does. The problem is that we think of it as the main thing.

The rest of the time, we think of conscience as the right to hold or express our most cherished beliefs.

The primary job of conscience is to keep you from doing wrong in the first place. That's why "moral compass" is such an apt expression—it directs towards what is right and away from what is wrong. In fact, even the part of conscience we imagine to be after the fact is really a before. Guilt, the stuff of conscience, of a real moral compass, is a call to do something. If you are guilty, you need to seek redemption by apologizing, doing what you can to right the situation and seeking reconciliation with God. Shame, on the other hand, is entirely out of your hands.

The way to start developing our conscience, I believe, is to ask ourselves the following question: Why be a moral being in the first place? That's next week's topic.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The missing part of the Ashley Madison scandal

I take it no one is feeling a lot of empathy for Ashley Madison or its subscribers? It's not a business model I want to defend. And yet, there is something rather troubling about the recent threats against the company. To be precise, there are two troubling things about it. Those two things are related.

Here is an interesting line from the statement the hackers released:
Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion.
That's an astonishingly puritanical statement. It's a long, long way from "hate the sin but pity the sinner". And who appointed these hackers as the moral referees? What if they came after you? 

It's not okay to destroy somebody's life because they did something bad or because they have hateful opinions. The increasingly common belief that it is is a very troubling sign about the state of our culture.

The second issue you may have already guessed: "those men?" The inescapable fact about any heterosexual affair is that you need one man and one woman to manage it. Do a little on-line research and you'll quickly discover blogs by women who discovered their husband was cheating. For example, A Year After the Affair. The woman who runs that blog shared an e-card 

Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us that any morality has an implied sociology. The hackers above have an implied sociology that says that certain kinds of men are evil (I'll get to which kind below). There is also an entire line of feminist thought, starting with Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, that argues that the other woman should never be blamed because, again, men are evil. And some people perhaps even believe that. I doubt that most of the people who claim to actually do.

The people who run Ashley Madison have another site called Established Men. It's a sugar daddy connector. Men pay for that service. Women get on for free. I suspect that, while pretending to be something else, most of the Ashley Madison business is the same. The women attracted to both are probably single.

And they're probably younger and more attractive than you'd like to think. "Ashley Madison" conjures up an image. That's not for the men. The men already know what they want and wouldn't be put off by having to sift through a "selection" to get what they want. If anything, that's a plus as it would make finding the woman whose picture gets our guy excited feel all the more special if he had to go through a certain number of "duds" to find her. No, the image "Ashley Madison" conjures up is meant for the women (and girls) who go to the site. It tells them what they are supposed to be like. 

There is a female character in a Len Deighton novel who says that infidelity is ninety-five percent opportunity and five percent motivation. For a cheating woman, that's usual true. There is always someone pursuing her—what she needs to make it happen is a situation that makes it easy and safe enough to follow through. She's alone at the cottage mid-week and there is no one else on the lake except her old friend from college whom she's always been curious about and bang, it happens. Quick, easy, no involvement, no elaborate ruse or cover up needed. Most men can only dream of such a thing. What Ashley Madison sells them is the fantasy that they could cheat like a woman.

But for Ashley Madison to work at all you need a whole lot of mercenary women willing to sell sex in order to get money and clothing and good times but who don't want to think of themselves as prostitutes. If I had to guess, I bet there are whole lot more men who fantasize about a ninety-five-percent-opportunity-and-five-percent-motivation affair than there are women willing to be stigma-free sex workers. That said, there must be a lot of women in that category for sites like Ashley Madison to work at all. 

I'd further bet that you could probably put together an image of the kind of guys the site worked best for. They're fairly wealthy and fairly good-looking with weak social skills. Why weak social skills? Because if a guy with money, looks and strong social skills is stuck in a sexless marriage and wants to cheat he wouldn't need any help finding a partner. On Ashley Madison, a guy wouldn't need to actually be wealthy so much as clearly willing to spend a lot of money. Why does he have to be good looking? So the woman won't have to feel like a prostitute. If she's with an unattractive guy she'll be painfully aware of the status hit she is taking be being seen with him. She feels shame, not guilt, at the thought of being a hooker. What she dreads is someone else in the bar seeing ugly guy spending a lot of money to be with hot woman. 

But angry puritanical hackers and the rest of us being self righteous on social media aren't interested in shaming her? No we aren't but you probably wouldn't want to think about what it is about you that makes you like that for too long. The implied sociology of your moral beliefs would be too depressing and so might the conclusions you'd reach about yourself.

Friday, July 17, 2015


ADDED: I wrote this post a little too quickly because I was tired and see all sorts of typos and missing logical steps by the light of day (even more than usual) that I will have to fix as best I can now.

1. Problem? I'd say more like the saving grace

This is a problem even with some official statements of Catholic social teaching. You don’t know what to do with them. I know something about theology and something about politics and I haven’t a clue.
Catholic social teaching is a mess and it's an outdated mess at that. The only reason most Catholics aren't clamouring for church leaders to do something about this is their, probably well-founded, fear that it could only get worse.

Monday morning afterthought: It strikes me that David Mills, the writer I quote above, real concern is that Catholic social teaching does not and cannot be made to endorse a specific set of policies that he endorses. I can understand his frustration but it is a good thing that Catholic social teaching cannot be made to fit social policy. It is a moral teaching. Its primary concern is with the morality of political and economic choices and not with systems.

I believe democratic republics with free-market capitalism are the best way to protect the freedom and dignity of human beings. Socialism, on the other hand, has a long record of mass oppression and debasement of human beings and sometimes I wish that the church would recognize this. But that's not the church's job.

2. Dialogue?

“I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I must begin studying these criticisms, no?” he said. “Then we shall dialogue about them.”
The "he" in question is Pope Francis. He's either sincere about this or he isn't. We'll know soon enough. I'd say the entire future of his papacy depends on his being sincere and open-minded.

I'd add, that I don't think a meaningful dialogue would be possible during his fall visit. The most he can do is to promise to begin such a dialogue. If the Pope is hoping to come here and settle the issue and then go home, he'll fail.

3. Demythologize the papacy?

At Lourdes, Mary is reported to have said, "I am the Immaculate Conception". The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was still being debated at the time and that statement pretty much settled that. Well, okay ...

... okay, but this has created an unfortunate tendency within the church to settle matters by appeal to authority. Far too many people are keen to create doctrine and to be able to order their opponents shut up.

Francis's efforts to demythologize the papacy are healthy corrective for this. Many will object that there are far too many abuses and that we need a strong hand in the Vatican to stop them. That's a nice idea in theory but it calls for a perfect being in the chair and we don't have that. 

4. Male pride

Humorists have produced a lot of scathing parodies of male pride over the years. When I was a university student, this guy was a favourite.

Reportedly based on a guy that Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed hated in real life. Steve Dallas was officially mocked but secretly loved on my campus. More than a few young men found that women gravitated to them when they stopped trying to be what women claimed they wanted in a man and just did what Steve would do. 

While officially mocked right, left and centre, male pride is a highly attractive quality even in an otherwise morally dubious package.

5. As long as the ref doesn't see me

Alice Goffman has gotten plenty criticism, and deserves every bit of it, for her academic work. You can read about it here. But even beyond that, she provides tons evidence of her own moral emptiness.
“Later, the detectives came in: three white guys in plain clothes. Hearing that I hadn’t been at the scene when Chuck was shot, they rolled right past me,” Goffman writes. “By this time I didn’t know exactly who’d killed Chuck, but I had a pretty good idea. We’d spent much of every day together in the months before he’d been shot, and I’d also been around for the previous war. I was thinking I certainly could’ve helped narrow it down for the police, if they’d bothered to ask me. But they didn’t.”
You see this attitude in young hockey players all the time: the fact that he slashed another player across the face is only a moral issue if the ref saw it. What Goffman should have done, what any moral person would do, is to have approached the police and told them that she had information that could help.

Notice also, that Goffman is terribly race conscious. Why doe we need to be told that the police officers are white?

Caveat: It's entirely possible she didn't really have any information that would be useful to the police but likes to believe that she did and so has convinced herself that she did.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Smooth Song of the Day: "innocence" hidden in plain sight

Not much needs to be said about this one. It's a love song and it would be one giant cliché from beginning to end except that it's about an adulterous affair. Mrs. Jones is a married woman. You listen to it and it all sounds so innocent. And you know it isn't. And yet ...

It's  Gamble and Huff tune and the production values are magnificent. Billy Paul sings it well, with, if you listen closely, a very slight lisp. It's a good performance but not inimitable as Michael Bublé had no trouble matching his performance. Compare that with Beyoncé's attempt at matching Etta James: Beyoncé has the pipes but not the soul. Bublé, surprisingly enough, does have the soul and you can make of that what you will, both versions are below.

Related to this morning's post

Thorpe admits that there’s something unnerving about having learned, subconsciously, to adopt a stereotype. Did he choose to sound gay or did sounding gay choose him? A friend from childhood tells him that, when he came out in college, his inflections suddenly changed, and part of her still hears the voice of an “imposter” when he talks. It reminded me of a straight friend who once told me, soon after I came out, that I was starting to sound “essy.” (The gay “lisp” is a bit of a misnomer, usually referring to a sibilant “S.”) Was I finding my true voice, or just reprogramming myself to conform to a different group?
The phrase that jumps out at me here is "when he came out at college". Years ago I commented on the tendency of gay men I've known to become much more gay in behaviour after coming out. In a sense, the reason for this is obvious: now that you're out you want to be identifiable by potential partners. Given that gay men make up less than five percent of the male population by even the most liberal estimates, that's going to be a challenge and, thus, the shock of "unconsciously" adopting a stereotype. 

I put the scare quotes around "unconsciously" for there is nothing at all unconscious about it. Wittgenstein talks somewhere about how we can imitate a facial expression without looking in the mirror. In a sense that is odd and yet it is the most familiar thing in the world. Everyone has a sense of the range of behaviours that are manly, womanly and gay and we can and will adopt these where it seems appropriate. We don't need to study ourselves to adopt mannerisms, we just do it—but it is very much each of us who makes these choices and we know what we are doing.

Our innate sense of "who we really are" depends entirely on how well we can carry that self off in public. No mater how strongly Thorpe may feel he is gay and ready to come out, his success or failure depends entirely on other gay men recognizing him as gay. "Was I finding my true voice, or just reprogramming myself to conform to a different group?" Hiding behind that is a notion of authenticity; the belief that once I know what I really am, I can simply let what I am shine forth. But what you are is always something you have to earn; you cannot be anything at all unless you make yourself that person.

And the real rub here is for heterosexuals. You may think you "know" you are a man with XY chromosomes or a woman with XX chromosomes but you are nothing until you can convince others to accept you as that. We tell ourselves a lot of nonsense about being a man or a woman "on my own terms" but everyone knows this isn't true even if we pretend otherwise.

Innate rights

1. "Perhaps happier people just happen to have more sex."

Happier people do, in fact, have more sex. And that raises the obvious hope we might all be happier if we started having sex more often. What are the habits of highly happy people? Well, if sex is one of them it may be possible to make sad people happier by simply convincing them to have more sex.

Turns out that it doesn't work. Having more sex won't make you happier.

What really struck me about the study, however, was the great lengths the researchers and journalists writing about the research are willing to go to to not consider the opposite conclusion: that being happier will cause you to have more sex. You can see it in the quote above: "Perhaps happier people just happen to have more sex." But where does the "just happen to" come from?

My grandmother's generation used to say, "Some people are just determined to be unhappy". They aren't happy to be unhappy as that involves an obvious contradiction; they are determined to be unhappy. You can see how such a person would respond to the researchers request that they double the amount of sex they have: "Okay, I'll do it but I know I won't like it".

If, on the other hand, you go into sex (or exercise, or work, or reading) on the assumption that there is a reward to be had here, you will get more out of it. Being happy will get you more and better sex.
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. (Matthew 25:29)

2. "Good sensible stuff"

A man I used to respect a lot more than I now do once said that about the Letter from James. There was a dismissiveness in his tone; the implication being that there was nothing in it that you couldn't figure out for yourself. In a sense, that's true. It's a collection of reminders.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and once forgets what he was like. James 1: 22-23 
Yes, you could figure it all out for yourself but you don't. That's why we need the reminders. Perhaps it takes more genius to write a series of reminders than we credit.

3. Whose culture?

Here is an interesting transcript:
If you are not Kanaka Maoli or a person from the Hawaiian Islands, you do not get to spread the message of aloha through your product because it is not yours. It is not yours for appropriation or profit or even a Rachel McAdams rom-com.**
What makes it interesting is that the words in bold and underlined aren't actually in the video it is a transcript of. There is nothing wrong with that. Janet Mock obviously had second thoughts about what she'd said and wanted to amend it. Good for her.

She explains he reasons for the addition here:
**My target of this editorial is Hollywood and mainstream media. The video piece is titled “Hollywood’s appropriation of Hawaiian culture” which is addressing an entire system that more often than not silences Native voices, rather truly includes Native voices. I am also aware that though I am centering Native Hawaiian/Kanaka Maoli voices, I do not wish to erase the presence of the people *of* Hawaii, who may not be Native, but who have contributed to local Hawaii culture which also embraces the concept of Aloha.
That's all to the good. Without the addition, her message was racially exclusionary.

Making that move, however, raises another question for you'd still want to have a way of distinguishing between those who adopt a culture in good faith and those who don't. If enough people move in, they can completely transform the culture. In fact, they almost inevitably will and a good argument could be made that has happened in Hawaii. In any case, future generations could modify completely a culture as happened in most of North American through the 1960s and 1970s. What distinguishes good adoption from bad?

ADDED: Does Hollywood "silence" native voices or does it present an alternative that most people find more attractive?

4. When your culture is for sale

I lived in Quebec City for a stretch and people there are very sensitive about who is a really from there. If you moved there permanently tomorrow, you'd be remembered as person from away for the rest of your life. Any children you might have would be thought of as not really 100 percent from there. Your grandchildren, provided the dressed, talked and acted like people from la vieille capitale, would be thought of as really from there but they might be reminded from time to time that they are descended from people from away. The same thing happens in Prince Edward Island and in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick.

What these places all have in common with one another and with Hawaii is that they see a lot of tourist traffic and their culture, as a consequence, is for sale. And it's not just for sale, it's for sale to tourists; it's for sale to people who aren't very committed to it. If you live somewhere, you can love your culture or you can hate it but, either way, you're really invested in it and you are going to develop defence mechanisms to deal with the tourists if you start getting a lot of them.

And all of that strikes me as legitimate and fair. But I suspect that the people who scream loudest about cultural appropriation are unconsciously infected with a Marxist argument. You can see its shadow in Mock's language above where she seeks to distinguish between people "who have contributed to local Hawaii culture" and those who have not. You can see the lingering traces of the Marxist distinction between workers who deserve to profit from their production and capitalists who supposedly do not.

5. The challenges or really being 

I didn't realize, when I first watched the video, that Janet Mock is a trans person. In fact, if I hadn't clicked on a link that included this fact while researching this post, I don't think I would ever had realized. It's probably the height of political incorrectness for me to even have thought this, never mind saying it, but she is the first really convincing trans person I've ever seen. Despite all the talk about Caitlyn Jenner's beauty, I'm sorry but that Vanity Fair photo is a man trying to look womanly. The same is true of Laverne Cox's photos in Time and elsewhere. But Janet Mock simply looks and sounds so womanly that it never occurs to you to think otherwise.

Just putting it that way would offend many. I can easily imagine a trans person saying to me, "I don't have to convince you that I am what I am". And yet ... if you want to be a woman or a man, even if you were born with XX or XY chromosomes, it seems to me that you have to earn it.

Now that trans people are so much more visible, I suspect that we will see an increasing number of people who will be inclined to be trans tourists. It will become just a place they visit while on vacation from their normal lives. And they will do this with varying degrees of seriousness. As I've said before, I am certain that some voyeurs are already playing at being trans so they can get into the women's change room at the pool or gym. Others will do so for reasons that aren't quite so crass and exploitive but there will be a struggle to prove legitimacy.

Ironically, I suspect that the effect of this will be to reinforce traditional gender roles. That Janet Mock is so completely convincing is a reflection of the seriousness and dedication she puts into being Janet Mock. Women with two X chromosomes will feel pressure from Janet Mock.

6. Which brings me to dignity

 There was an explosion of Internet outrage aimed at Clarence Thomas for his remarks about the dignity of slaves that, even by the low standards of Internet outrage, was appallingly ignorant. Clarence's argument was that dignity is innate and, therefore, a legal argument that dignity depends on the state being the source of the right to dignity is illegitimate. Many might disagree with that but what he said was in agreement with the beliefs the USA was founded on so to say it is ludicrous for him to make the argument is just wrong.

I agree with Thomas. Dignity comes from inside.

What he didn't say, and I would be inclined to add, that while we have a God-given right to dignity that cannot, and should not, be taken as something bestowed by the state, dignity remains something we struggle for. The founders believed that God (aka the Creator) has bestowed these rights on us and that the state is obliged to protect them or else lose it's legitimacy as a state. People can lose that struggle and do so daily. You have dignity in the same sense that you are a man or a woman and that right automatically carries responsibilities with it.

Current liberals/progressives are very keen to eliminate any sense of responsibility that goes with rights. That's why they speak of some groups as having rights and others as having privilege. To make that move is a one-way ticket to fascism.

7. Aloha

Most who invoke the term aloha do not know its true meaning. Aloha actually comes from two Hawaiian words: Alo – which means the front of a person, the part of our bodies that we share and take in people. And Ha, which is our breath. When we are in each other’s presence with the front of our bodies, we are exchanging the breath of life. That’s Aloha.
That's true and it's beautiful and good and Janet Mock is quite right to say that much use of the term tends to dilute and cheapen it. I've even seen people talk about the "spirit of Aloha" which is redundant and, as I will argue below, reduces both words to meaninglessness. 

But what the meaning of Aloha isn't is unique to Hawaii. The word is but that sense of sharing the breath of life is not. It is, in fact, exactly what Saint Paul meant when he talked about being in the spirit and not in the flesh. "Spirit" is a word that derives from breath just as "Ha" does. And that notion has been cheapened over the centuries by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. 

"Spirit" for Paul was a physical thing just as "Ha" is for Hawaiians. Ironically, Christians trying to maintain the purity of the term have literally purified it out of existence. In the mouth of a typical Christian preacher "Spirit" and "Spirituality" mean nothing at all; they turn the new testament into a particularly wordy Hallmark card. The distinction between exploitive and non-exploitive use isn't helpful here.

What could help keep life in the spirit and Aloha alive would be to really live them.
Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ. It is he who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart. Ephesians 2:13