Monday, February 27, 2012

On Self Righteousness

There has grown an increasingly negative connotation surrounding the words "self-righteousness" which has seemed to reached a point of rhetorical distraction. There is certainly an inner human distaste for someone who speaks of righteousness when his or her definition of what is "good" differs from our own. However, one cannot be righteous on behalf of others, only on behalf of one's self. If you tend to condemn self-righteousness, be careful that you are not condemning the concept of righteousness itself. This may indeed be your intent to do so, should you have the morals of a movie super-villain. Heath Ledger's Joker comes to mind. Batman's nemesis was set on eliminating any manner of righteous behavior, due to--what he sees as--its inherent phoniness and antithesis to the animalistic human soul. But the rest of us must be careful not to use "self-righteousness"--on its own--as a pejorative criticism. To do so might show either a lack of critical thought, or an ethical standard akin to escapees from Arkham Asylum.

Let's look at a Rick Santorum. If there is a politician who comes to mind as being self-righteous, it is he. He touts his religion as being the highest ethic. He upholds (should-be) antiquated ideas about homosexuality. Let's presume, for the sake of argument, that Santorum is heterosexual (which is probably an okay assumption to make, but one which shouldn't be taken for granted). If he is a heterosexual, and touts the ethical importance of heterosexuality, then he is called self-righteous. If he is someday found to be homosexual--and these kinds of flip flogs are not alien occurrences in modern times--then he is called a hypocrite.

It would seem that, for Santorum not to draw criticism on his ethical beliefs, he must either 1) share the beliefs of everyone listening or 2) not share his beliefs publicly.

At this point, a reader may say, why can't he keep his ethics to himself?

Did we insist on the same ethical isolationism from Al Gore when he was telling us to recycle? No, we generally accepted Al Gore's ethics as righteousness, which sounds way more righteous than "self-righteousness". The reason for this was simply... we agreed with Gore.

Even when we found out that Gore's eight mansions all require nine liquified private jets per day to power the mosquito-zapper on the veranda, we didn't condemn him because we know his message is more important than the messanger. Just as we wouldn't hang an anti-smoking crusader who backslides to a pack of Camel Lights because the greater cause is more important than the dude holding the sign.

So, let's step back and look at the big picture. Is it ethical to talk publicly about one's own ethics? To my way of thinking, it is, so as long as you believe in morality. Forget whether or not someone is peddling nonsense is mistaken for morality, you obviously know better than them, regardless of who you are, reader. The question is, does someone deserve criticism for attempting to raise moral consiousness?

If your answer is "not as long as I agree with them" or "not as long as the exact volume and frequency of their speeches are perfectly tasteful to me" then you may be indulging in a pattern of thought which is not expansive to your personal evolution.

My personal thoughts on self-righteousness? When I was a kid I wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest. I was excited to be a man of the cloth someday and I was secretly surprised that EVERYBODY didn't share this aspiration (at least among the faithful, which, as a catholic school kid at age 7, was everyone I knew). To my way of thinking, if you hold a set of sacred beliefs, why wouldn't you aspire to the highest level of sanctity possible? I'm not saying everyone would make it there, but to not even aim for the the highest calling would be like playing the video-game of reality and calling it quits after you beat the first mini-boss. If eternal salvation was real, it seemed pretty FUCKING important. So important, in fact, that it was unfathomable to me that some believers weren't interested in doing God's most important work: rescuing other souls while securing a seemingly guaranteed spot in paradice.

Now that I'm an adult and I've succumbed the addictive sensations of factual knowledge and syllogistic reasoning, salvation may not be in the cards for me, but I am still appalled by the supposedly faithful who only participate in a luke-warm manner. I don't think I could live with myself if I truly believed in liturgical scripture and didn't spend every waking moment helping the poor and spreading the word of God like free tickets to our sinking ship's life-raft.

Maybe that's just me being self-righteous. But true participation in any type of elevation would seem to include sharing one's successes with others, no? Unless you're the Joker and you believe that mankind's highest calling is... every man for himself.

So feel free to dispute Santorums views as moronic. But don't accuse him of touting unpopular, and essentially indefensible social policies for his own personal glory. To him, rehabilitation of the homosexual lifestyle is just as humble a gift to his creater as the Sistine Chapel was by Michelangelo.

"Never do unto others as you would have others do unto you. They might have different tastes."

—George Bernard Shaw

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