Righteousness, continued

10 03 2011

A couple posts ago I mentioned my latest over-generalizing theory: the amount of trust you should place in someone is inversely proportional to that person’s amount of self-righteousness. Allow me to elaborate.

The place where righteousness is really bugging me is on TV. Not just among Fox News’ rabid talking heads, who you should most definitely not trust, but also in the dramas. Specifically, the CSI shows. The CSI cops are smugly, gleefully self-righteous whenever they nail a suspect. Even when they confront someone they have no real evidence on, they make all sorts of snarky allusions to that person’s guilt. This is not how we want cops to act. We are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in this country. But even aside from legal considerations, that’s counterproductive behavior.

It’s part of a larger pattern in TV and movies. How many times have you seen one character verbally lay into another? We love to see the guilty get righteously told off. (The courtroom drama is often a vehicle for just this cathartic interaction.) But how does that work out in real life? Poorly. If you verbally lay into someone, they do not get all cowed and learn the error of their ways. They get defensive. They most likely dig in their heels and become more committed than ever to the errors you are trying to correct. Yet we are shown over and over again the model of a righteous dressing-down breaking through an evil-doer’s illusions. We can’t help but buy into it after awhile. Not so much in daily life; it’s not easy to declare war on someone face to face. But how much of our foreign policy is based on the idea that there are bad people out there who need to be shown what’s what? And how is that working out for us, muscling into foreign lands and laying down the law? Poorly.

Self-righteousness makes two assumptions: that the self is right, and the other is wrong. We like these assumptions. They are comfortable. They feel empowering. We like them so much, we are liable to ignore reality in order to believe them. That’s why extreme self-righteousness is a good indicator of self-deception.

I’m guilty of it too. I’ve spewed my share of vitriol (see paragraph 2) and I will continue to do so. It makes me really mad what some people in power are doing to this and other countries. One day, maybe I’ll be enlightened enough to discuss such things without flying into a rage. Until then, use your own judgment on how much to trust me.

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2 responses

10 03 2011
Alyssa

Nice point! TV drama is vastly unrealistic in many ways. You’d think they’d have taken a hint from the popularity of “reality TV” (which isn’t always all that real either, but it’s more real that dramas).

12 03 2011
skorpen

ah, reality TV…that’s another kettle of fish. I try to avoid it, but I have seen some. From my small sample I conclude that reality show people yell at each other all the time, and never change their mind as a result of being yelled at. But I guess we still find all that yelling entertaining…

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