Wednesday 03 April 2002

Self-justification as a way of life

Michael Barrish’s story about his (and his girlfriend Rachel’s) failed attempt to steal a roadside duck sign in Delaware generated several email messages telling him that stealing is wrong. Analyzing his and Rachel’s identical responses to one forceful, articulate email from a guy named Jay Perkins, Barrish came to the conclusion that “there are three things you can do in such a situation:”

  1. Attack the accuser
  2. Minimize the wrong
  3. Defend your character

At the risk of coming across like “a goddamn paragon of righteousness,” one could suggest alternatives, such as admitting the wrong, apologizing, or rectifying any harm done. But Michael Barrish is using the incident to make a more useful (though dispiriting) observation:

Of course I’m not just speaking about duck signs here, nor only about myself. The same self-serving logic used to justify petty theft is used to justify the destruction of the planet. People do what they want, then find reasons to justify it.

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