The Arrogance of the Righteous

Righteous Brothers

My thanks to “J” at The Nutbox for couching the Sabah conflict a while back in terms that make impeccable sense. That discussion inspired this article. Perhaps I will say much the same thing, in far less eloquent words.

My views herein are shaded by the knowledge that the Righteous Brothers, a popular singing duo in the States, oh, a couple of years ago, are neither brothers nor righteous.

The following definition from works fine. We need not consult Humpty Dumpty for a tailored definition.
right·eous  [rahy-chuhs]  adjective

  1. characterized by uprightness or morality: a righteous observance of law.
  2. morally right or justifiable: righteous indignation.
  3. acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous: a righteous and godly person.
  4. Slang. absolutely wonderful: righteous playing by a jazz great.
Righteous is variable. One nation’s view of what is morally right or virtuous may differ from another’s. One religion’s view of what is morally right or virtuous may differ from another’s.  One man’s view of what is morally right or virtuous may differ from another’s.
When a circumstance arises that brings the virtues into conflict, we often get murder. Or war. Passions built upon a sense of what is right, what is virtuous, are intense and usually unbendable.
In the United States, we see this within a frozen and inept government as partisan war is waged between the political parties risking the wealth and well-being of the nation for deep and unbending principles of what is virtuous.
It is a uniquely a human condition, the tying of emotions to intellectual concepts of virtue. But it is decidedly animalistic the way we behave when caught up in righteousness, claws and fangs extended, unable to adjust our emotions and thinking to take the heat off the moment.
Indeed, our various communities ensure that we do not bend. The righteous person who bends gets assigned the worst names: betrayer, treasonous, coward. Execution is often the legalistic outcome among even the most advanced of civilized nations when the righteous judge that the offense is severe.
Alas, one man’s terrorist is another’s patriot.
And ten years later, the terrorist is sometimes a patriot’s best friend.
Yet, given this clear sign that righteousness, and even treason, are variable trends, why do we remain so hard-headed about things?
Take the Sabah incident.
Who are the righteous players? The Sultan and his backers, the Malaysian government, the Philippine government, the peoples of both nations including Philippine Muslims and perhaps some players outside the immediate scene who have supported the Sultan.
Within the Philippine population, there are those who back President Aquino and those who hold that he is the reason for the problems, whether through historical acts (who was invited to the Mindanao peace table) or handling the Sultan after he was in Sabah (he insulted the Sultan with an order to leave).
In Sabah, there are multiple interests and senses of virtue: natives, Malaysian transplants, Filipino workers who back the Sultan, and Filipino workers who feel threatened by the Sultan’s acts.
Each group of people has its unique morality, its unique virtue.
Each group is “right” in the context of their own circumstances and needs.
No group is wrong, from within the walls of their intellectual fort.
The “righteousness” is so intense that even moderate voices, such as I am trying to be, will be attacked for abridging the moral values of the righteous.
I stopped reading many discussion threads on the incident because it is obvious there is very little discussion going on. There is only the relentless announcing of different variations of the same hard-headed sets of inflexibly righteous stands.

The same thing is happening regarding the suicide of a university student. I particularly found offensive the claim of two university professors that the school’s top administrators should resign because they “caused the death”. That is righteous gone lunatic.
The peculiar thing is that any argument levied to condemn one party is legitimate if applied in return. The Sultan is just as guilty of taxing Mr. Aquino’s “face” and insulting him as Mr. Aquino is in demeaning the Sultan. Both missed something in the translation, the communication.

The two professors are cruel to accuse the university administrators of being cruel in causing a death.
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”, said the chain gang captain to Cool Hand Luke before he slugged him.
Righteous is artificial.
But we have not the depth of intellect or the depth of character to get past it.
I suggest we strive to exceed our grasp and reach for a better understanding of what it is like to be in the other guy’s shoes.
Then, perhaps then, we will be able to articulate a position that is non-confrontational, and that solves the problem to the best advantage for all.
Yes, someone will have give something up. Perhaps all will have to give on one point or another.
That is what peace and harmony often require to adjust ones own sense of what is “righteous” to fit both parties in a dispute. Thus, righteous is enlarged rather than fixed in a small way.
It is better the giving up be done thoughtfully rather than at the end of a gun, or cannon.

It is better that righteous be enlarged rather than kept small. As in small-minded.
16 Responses to “The Arrogance of the Righteous”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Perfect! Righteousnes is the vain and weaknessof every Filipino especially those in power and purportedly, intellectuals. The two professors are examples of the latter. Priests, pastors, politicians belong to the former. Rift between Escudero and parents of Heart fall also in the category of Righteousness. Filipinos have tendencies delving into situations they don't haveany business at all. "None of my business" does not exist in Filipino vocabulary unlike other races.Prime examples of hypocrisy accompanying bad sense of Righteousness is seen outside churches on Sundays. Hang around church patios afterchurch and in no time at all one could overhear people talking about the moral lives of other people, that they should not have separated compounded by taking sides on the troubled pair without knowing the root cause of the problems borne by the fact that neither of the self proclaimed Righteous lived 24/7/365 with the couples. Righteousness though, should not be confused with opinions or principles. Taking sides on Sabah issue might exactly be plain opinions of observers, however blaming and condemning higher ups who do not share their opinions might be self righteousness. AS

  2. Ah, vanity and weakness. Very good. And perfect example the dangers of righteousness. I also like the point that "opinions and principles" are (or at least can be) constructive. Although I am amused that, to many, an opinion or principle is unbendable. Even though it is founded on assumptions and facts that might change. Opinions become rigid when they are sufficiently infused with "self esteem" issues, which behaves much like cement.

  3. Edgar Lores says:

    1. The intent behind the Hierarchy of Loyalties and the Tests of Loyalties is to prioritize and objectify righteousness. The intent is to codify proper behaviour into the relevant stratum (or strata) of laws.2. Conflicts arise from a clash between ideas, ideals and ideologies. They usually spring from an incorrect apprehension of the Hierarchy.3. Conflicts may be resolved by correct analysis, correct understanding of the Hierarchy, and mutual agreement as to what constitutes the basic principles and the highest good.3.1 That is easy to say, but people resist analysis, resist understanding, resist coming to a mutual agreement. Men – and all constructs in the Hierarchy- are basically Self-ish. Or self-righteous.4. Bill Clinton’s pragmatism is helpful not only in resolving conflicts through compromise, but as a basic attitude. It asks:o What exactly is the problem?o How is it different from other similar problems?o What is the best solution in consideration of the highest good and the basic principles of conflicting ideologies?o What can we take from each ideology and where should each ideology bend and compromise?5. But to be able to apply Bill’s pragmatism, you must bring people to the table, and the people must come – not with an intention to take unnecessary advantage or impose a solution – but with the honest intention to solve the problem mutually.o Goodwill is a prerequisite.o Communication, as you say, is another prerequisite.

  4. Yes, goodwill, good communication, and the ability to see things from the same perspective as the "opponent". I was impressed that President Obama, speaking in Israel yesterday, offered counsel to Israel, "put yourself in the Palestinians' shoes". My words not his, but that's essentially what he said was necessary.I think the issue there is, does Israel indeed approach the situation with "goodwill". Building more settlements suggests not. And, indeed, can Palestinians conjure up enough goodwill to grant Israel the right to exist.

  5. Cha says:

    There are those who fancy themselves as righteous and then there those who simply do what is right. There are those who find fault and point a finger at others and then there are those who join hands and find answers to problems.Far too many words and too much time is spent in our country debating who is right and who is wrong on whatever is the hot topic of the day. Is anyone else already tired of all the wailing and whining? Today I found two groups of people who are actually doing something instead. One is a group of students from De La Salle University who are helping bring to the attention of DepEd the specific problems of public schools all over the country through an iniative they have called checkmyschool. They touch base with a public school and find out what their issues are (e.g. Lack of or poor quality/damaged textbooks, inadequate facilities like toilets) and then report this back to DepEd and follow through on their resolution. Isn't that so much more productive than raiding classrooms and setting fire to chairs in protest over someone's tragic death?The other one is a non-profit org called AHON Foundation (Acts of Hope for the Nation) that is working with public schools in building better libraries for Filipino schoolchildren. Isn't that so much more useful than crying for blood and asking for the head of people in a system that needs to be fixed?Why are we so fixated on what we think other people are doing wrong? Why couldn't we also shine a light on those doing right instead?

  6. You just have, and thank you for that. That is one of the disadvantages of the internet, we get immersed in the bitching and whining. It is refreshing to know that there are some who are past that stage and into making good things happen. I hope more of it happens, and that the media — particularly the flexible media like Rappler — make sure these efforts are duly recorded.

  7. JosephIvo says:

    The feeling of righteousness isn’t strange to me. In retrospect it often had to hide my insecurity, if you don’t have the arguments it is comforting to be sure that you are right, you feel it deep inside. Once I get the arguments I usually get more relaxed and able to understand, sometimes appreciate opposite views. The behaviour of righteousness was convenient too when I had hidden motives. To achieve something that’s “right” without acknowledging (consciously or unconsciously) the real objectives. Kris and Yap? War to make a profit… Looking to history the futility of righteousness is so remarkable. 70 years ago the Germans where right to kill the French and the French were right to kill the Germans, less the 15 years later they are the best partners. The Americans (and the Japanese contributed too) killed over 100,000 people in Manila, destroyed all houses for rightful reasons, know they are the ideal in-laws.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Those who immediately drew a causal connection between the suicide and the oppressiveness of the system even before an factual determination of the causes could be established reminds me of the bishop who immediately saw a causal connection between the typhoon in Mindanao and God's anger over the passage of the RH Bill. – mb

  9. Yes, righteous is useful. Very powerful. That's possibly why it is so common. Your last paragraph points out how transitory it can be, too. It is fiction, artificial, useful for now.

  10. Hallucinations, righteous hallucinations. I'll be writing about that tomorrow. A parallel to the article you mentioned earlier.

  11. Proud Pinoy says:

    But the great legal mind known as "JCC" already concluded that the University of the Philippines should be sued. How can he be wrong?

  12. I haven't read his arguments. He must believe the University was negligent in some way. I dunno. That the University declared its own policy archaic may be admission of some culpability. However, I think an attorney representing the University would argue that the girl's emotional condition was the culprit, not the University's policies. The family would have to be willing to sit through a lot of pain and would have to be assured they would win big dollars.

  13. Oh, poor promising 16-year-old. She could have broke free from the cycle of poverty and violence in Tondo. Here is government-run University of the Philippines that cannot offer free tuition to deserving students. Cannot even give her enough wiggle room to pay tuition later.The regents of U.P. should be hanged. The government should be hanged.I decided. Because I am righteous.I told you folks, U.P. is not a goot place to study. For example, lookit, those journalists columns and news report. Not worthy calling themselves graduate from ivy-school called U.P.

  14. A 12-year-old Davaona hanged herself because her lavandera mother did not have money to buy for the christmas project. I so love God. God has neglectecd the Filipino people for the longest time 500 years and counting.And you know what? It was in the media for 2 days flat!!! No more follow-up. The church's mouth did not open at all. According to the church thru the Philippine Media it was not the fault of God because God GAVE US FREE WILLYS. GOD SURE DO KNOW HOW TO PASS ON THE BLAME WHEN GOD FAILS HIS FLOCKS.

  15. The charges against U.P. chancellors and regents are soooo despecably Filipino. Dura lex sed lex. According to Philippine Star (Yes, Virginia, I do read Philippine newspapers some of the times) “The acts of respondents were clearly contrary to law, morals, good custom or the clear public policy of democratic access embodied in the University of the Philippines charter.” I have no money, therefore, the Filipino people by "morals, good custom or clear public policy of democratic access" should give me access to cash as embodied in Roman Catholicism virtue. The Filipino people ddid not take a vow of poverty, chastity and celibacy. Whose idea was this?

  16. I think the charges are actually characteristically American, where legions of attorneys litigate every flaw in thinking to convert it to money for the damaged. It's like a life form. I feeds on flaws, finding guilt among the innocent who do not have ill will at heart, only the human condition of imperfect thinking and doing, and stalks about in righteous indignity.A perfect example of righteousness run amuck.

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