The capacity for self-justification is one of those universal human tendencies which frequently causes us problems as human beings. As someone who has a not insignificant portion of this particular quality, I do not comment on the issue in order to condemn it, buy rather to note that a great many situations where it would be possible to do justice to others becomes far more difficult to manage when we feel it necessary to defend ourselves from the accusation of being unjust. It is easier to be just to others when we are not concerned with the need to defend ourselves at the same time. Thus it is that our prickly nature and ready recourse to rhetorical self-defense makes the already difficult task of being just even harder because it leads us to act according to the ready bias that all of has in favor of ourselves and our own interests and that makes it harder to accept the just claims that others may have upon us because those claims carry with them the whiff of accusation that we have not behaved justly.
Earlier this Sabbath I listened to a sermon message given by someone who had a lot of useful things to say about the importance of the firstfruits as we come near to the Feast of Pentecost where the nature of being a firstfruit and what that means with regards to the larger plans and designs of God as they relate to our fallen race of humanity is of great importance. In seeking to present a worthy topic, the speaker felt it necessary to defend the ready recourse that the ministry in previous times took when speaking of the time being short that appeared to others to be highly speculative. When one is engaged in the same sort of discourse of seeking to promote a sense of urgency, it is quite natural that one should adopt the sort of methods that one remembers fondly from earlier ages and seek to defend that approach from those who would view it critically. We would be less than usually sensitive as human beings if we did not rise up in defense of those whose approach and view of the world is like our own and which may have influenced our own approach to such matters.
Yet we would be remiss to think that this tendency to justify ourselves and our approach to life and other people is simply limited to one group of people or one kind of situation where this may be the case. At times our tendency to reflexively defend and justify ourselves can lead to real difficulties in our relationships with other people. And so it has proven for two singers whose names will remain formally anonymous to protect the guilty and the innocent. One singer who has made a reputation for herself as a critical darling but one lacking in strong commercial appeal has expressed bitterness that some women have gotten to be popularly accepted for sex appeal but her own approach to relationships has proven less popular and frequently criticized. Moreover, one of the artists she criticized has herself come under heavy scrutiny for having engaged in very intimate chats with those contemporary lepers among the alt-right community, thus jeopardizing her own ability to use her bi-racial identity as a means of being well-regarded by “the culture,” given that incels and people accused as racism are considered to be beyond the pale of social acceptability. Problems with self-hating members of one’s ethnicity and culture are not limited to the white community, it would seem.
However little interest I have in the more toxic aspects of identity politics, it does appear as if our times present people with very little room to work with when it comes to being just and kind with others and with defending our own interests while at the same time not seeking to be unjust towards others. A great deal of our personal insight depends on us being able to accept and learn from rebuke or from the discomfort that comes from being presented with someone else’s perspective. Even if we do not adopt other perspectives, it is important to note that both we and those who think differently than us are right in our own eyes, and even where we think others to be mistaken it is still worthwhile to know how it is and on what grounds they seek to justify themselves, so that however much we may disagree with them we can do so without disrespecting them or viewing them as less than human for their disagreement. Given that most of us tend to believe ourselves, with good reason, to be part of beleaguered communities that are under assault by hostile outside forces, we tend not to view highly those who seek to disregard the legitimacy of our views and our perspectives, but we are not so quick to grant others the same sort of privilege that we demand for ourselves with regards to self-defense and self-identification and self-justification. The fact that we justify and defend ourselves for wildly different and frequently opposing viewpoints does not demonstrate that we are superior to others or inferior to them, but that our common human tendencies for self-justification can operate in many distinct ways, dividing those whose behavior is quite similar but whose perspectives are not. And so it has always been.