Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Self Righteousness

On page 59 of the book Moral Politics, by George Lakoff (1996, 2002), in a chapter that parallels the language of morality with accounting terminology, three paragraphs subtitled "Self Righteousness" seemed to me to be dropped into the dialog. I quote:

A self-righteous person is someone who carefully keeps his own moral ledger books, who makes sure that, according to his own system of moral accounting, his credits always outweigh his debits. A thoroughly self-righteous person knows neither shame nor gratitude, since he has no moral debts, again according to his own method of accounting.
There are three things that make him not righteous but self-righteous. The first is that he recognizes no moral values other than his own as valid. The second is that he keeps his own books. There is no external auditing. And the third is that he must communicate his moral standing to his interlocutors.
The self-righteous person's superfluity of moral credit is the basis of his discourse. He presupposes his own moral values and his own righteousness as a condition of conversation. The effect of this is that anyone talking to a self-righteous person must either agree with his moral values and act equally self-righteous, or face being put in a morally inferior position in the discourse. This is what makes self-righteous people particularly infuriating to talk to.

First, I have to look up two words here:
Interlocutors: A person taking part in a conversation or dialog.
Superfluity: The state or quality of being excessive, unnecessary, irrelevant.
While I would tend to say that there is self-righteousness in all of us, we all tend to balance the books of our own morality using our own system of values rather than using a common set of values, I think we all have known the feeling of "being put in a morally inferior position" when we hear some people talk. Rush Limbaugh comes to mind here, but so does Dr. James Dobson. In my own personal experience, the group who seem to have best mastered this particular skill are the fundamentalist religious people. If you want to encounter seriously self-righteous people, attend a fundamentalist church.
But the baffling part about that is that the extreme self-righteous don't credit their system of values to themselves at all. They attribute their values to a higher order. Self-righteous Christians attribute their values to the Bible. So how does this idea that the self-righteous person "carefully keeps his own moral ledger books" fit this model of the religiously self-righteous?
This is something I have been wondering about long before encountering this particular passage. I welcome any comments.

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