Addressing Self-righteousness on the Activist Left

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by Stephen D’Arcy
Briarpatch Magazine
Mar 10, 2015

Self-righteousness is a special case of being self-satisfied, complacent, smug. But here, the smug complacency refers specifically to a person’s belief that he or she complies, to a higher than normal degree, with the demands of some strict moral standard. This claimed moral superiority in turn is supposed to justify an attitude of scorn or disdain toward others, who supposedly fail to respect this high standard and in this way discredit themselves.

Importantly, self-righteousness differs from simple “righteousness” – insistence on doing the right thing, simply because it is the right thing – in being a vice rather than a virtue. Why, though, is self-righteousness a vice, not a virtue?

It is a vice for at least three reasons:

1. First, because the self-righteous person helps himself or herself to a higher standing than his or her peers, and so claims to be superior, like a saint, whereas we only accept the status of moral superiority as something that is conferred on rare individuals by others, not as a self-appointed status to be claimed for oneself;

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Comments

Author makes presumption that people can't criticize themselves but it is not like that. even if self righteous person criticize others, he can still criticize himself. It doesn't mean he look down on others. I come from region where people expect from political activists to follow what they propagate, therefore they can be disappointed and break cooperation with others, some people make compromise some people don't. So, if I am anarchists and patriarchal, and somebody criticize me, I can say like you: don't look down on me and don't be so righteous. patriarchy and anarchist groups don't go together. The only mistake is if people can't cooperate together, it is not mistake if they criticize each others on the basis of morality, ideology, etc. if there is no critics, there is fake unity, unity from outside but disliking inside, or unity in which you have leaders and other people follow them without objection.

Considering occupy, my opinion is that it was soup mixed with many different additions, and it can become bad, if people are not tolerant. my disliking was rich high level salary academics who propagated non violence. they have 10K bucks per month and they don't understand poor angry people and their rage and violence. When you mix PhD and low educated and low paid workers, you get conflict about standpoints and methods of fight. professional activists can also work for FBI which infiltrate long existing political groups (antiwar, human rights, etc). they can try to keep mass of people under control. if there are really no leaders at occupy, more active activists should never try to impose their methods of fight on others.

In the end, people can stick to their group of thinking and participate in bigger protest, occupy or any other protest. but other groups should not force anybody to be the same like they are, peaceful and violent should be together, but obviously the both of them dislike each other. so, without tolerance, there is no cooperation. I believe that diversity of protest is the only proof that we are not under control of secret service.