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Justify or Die: How O.J. Simpson Lives with Himself

O.J. Simpson Trying on Gloves

If the glove doesn't fit...

Humans are possibly the only animals on the planet who have to live with themselves. That is, deal with guilt, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing for their unsavory actions. You don’t see dogs writhing in mortification after passing gas in the living room. You don’t see tigers agonizing remorsefully after mauling their trainers. Rather, they seem insouciant, guiltless, on to the next thing as if nothing happened.

We, however, aren’t so devoid of conscience. Things tend to bug the hell out of us. (Case in point, Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov, who didn’t think murdering an old lady would get under his skin. Wrong.) So we devise mechanisms to cope with the awful stuff we do, or fail to do, or countenance. In fact, evolution has endowed us with an arsenal of tricks for brushing off the misdeeds of ourselves and others.

One is simply to ignore them. Like not caring to know how our meat gets to our plate. (Read the book Eating Animals about the atrocities of factory farming.) It’s like the adage: you can wake up a person who’s sleeping, but you can’t wake up someone who’s pretending to sleep.

Another ethical avoidance tactic is to shift blame. (“She was dressed provocatively. She was asking for it.”) Then there’s “Everybodyism.” Everybodyism is the belief that if pretty much everybody is doing something, it must be okay. This false notion of acceptability spreads responsibility around so thinly, it leads us to condone some god-awful things in the world. Example: basically good people who work for bad companies that polute, make unsafe products or cheat people. (More about Everybodyism in a future post.)

Another convenient dodge is to invoke the passive voice: “Mistakes were made.” Or, “Could things have been done differently? Yes.” The passive voice has taken the rap for many a political crook and incompetent official.

Sometimes we shift the guilt to inanimate objects: “The gun discharged.” The fact that your finger was on the trigger is only coincidental. Jean Harris, convicted killer of Scarsdale Diet author Dr. Herman Tarnower, tried that one. Sorry, Jean.

But the mother of all ways to live with our transgressions is simply to justify them. Humans have an extraordinary capacity to justify just about anything. It’s how top executives at major corporations award themselves tens of millions of dollars in salaries and bonuses while workers are laid off and their companies drown in red ink. (“I put my heart and soul into this place. Sniff. I deserve every penny.”) It’s how we bomb the crap out of other countries, civilian casualties notwithstanding, in the name of national security, when it’s really the oil we’re after.

Justifications allow us to nudge aside nagging guilt and plow on, else we’d all be curled up under rocks, inconsolable wrecks. No deed seems too horrible to be minimalized a by a little creative rationalization. Which may explain how people like O.J. Simpson live with themselves. He must really have to reach to come up with a self-accepting rationale. But evidently he does. (Man, you know, hey, I just kind of snapped. It wasn’t me that night, it was some kind of devil got hold of me.)

Not unlike the tiger who takes a claw to his handler.

April 26, 2011 • Posted in: Uncategorized

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