Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Curmudgeon Sage

Many people seem to assume that a perfectly good person would simply always act cheerful, without anger, civil, tolerant, and caring. However, I'm not sure that this assumption holds up when one really thinks about it. How would a good decent person act in an severely unjust society? To me, it is more plausible such a person would be in many ways often uncivil and behave angrily and maybe feel contempt or other hostile emotions for others. A well-mannered German in Nazi Germany that does not feel and act on certain hostile feelings towards her Nazi fellow citizens and her society at large may not be all that good a person.

But societies can have wide ranging degree of justice and benevolence depending on the moral characters of the people in it and the institutions in that society. Some societies are probably much more just than others. Furthermore, one can presumably imagine totally just societies (or reasonably close) and societies that are far more unjust than any human society that has ever existed.

No one in our world is morally perfect. In some ways, there are profound evil even in the most just actual human societies. However, what justifies a person in acting with incivility, with the behavior of a righteous curmudgeon? Is there some principle that is society invariant? Because it seems to me that what justifies righteous curmudgeon behavior in one society may not be justified in another more just society. A righteous acting curmudgeon may behave in certain curmudgeon-like ways in his society but because he may also have some moral flaws, he would not be in the right to act that way in a better, more just and more benevolent society even if there are still moral failing in that better society. He would be "casting the first stone" in that other better society.

So is the justification one have in feeling certain hostile feelings towards others (such as those with severely worse moral deficiencies than oneself) and his acting on such feelings only society-relative? Or if it is absolute what principle governs when such feelings and behaviors are justified? Perhaps the only person that is truly justified in being a righteous curmudgeon is a morally perfect being, a curmudgeon sage. But such a being is only imaginary for it is unlikely anyone was ever morally perfect.