“He joys not to be retained in such a suit, where all the right in question is but a drop blown up with malice to be a bubble.”
Thomas Fuller, “The Good Advocate,” in The Holy State and the Profane State (1642).
For many people, morality is a motivator. Observing the wide discrepancies between the world as it is and the world as they believe it ought to be, such people are filled with righteous anger, and righteous anger is for them a delicious tonic that gives life zest and sparkle.
For other people, morality is a depressant. Observing the wide discrepancies between the person they are and the person they believe they ought to be, such people are mortified by a galling guilt that weighs them down and makes life sad and grey.
If you normally use the word ought in conjunction with the word I, morality depresses you. I know that I have often been filled with a hopeless lassitude when I think of the many things I ought to do, but do not do, and likely never will do.
If you normally use the word ought in conjunction with the words you, or they (or even we), morality motivates you. Thinking about the imperfections of others can be more invigorating than a cup of strong coffee.
This occurred to me as I listened to an invigorated colleague warming to the subject of an alleged injustice recently. It was like watching a pile of dry sticks catch fire.
A man is hesitant to confess his own sins. The longer he speaks, the more softly he speaks. He ends with a groan, silence, or tears. But a man is eager to to deplore the sins of others. He seizes the first opportunity and then swiftly warms to his subject. The longer he talks, the louder he talks. And when he has finished, he glows like a man who has just come in from a brisk walk in crisp autumn air.
The tonic quality of righteous anger is most evident to one who is unmoved by the object of that anger. When you see a woman getting “all worked up over nothing,” you begin to suspect that she rather enjoys getting “all worked up.” It is getting “all worked up” that puts zest and sparkle into her day. It leaves her feeling fit to tackle a tiger.
Righteous anger is also an excellent stalking horse for wily self-interest, and those who enjoy it are therefore able to, as it were, get drunk and conduct business at the same time. This is because the louder their roars of righteous anger, the less apparent will be the self-interested scheming and stratagems in the moral remedies they demand. Indeed, passionate words on behalf of some species of poor people have often served as a royal road to riches and power.
This is why you should look with extreme prejudice on anyone who claims to be an advocate for the poor and powerless. Most of them are anger junkies, and many are pickpockets to boot.
“How soft is Silia! fearful to offend;
The frail one’s advocate, the weak one’s friend
. . . .
Sudden she storms! she raves! You tip the wink;
But spare your censure Silia does not drink.
All eyes may see from what the change arose;
All eyes may see a pimple on her nose.”
Alexander Pope, Essay on Man (1733-1734)