No One Intentionally Tries to Justify Bad-False Things

Can people like Rush realize when they have justified something bad and false?

Posted Mar 05, 2012

Justification systems are the network of beliefs and values that people use to make sense out of the world and legitimize their actions. It is helpful to think of two underling dimensions of justification systems. The first dimension is the truth or accuracy dimension. Justifications make claims that can be either false, true or somewhere in between. The second dimension is the value dimension, and justifications usually either directly or indirectly carry implications about values. That is, they can either imply good or bad things, depending on one's interests.

People will feel most secure when they experience things that they believe are both true and good. But sometimes there is tension between what is good and what is accurate. For example, imagine someone who starts to see hints that their spouse is cheating on them. The thought "My spouse is cheating on me" is likely to elicit conflict.  Such an individual would likely hope that it was not true because it would diminish their relationship value and interests, and as such a part of them would try to push the idea out of their head, because believing their spouse is faithful makes them feel better. Yet another part of them likely would want to find out, because if it is true that their spouse is not being faithful, then their interests have changed and they need to accept it, even if it sucks. Of course, if they believe that their spouse is cheating on them, but it turns out that they are not, that would be a bad-false justification. No one tries to justify things that are both false and bad. (It would be lunacy for a person who fully wants their spouse to be committed to them, and whose spouse is fully committed to them, to claim, based on no evidence, that their spouse is cheating on them).

This analysis gives rise to a little 2 x 2 box of the dimensions underlying justification systems...

But don't people justify Bad-False things all the time? Not from their perspective, they don't. Let's take an example in the news.

Rush Limbaugh characterized Ms. Sandra Fluke, 30-year-old Georgetown law student who testified before congress advocating for health coverage of contraception, as a "slut" and a "prostitute". Limbaugh ranted that Sandra Fluke "goes before a Congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex, what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex. What does that make us? We're the pimps. The johns."

Now from many people's perspective, this is a bad-false justification. It is both inaccurate and carries lame implications. And, indeed, Limbaugh has been raked over the coals for it. But when he said it, did he think it was a bad-false justification? No. As we will see below, he had some frame that legitimized it. But what about now? Can people, in retrospect, see that previously advocated for bad-false things? Some can. Open people, with a healthy dose of self-reflection. Or when there is an enormous pressure to do so, which is what happened in this case.

On Saturday, Rush Limbaugh sort of admitted that he had indeed made a bad-false claim, issuing an "apology" saying...

For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

This is about as good a retraction that one is going to get from someone like Rush Limbaugh. I would have preferred something along the lines of the following from him...

In retrospect, I have realized that my diatribe against Ms. Fluke was no accident, no misuse of words. I am the one who is the prostitute. I am an arrogant media whore who preys on the darkest fears of conservative White men to feed my narcissistic ego.

Now that is an accurate justification, which at least would have been good for the country, if not for the Rush Limbaugh Show.