Righteous indignation. The indignation of the righteous. Either order, it is a way to justify anger – really, really aggressive anger – and still consider one’s self on the right side of morality. We have seen it throughout history. “This group is so terrible that we not only should do something to smite them – we are compelled by moral imperative to do it.” Even as our hands are bloodied, we can feel good about ourselves. Sure, the folks we hurt are more complex and multivariate than we might hope. But if we can only manage to focus our attentions on the one thing about them that we don’t like, true or not, it gives us the leverage needed to a guilt-free enjoyment of the carnage.
Still, do we have a responsibility to inflict the occasional beat down? Should we take pride in the people killed in war, police action, protest? Are there cases of such unredeemed evil that we are only right to drag offenders into the streets and extinguish their lives? Judas? Genghis Kahn? Pol Pot? Hitler? Saddam Hussein? Would they qualify for our virtuous retribution? How far could we go?
Then we imagine those of far more common, but some might imagine no less malevolent, intention. Pedophiles? Cannibals? Rapists? What must we do there? Should a mob be formed and our justice garnered? Some might include communists, police, politicians and members of opposing sport teams – even friendly local columnists and reporters. Threats of death too often are realized – justified with an outsized sense of the perpetrator’s duty to mete out vigilante justice. Laws can help to referee but violence is often the ultimate arbiter.
Is it simply part of the human genome? Or is it something that each distinct culture of us has cultivated to justify our own unmanaged emotion?