One can read fundamentalists whose joy seems to come from kicking Christians more prominent than themselves in the balls. (Yes, wouldn’t I love to give you a list…not today.) There are often principles they are defending somewhere in there, which they may also believe. Call them Group A. In that tribe there are also those who believe the principles, and genuinely regret that there seems to have to be some battle and rancor about it, as they don’t wish to offend others. Call them Group B.
There’s a Group A and a Group B in every tribe. One can read liberals who make much of principle, yet over time, reveal pretty clearly that dressing down conservatives, or anyone they perceive as the powerful as against their underdog selves,* is what they are really about. Telling themselves that it is about the poor, or women, or the 99% or whatever is only that – what they tell themselves. Yet there is a Group B of liberals as well, who hold the principles with sincerity.
Conservatives who get off on telling the elites to stuff it. Racialists with an axe to grind because of their own sense of failure. Anyone who considers him or herself part of a beleaguered group can easily – I said easily (can I get a witness?) – fall into the pattern of claiming that the other guys started it…our people tell the truth…look at all these anecdotes of what terrible people they are…someone has to stand up to them…we’re only trying to be reasonable.
We all think we are in Group B, don’t we? Some might admit a teensy-weensy bit of Group A-ness in their personality. Yet you sense immediately where I’m going with this, don’t you? Everyone who is a Group A member of a tribe is absolutely sure they are a Group B member. If anything, they are more certain than the actual Group B members. Dunning-Kruger and all that. Thus, some of us are absolutely deluding ourselves about what our motivations are. And…all of us are deluding ourselves at least a bit.
Even for good causes. There are people who have (mostly) evil motives for joining good causes.
As a Protestant, I look with some admiration on the Catholic practice of requiring confession – one has to at least give lip service to fault and sin. Then I think of some Catholics I have known where that hasn’t seemed to have had much effect, even over a lifetime, and I realise that’s not a foolproof solution either.
I don’t know in the abstract how to diagnose or fix this. I do have one place to start, though: If you hope you are in Group B, can you identify any in Group A? Whisper their names out loud, please. Do you believe them too easily, not calling them to account?
*Like most Americans, I tend to be an underdog rooter. But I have grown tired over the years of the “powerful forces are arrayed against us” trope. It’s not just liberals. They do it more artfully, but not any worse. We all want life to go some different way but are prevented because of Powerful Forces. It’s called reality. We are each part of someone else’s powerful forces that prevent them from being elected Queen of the May.