Rationalization 32 B: “The Comforting Accusation,” Or “You Would Have Done The Same Thing!”

It’s been a long time since the last new rationalization joined the list. This one, “The Comforting Accusation” or “You would have done the same thing!“, follows #32. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing,” and #,32A. Imaginary Consent,  or He/She Would Have Wanted It This Way.”

32 B adds the nasty little element of alleged hypocrisy to the mix, making it especially effective. How can someone criticize your conduct if they couldn’t or wouldn’t resist the same thing? Thus the author of an unethical act deflects his or her own accountability by making someone else the target of an accusation, albeit based on assumption rather than fact. The rationalization attempts to transform the wrongdoer into the judge’s reflection.

There are four problems with #32. First, it may be that the assumption that someone else would have taken the same unethical course is wrong, and, of course, it is just speculation anyway. Second, it doesn’t matter: this is just a personalized fractal of the hoariest rationalization of them all, Numero Uno, “Everybody does it.” Unethical conduct is not cleansed because it has company, or, as in this case, might have company.

Third, it’s a sneaky evocation of #14. Self-validating Virtue, in which an act is judged by the perceived goodness the person doing it, rather than the other way around. Most people, because of bias, automatically think of themselves as the most ethical person they know. The Comforting Accusation recruits the cognitive dissonance scale to elevate an unethical act by attaching it to something deep in the positive end of the scale for just about everyone: themselves. #32B is ultimately an appeal to bias.

Most important of all, the fact that I may have done what you did under similar circumstances doesn’t make what you did less wrong, It only means I have some sympathy for you, and am more likely to apply the Golden Rule if I am assigned the responsibility of holding you to account—which I should apply anyway.

1 Comment

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Daily Life

One response to “Rationalization 32 B: “The Comforting Accusation,” Or “You Would Have Done The Same Thing!”

  1. Great addition to the list, Jack.

    This particular bit of unfair assertion has always been a pet peeve, for all of the reasons you stated in a far more eloquent way than I might have.

    Have we told you recently how much we, your readers, appreciate your efforts here at EA?

    A welcome haven of sanity upon the tossed seas of the internet.

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