The title of Rationalization 1D comes from literature, specifically George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 drama, “Pygmalian,” better known today for its musical adaptation,”My Fair Lady.” The moment when Shaw’s obnoxious and misanthropic antihero Henry Higgins defines his rationalization occurs in Act 5; Alan J. Lerner lifted it almost verbatim for his book of the musical. Arrogant speech expert Higgins, having been rebuked by Eliza, the flower girl whom he taught to speak like an upper-class British woman to win a bet, for his cruel and uncivil conduct toward her says in his defense,
HIGGINS. … If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I can’t change my nature; and I don’t intend to change my manners. My manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering’s.
LIZA. That’s not true. He treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess.
HIGGINS. And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.
LIZA. I see.
HIGGINS. Just so….The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.
I immediately thought of this exchange when Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, in his rambling denial of multiple sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations, proclaimed his innocence (His victims don’t understand him!) by arguing that as a red-blooded Italian he’s just wired to be physically demonstrative, and treats everyone the same way.
1D is in the large category of self-excusing rationalizations. It is a most convenient delusion to believe that victims of mistreatment shouldn’t take it personally because the abuser is equally abusive to all, but the logic, or lack of it, leads directly to the parent rationalization, the most commonly employed of them all, #1, “Everybody Does It.” The frequency and consistency of unethical conduct does not transform it into acceptably ethical behavior. Treating everyone the same can be a virtue, but not when it involves treating everyone equally badly. “I beat everyone, so it’s OK if I beat you”? “I steal from everyone, so nobody should think ill of me when I steal from them”? That reasoning doesn’t reveal “a great secret:” it’s either a calculated lie or stupidity.
The only issue in adding Higgins’ Misconception to the list was whether another rationalization covered it. There are seven besides “Everybody does it” that are closely related:
- 3A The Road To Hell, or “I meant well” (“I didn’t mean any harm!”)
- 14. Self-validating Virtue
- 38. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!
- 41 A. Popeye’s Excuse, or “I am what I am.”
- 50A. Narcissist Ethics , or “I don’t care”
- 58. The Golden Rule Mutation, or “I’m all right with it!,” especially the listed mutation, “Do unto me as you would want to have done unto you if you were as devoid of civilized values as I am, and
- 61. The Paranoid’s Blindness, or “It’s not me, it’s you.”
In the end, I decided that the intellectually dishonest excuse attempted by both the fictional Higgins and the unfortunately real life Cuomo warrants an entry of its own.