Perhaps the trickiest cardinal virtue to define and then cultivate is justice, due to its strong association with legal systems. Once one sees past the grand scheme of justice and legality, however, we find that the virtue simply means that you give everyone what they are due. This could be as simple as giving someone respect because of their position to as wide-reaching as loving everyone for the image of God which they were made in.
Injustice is a difficult term as well, due to recent, high-profile cries of social injustice – rightfully or wrongfully. Like every virtue though, justice exists as an ‘Aristotelian mean’, the middle point between excess and deficiency. Thus, injustice can end up meaning multiple things depending on what end of the spectrum you are on.
Let us break it down to the two competing energies, trying to pull us to a position of injustice. To be deficient in justice is to be selfish, the position we will examine today.
To start, it must be made clear that selfish is a weak descriptor. Nevertheless, I believe it must be used because unlike the negative archetypes we previously discussed, there are a myriad of subordinate vices. If I were to dub such deficiency merely as egotistic, self-centered, or self-serving, it would not be enough to fully capture the picture we are wishing to paint. Thus, we are stuck with a bland catch-all term.
Regardless of the term used to describe this deficiency in justice, let us jump in and examine this negative archetype.
As mentioned above, we are utilizing this as a blanket term for a multitude of deficiencies in justice. The selfish man may be he who only cares about his own feelings and doings. However, he may also be the man who merely acts without regard for others, or the man who attempts to force his paradigm or morality onto others.
Let us break down these components.
- The Uncaring: These men are those who, not for any sense of superiority, neglect the needs of others. Such a position betrays a certain ignorance or lack of empathy that motivates one to ignore one’s wife, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or even stranger. They may not have strong desires to only pursue their own path, but their lack of care for others nevertheless is a character flaw that makes them difficult to get along with.
- The Egotistical: These men are similar to the uncaring, in that they do not pay heed to the needs or wants of others. Unlike the former, however, they do it because of a sense of superiority and a fervent desire achieve their own goals at the expense of others. Additionally, this defect tends to come with an overestimation of oneself, where a man will favor himself and his own qualities while belittling and looking down on those of others.
- The Dictator: These men, unlike the two former defects, have a drive to dictate their paradigm or morality unto others. This is akin to an incorrect evangelization effort in the realm of religion. For instance, the dictator is he who will take every opportunity to browbeat others about the superiority of his own religion, worldview, product, and the like. His motivation is to enforce this almost gnostic sense of pride in having the “correct” opinion or object, rather than the legitimate well-being of their target. True evangelization takes time and genuine care, it is not done by ruling over others with a sense of smugness and superiority.
- The Corrupt Judge: These men are those who will be selectively just to others while choosing a harsher or more inappropriate treatment to those that do not deserve it. This is not to say that we need to be “nice” to everyone, but rather to state that many men enforce certain standards with some people but not with others in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Like a corrupt judge, who will dole out justice when he is benefiting from it or it suits his fancy, he will dole out justice to others only when he deems fit, creating a two-tiered system of justice and dealings with others.
- The Ungrateful: Ungrateful men are selfish due to their inability to give thanks, and important aspect of giving others their due. This refusal to thank others is due either to ignorance and bad habits or a belief that thanking others is below them, somehow. Gratitude shows a genuine care in the worth of the other person, elevating them to the status of a child of God and a full human rather than someone who is merely used for one’s own benefit.
- The Dishonorable: These men are scoundrels who refuse to uphold the duties of their position out of lack of will, acedia, or active contempt for their role or organization. These men do not give whoever gave them their position their due by acting in a dishonorable and contemptible manner. The damage of their inaction or ill-action is particularly grave, since it has the power to negatively impact not only a single relationship but organizations, companies, and the like that are larger than just one man.
Another important aspect that differentiates this distortion of virtue from the Overthinker and the Impulsive is that they tend to exist on a spectrum. It is hard to be minimally impulsive or overthink only a little – it’s an either/or. With these deficiencies of justice, you do have the ability to be minimally dishonorable, uncaring for certain people, or ungrateful in certain situations.
An unfortunate truth is that it may actually be more difficult to overcome certain deficiencies if you struggle with situational selfishness. This is because such minute and isolated instances of the vice tend to have much deeper roots. This is, obviously, not always the case – people can be generally selfish in a deep rooted and almost evil way. But for the man who repeatedly ignores only his wife or the man who is only an egomaniac with his subordinates at work, much work needs to be put in to root out these weeds from our souls.
So what is to be done? The prescription for all of these variants of selfishness is roughly the same:
- Practice recognizing the dignity of every person you meet AND
- Practice putting the needs of others before your own.
One of the most harmful aspects of the internet age is that our interactions with others have been largely divorced from recognition of the personhood of the other. How are we to associate usernames we argue with online with real people? If large swaths of online interactions are any indicator, humans do a very bad job with civil discourse on the internet. If we, both online and in person, begin to both understand and act knowing that every person is made in the image of God, we will be able to shed a large chunk of our selfish tendencies.
Additionally, our internet age has led to increased access for resources giving us instant gratification. We’re becoming conditioned to fulfill our needs whenever we desire. Not only is this harmful in itself, though, but it teaches us that our desires are more important than those of others. It trains us for selfishness.
We must sacrifice our ego and drive for wants and needs for others if we want to overcome such selfishness though. Dedicate time to doing what another person wants or needs, rather than going off and doing your own thing. Learn to live with the discomfort that may come of it. By doing this, you’ll begin to find balance in dealing with your needs and those of others.
The biggest takeaways from this negative archetype are that in order to be just, we must:
- Recognize the multiple variants of selfishness.
- Recognize the dignity of our fellow man.
- Practice putting the needs of others before ourselves.
Next, we will examine what happens when you have an excess of justice. In the meantime, check out our episodes on this cardinal virtue below.