On Being Right (All The Time)

An excerpt from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel “Haunted” that I found quite telling of the human condition…

“It’s really not a matter of right and wrong,” Mr. Whittier would say. Really, there is no wrong. Not in our own minds. Our own reality. You can never set off to do the wrong thing. You can never say the wrong thing. In your own mind, you are always right.

Every action you take–what you do or say or how you choose to appear–is automatically right the moment you act.

Mr. Whittier says, “Even if you were to tell yourself, ‘Today I’m going to drink coffee the wrong way…from a dirty boot.’ Even that would be right, because you chose to drink coffee from that boot.”

Because you can never do nothing wrong. You are always right.

Even when you say, “I’m such an idiot, I’m so wrong…” you’re right. You’re right about being wrong. You’re right even when you’re an idiot.

“No matter how stupid your idea,” Mr. Whittier would say, “you’re doomed to be right because it’s yours.”

Maybe there’s truth to that: we are all as right and as wrong as we think we are. Although we are also as right and wrong as others say we are. Perceptions are tricky when they don’t involve an internal reflection. The ability to take a step back and wonder, am I being stubborn or do I just believe strongly in what I’m saying or doing? Will the external perception be that I am stubborn and therefore shunned, or do people respect someone who stands by the courage of his or her convictions? That’s the fine line society seems to dance around.

Take President Bush for example, some view him as completely arrogant and others as a man with strong convictions. Hence one sees him as being wrong and the other as right and in all probability he views himself as never being wrong.

It’s very relevant to political leadership. Max Weber simply attaches charisma to convictions and he gets the ‘charismatic leader’. Eric Wolf calls it ‘psudeo-charisma’; when empires fall because of a leader’s decline in charisma, thus the inability to sustain an ideology and people just stop believing.

We can always see ourselves as being right and never wrong, and even being right about being wrong. But it’s like the tree falling in the forest: if no one’s around to contradict us we are always right simply because I feel we lack the capacity to properly assess ourselves. Right and wrong come to be with the presence of another; the existance of an external perception. In other words darkness is only the absence of light and being right is only the absence of another’s view that you’re wrong: contrast.


Think about it.

You know I’m right.


  • So I am always right, right… haha that’ll show my sister.
    But truthfully, if this theory works, no one would flunk out in school. I’ll also show this to my professor at uni, I should get full grades.

    Anyway, you right [:P], there is no reason to argue with someone if he thinks your right and doesn’t contradict you. It’s like proving to your self that you are correct even though you know it. Nice post to confuse ones self.

  • Nas,
    This is a very thought provoking post. I wanted to ponder it for a few hours before responding, and now that I have, here’s my take on it:

    “You can never set off to do the wrong thing.” This sounds like he’s starting to argue that people’s intentions are always good… that people don’t ever consciously decide to do what they know is wrong. A very popular idea these days, but an inacurate portrayal of human nature. One of my earliest memories is my Mom telling me “don’t leave the yard this afternoon” and the first thing I do when she turns her back is take off down the street. (And then lie about it when I get home.)

    But it turns out, he’s not trying to argue that people are well intentioned. With his example of drinking coffee out of a dirty boot, he is trying to argue that our own will determines what is right. But conveniently, his example has no moral implications (health implications, perhaps, but no moral implications that I can think of). Imagine replacing “drink coffee from a dirty boot” with “murder my brother.”

    â??Even if you were to tell yourself, â??Today Iâ??m going to live the wrong wayâ?¦ I’m going to murder my brother.â?? Even that would be right, because you chose to murder your brother.â?

    It’s not nearly as convincing an argument when you put it that way. Something inside us tells us that murdering your brother is “wrong”, even if it’s what you intended to do.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “Right and wrong come to be with the presence of another”. I would argue that it is “Another” with a capital A. You and I or any other person can state our opinions all day, but one opinion has no more weight than another. Unlike us, though, God (“Another” with a capital A) has the authority to call right “right” and wrong “wrong.” Without God in the picture, human’s philosyfizing is all just as empty and self-contradictory as Mr. Whittier’s.

  • omery, good luck with your professor 😀

    rebecca, thanks for the comment and you’re right about morality playing its role but palahnuik is connecting “rightness” to action…the actual act itself. when someone kills their brother he is doing it under the assumption that he is right…perhaps justified out of jealousy, anger or heat of the moment. the person makes the conscience decision to act under the assumption that their action is right. but even if deep down they know they’re wrong while committing the act…then they are right about being wrong and the rightness of the act becomes null.

    all of this however tends to be in absence of the presence of an ultimate authority that is not human: i.e. God and the infallibility of God manifested in the morality set in holy scripture.

  • Ahhh I love the smell of existentialism in the morning! nice post 🙂
    I disagree with everything you said, and everything Palahniuk said, and think they are too different things (you can’t tell me I’m wrong 😛 ) But to keep you in suspense, I’ll comment later – just kidding, I just wanted to give it some time to sink in, cause you said to think about it, before I rush into replying. 🙂

  • Okay, to start with, Let’s keep God out of this, it is perfectly logical to argue for the existense of an objective and universal morality without having to bring “Because He said so”. Frankly, anybody who believes in something like that is just following a religion on blind faith.

    How I understand Palahniuk is that there is no such thing as that morality is relative. Relative to the person, and to the time and place. His premis is that no one sets out to do the wrong thing, and his conclusion is no body does the wrong thing.

    Okay, that may logically follow at first impression. But then who determines the right and wrong thing? Is what’s right for determined by what’s best for me? In that case, I would use my sense of reason to determine what’s best for me and hence what’s right for me, and this is where I can begin ranting about humans being rational, with one rationality only (that is, if something contradicts, it is wrong, if something is not wrong, it is right), and since morality depends on our rationality, we all have the same morality.

    This is all very secular, no need to use religion to escape responsibility for our moral apprehensions. I certainly don’t need a book of rules to tell me what is right or wrong, and I believe that is the only thing that seperates me from a well-trained dog.

    As for your take, or what you wrote after the excerpt.. it is Gramsci who said that every individual has the capability of intellect. I think if we keep a critical conciousness, then we do not need somebody else to show us our contradictions, we can know ourselves what is right and what is wrong. If we don’t use our intellect, then it is like omery15 just said, we need someone to point it out for us.

  • (p.s. I meant to say in the first sentence of paragraph 2 that the author is just saying morality is relative. simple as that.

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