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Jerk Justifications

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Clementine: You don't have to do this. It's mean.
Michelle: You gotta be mean to keep goin' out here.
Clementine: I'm not mean.
Michelle: Yeah? And who got your gun?

There are certain mentalities that create Jerkasses, or at least allow them to tolerate themselves. They come in many versions, but most of them boil down to one of a few justifications:

Straw Nihilists, Manipulative Bastards, and Jerkasses of every type will self-righteously spout one of these philosophies whenever called out on their hostility, arrogance, and general pissy behavior. Can overlap with Obliviously Evil if the jerk genuinely believes they are right to hurt others, instead of merely coming up with excuses to make themselves feel better.

Just because an author believes this about a character doesn't mean that every sympathetic character in the story should view the character as a justified jerk. In real life, some people have a hard time dealing with people who act abrasively and are unlikely to know why they act like jerks in the first place. Having everyone make excuses for the character in the story itself may result in a Jerk Sue.

When the fans do this on their own, a Draco in Leather Pants is born. See also What the Hell, Hero?, a frequent response to Jerk Justifications. If a character's Jerk Justifications are the result of painful experience, can result in a Jerkass Woobie.


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    Virtue Is Weakness 
  • Souther of Fist of the North Star. For him, to be ahead in the Crapsack World where he lives, one has to be as ruthless and devoid of compassion as possible.
  • Kratos' justification in God of War. Not entirely wrong, since many times he must kill innocent bystanders if he wants to survive. The Olympians' justification is more like Moral Myopia.
  • Guy of Gisborne from Robin Hood is of the Virtue Is Weakness variety in regards to his pursuit of his ambition, but also a little Appeal to Inherent Nature in that he is well aware that he has "committed heinous crimes." Only he isn't prepared to do anything about it except to rely on Marian to "wash away his sins." She begs to differ. It does not end well.
  • ''And that's how Sue C's it!"
  • A common justification for cliques, trolls, internet bullies, and doxing (fishing for people's personal information or using it against them). Of course, the instant any of this stuff happens to THEM you can expect them to drop their "morality" like a sack of hammers.
  • Absolute Power (BBC): Charles Prentiss. He's a bastard because being a bastard works. You might wish it didn't, and he has some sympathy with that viewpoint. But it does.
  • Silver from Pokémon Gold and Silver and its remakes, though he eventually gets over it.
  • In Berserk, Guts, after his horrific ordeal during the Eclipse, adopts this attitude during his vengeance-obsessed Black Swordsman days, considering innocent civilians to be "small fry without the strength to truly live," who he would not lift a finger to help against the ravening demons that are drawn to his Brand of Sacrifice and which he regularly has to fight. Thankfully, he gets over this when he finds Casca again and gathers a new circle of True Companions, though he still has to deal with a very nasty Enemy Within that represents the worst of what he used to be.
  • Galatea ("Golly") from The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! is raised with nothing but kibble to eat and various Nietzsche-inspired literature to read, so it's no real surprise that she produces these justifications.
  • Lelouch from Code Geass puts on this kind of act as a mask but does believe some of it (mainly the Nice Guys Finish Last and World Half Empty parts). However, his ultimate goal is to make the world a better place and completely overturn this kind of attitude, and he's willing to take some extreme measures to achieve it.
  • Tywin Lannister (and pretty much every other Jerkass in the series) in A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones: Westeros is a Crapsack World where doing the honorable thing will get not only you but probably everyone around you killed. A little Pragmatic Villainy, on the other hand, can help stabilize the kingdom and make sure that most people can continue on with their lives.
    • As with the series theme, such actions always have a cause and effect. By the time Tywin dies, all the fear and hatred against the Lannisters' past actions come back to bite them, as everyone now wants to oust the Lannisters, and their hold over the realm crumbles under Cersei Lannister's reign.
  • Mello from Death Note. In order to catch Kira, he enlists the help of The Mafia and holds Sayu hostage in order to get the notebook. He says he'll do whatever it takes to get ahead, and it seems he cares more about besting Near than he does about bringing Kira to justice.
  • Though she pretends to be of the Tough Love variety, Rowena of Supernatural is really this at heart. "Love is weakness, and I will never be weak."
  • Rick Sanchez believes in the trope due to his being smarter than most people he's around. He even claimed niceness was "something stupid people use to get ahead in life".
  • The Marquis de Sade and his characters often argued based on this. Often they would claim that cruelty such as murder and rape are good, while the opposite was bad. Appeal to Inherent Nature also camp up, with them claiming that it's just the way they are. At the same time, they would fall into Moral Myopia, complaining that society prevented them from acting on their desires (in De Sade's case, he was imprisoned for his crimes).

    Moral Myopia 
  • Least I Could Do will twist itself into storytelling pretzels in order to let Rayne be a Jerkass wish-fulfillment character and still look like a good guy in the end, usually by pulling a justification out of thin air that leads to everyone apologizing to Rayne and saying he was right all along. In one arc, Rayne's company is hiring but he doesn't tell his jobless friend Issa. When she angrily confronts him and demands to know why he didn't get her a job, he says that she needs to earn it by merit rather than getting it through favoritism — and this is after weeks of comedic backpedaling to avoid telling the truth.
  • Sword of Truth: Terry Goodkind's at it again, this time with other characters.
  • The Gulag Archipelago has the line, "What can I do with the incorrigible directness of my personality! ... I am compelled to utter reprimands; it disciplines those nearby."
  • Lucifer (and most evil angels) in Supernatural think of themselves as being above humans, making it OK to kill them.

    Appeal To Inherent Nature 
  • Most characters with Freudian Excuses for their behavior fall back on this excuse. Apparently, Mommy Issues are more important than self-control and common decency.
  • This is usually the justification for the Jerk Sue. In the author's failed attempt to excuse whatever the Jerk Sue does and cast them in a sympathetic or just "assertive," they end up writing it off as this.
  • Sawyer from Lost is Appeal to Inherent Nature, with a little bit of self-loathing and a whole lot of Heart of Gold thrown in. At least, he was in the first seasons. He would usually justify his actions with "I'm not a good person."
  • Gene Simmons and Ted Nugent have used this in Real Life.
  • "Take Me Or Leave Me," from RENT, is essentially an entire song of the Appeal to Inherent Nature justification. Most of it is on Maureen's part, but Joanne does a lot of justifying and refusing to compromise by the number's end.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, Organization XIII uses this kind of excuse for their actions. Since they're Nobodies, who don't have hearts, it's simply in their nature to screw with the universe and the heroes, but it's clear from the start that 80% of the excuse is Moral Myopia. To be fair, the whole "missing a heart" bit makes them sociopaths by design. It's rather easy to be a jerk when you're completely incapable of empathy.
  • Sam Puckett on iCarly very much this type. Has had another character say outright that it would be weird if she didn't make them miserable, simply because Sam refuses to grow up or act maturely. Could very well be a Freudian Excuse because, in a later episode, it's revealed that Sam's mother Pam is exactly the same way.
  • Damon on The Vampire Diaries has used "I'm a vampire" as an excuse for his behavior a few times. It would be a lot more convincing if not for the behavior of several other vampires demonstrating that it really isn't one.
  • Scott Kurtz. In a webcomics weekly podcast with his friends, they actually point out this has caused him to be alienated amongst pro print cartoonists and he responds by saying that other cartoonists are jerks so he should be able to be one as well.
  • The final example on this article on Cracked explains why invoking Appeal to Inherent Nature typically leads to you being unable to function in society.
  • Don John in Much Ado About Nothing has a speech declaring himself to be this.
  • In Fruits Basket, this is the excuse Shigure gives for being so selfish and manipulative.
  • Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After he takes Xander's radio:
    Xander: Hey, that's mine!
    Spike: And you're what, shocked and disappointed? I'm evil.
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Both Calvin and Hobbes are guilty of this in different ways; Calvin claims that he has a "natural inclination towards evil" (in other words, he likes being a brat) and it's unfair for his parents, school and society in general to stifle him by forcing their morals and ethics on him. Hobbes, on the other hand, believes that as a tiger and a natural predator, it's in his nature to constantly stalk and attack Calvin, ignoring that, whatever his real nature is, he's clearly not a regular tiger, since he's sentient, can talk and walk upright.
  • The Simpsons: In "At Long Last Leave", the shows 500th episode, Springfield finally decides to banish The Simpson family, fed up with the increasingly destructive and obnoxious nature of their hijinxs, especially Homer and Bart. Marge eventually resorts to this excuse when she gives "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the townspeople, claiming that it's wrong to punish someone for "being who they are" as an excuse for her complete inability to control her dysfunctional family. Of course, the entire town ignores that they're not exactly perfect themselves, which Marge also points out to them.

    Just Joking Justification 
  • Described on social media as Schrodinger's Asshole, "someone who decides whether they're joking or not based on how other people react to what they just said."

    Tough Love 
  • In Wings of Fire, Qibli's mother beat him to make him "strong". This is why he ran away from her while still a child and is currently under the care of Queen Thorn.

    Victim Blaming 
  • In volume 6 of Cooking With Wild Game, Yamiel Tsun offers her (bound, drugged) captive a "choice": he can abandon his own family to join hers and make them the money necessary for them to go legit, or he can be brutally murdered. Apparently, the fact that redemption requires effort and responsibility exempts her from having to do it.
  • Some people that sell unlicensed merchandise of other people's art will try to justify it by saying they shouldn't have put it on the internet if they didn't want it to be downloaded and sold by somebody. If the artist was selling merch, then the argument changes: if they didn't want somebody else selling it, they should have put watermarks on it or copyrighted it. If the artist did either of those, then it wraps back to "don't put it on the internet", and so on. If they didn't put it on the internet to begin with, then the goals are shifted to "you knew people are going to scan and sell this, so why put it out?"

    Appeal to Market Forces 
  • Gunsmith Cats: Rider's justification for running drugs: it'll happen whether or not he does it, so he might as well make money off it. Rally eventually gets him to give it up.
  • South Park: Used twice, in "Quest For Ratings" and "Raising The Bar", where the characters (Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman and Butters in the former and Token in the latter) use this as a defence for why they're appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator and creating garbage entertainment. This is what makes money, so it's okay to make it even though it's having a visibly negative effect.

  • Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother uses multiple types with great abandon and inconsistency, depending on whichever one will best get him out of a conundrum without admitting he's wrong/non-awesome or showing weakness: when his friends call him out on Appeal to Inherent Nature by saying they're sick of "dealing" with him, he insists upon Moral Myopia. When they prove Moral Myopia wrong by showing him how much damage his jerkassery causes, he falls back on Virtue Is Weakness. When they argue against Virtue Is Weakness by demonstrating that they're all happy without being jerks, he seizes on to Moral Myopia to dismiss their opinions as signs that they're "lame" and then insists upon Appeal to Inherent Nature, because he's "awesome". And so it begins again.
  • Reynauld de Chatilllon from Kingdom of Heaven. Lampshaded by him at one point when he slaughters one of many of Saladin's camps.
    Reynauld: I am what I am. Someone has to be.
  • In Firefly, a historical figure named Shan Yu is described as having fancied himself a "warrior poet," and in one of his writings waxed on about how, essentially, the only way to truly know a person was through torture. Simon sarcastically sums up this story as "sadistic crap legitimized by florid prose."
  • The Joker presents a Humans Are Bastards variation in The Killing Joke, declaring that "one bad day" would make anybody as crazy as he is, and it's just luck of the draw that he actually ended up that way.
  • For some people, especially if one browses Internet forums long enough, hang around Trolls and Jerkasses long enough and you might start to become a jerk yourself and justify it by saying "everyone else is doing it, so I might as well be one, too." Also, if you start a thread asking why people are so mean on the Internet, expect the users, especially the trolls, respond with "It's the Internet. We can say whatever we want."
  • Eleanor Shellstrop from The Good Place is a mixture of the Virtue Is Weakness and Humans Are Bastards types, with a Freudian Excuse in the form of her idiotic and selfish Abusive Parents leaving her with severe trust issues. In her earthly life, she was flagrantly selfish and generally was The Cynic, viewing the world as a big sack of crap and that there was no point in doing anything remotely altruistic; in fact, she couldn't fathom people being genuinely nice for the sake of being nice and always assumed they had some ulterior motive. A large part of her Character Development is her not only learning to be a kinder and more considerate person but also accepting kindness from others and that Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse.
  • An extremely common variant combines the "tough love" and "victim blaming" types when someone says or does something horrible and, upon seeing how hurt the other person is, just says they are "too sensitive" or some variant rather than feeling any remorse. May also combine the Virtue Is Weakness part if they think being sensitive in the sense of being caring is a bad thing.
  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, Jessica uses her newfound Compelling Voice superpower to nearly commit Rape by Proxy. When she's called out on it, she defends herself by appealing to the idea of Humans Are Bastards; anyone who got superpowers would inevitably think about doing something awful with them, she was just the one who went through with it.
  • Carrie: "The World According To Chris" is basically Jerk Justifications: The Song. In it, Chris Hargensen sings about how she sees life as a vicious competition where it's "better to be screwed than screwed". When Sue asks "What does it cost to be kind?" Chris scoffs and mocks her. Worst of all, she seems to think she has the right to be cruel to Carrie just because she's more powerful.
  • RWBY: Raven Branwen purports to be a social darwinist who refuses to help those she sees as weak, but it becomes increasingly obvious to everyone around her that she's a Dirty Coward who doesn't want to get involved with the main conflict purely because she's scared shitless of the Big Bad and prefers to bury her head in the sand and terrorize those weaker than her just so she doesn't have to risk her own sorry hide- despite the fact that she knows that the Big Bad is an Omnicidal Maniac and so the only chance she has of long-term survival is to oppose said Big Bad.