On hypocrisy

It seems that one of the few moral principles most Americans can agree on is the importance of avoiding hypocrisy. Sincerity and conviction is valued in itself, regardless of the content — such that secular liberals can claim to admire the tenacity with which religious people hold to their amazingly deluded beliefs, for example.

Hence liberals instinctively gravitate toward accusations of hypocrisy. “They say they care about the deficit, yet they passed unfunded tax cuts.” “They say they want to reduce the number of abortions, but they oppose birth control.” “They say they’re pro-life, yet they embrace the death penalty.” “They say they want the government off people’s back, until it’s a matter of regulating sexual morality.” We can all probably think of dozens of further examples — it’s a really popular tactic.

It’s also a tactic that I am sick to death of. The reason why is that I don’t think there’s any benefit to being consistent if your political goals are destructive and bad. If Republicans pursued their goals openly and consistently, that would be even worse. Why do liberals waste so much time on the “meta,” procedural question instead of directly attacking conservative values? It seems hypocritical for a political philosophy grounded in the importance of open debate to avoid a real confrontation of ideas!

8 thoughts on “On hypocrisy

  1. As Royce would say, per tenacity and conviction, we admire “loyalty to loyalty.” See Royce’s The Philosophy of Loyalty.

    “Liberals” waste this time because it is rhetorically effective, although perhaps not as effective as other methods.

    The electorate is not capable of sudden open debate. Moments of clearing occur in which we may have open debate, and we should seize these at every opportunity. But that rarely happens.

  2. I have similar problems with the petty gotcha stuff. “Michele Bachmann confused John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy! Isn’t she an idiot?” “George Bush mangles his words! Isn’t he an idiot?” There’s more of a media market for this crap than for the fact that the GOP is conditioning disaster relief on budget cuts – to give only the most hot and fresh example.

    You shouldn’t ever, ever run out of devastating ideological critques of conservatism such that you have to resort to this bullshit.

  3. Good point, AK. But my sense is that assaults on “hypocrisy” are sort of rhetorical morality plays through which liberals (and conservatives!) attempt to get at contradictions in the electorate itself. That to say (from the other angle, the republican one): Bachmann wants potential voters to vote for her. Bachmann sees – or has positioned herself into having to see – being against sexualization of children and promoting HPV immunization as contradictory. Therefore, she stages the little morality play of Perry’s “hypocritical” support of them in order to highlight the perceived contradiction in the minds of some of her potential voters, that they might be anti-sex but mildly pro-vaccination. His entanglement upon the issue not only harms him on “character,” but “educates” her votes at the same time by means of a quasi-parable.

  4. I’ve always felt this is motivated by political fervor to the point of hate. I must attack everything about this other person/group, not just what they say, but how it is said, etc. It relates to the ‘need to be contrary’ tactics sometimes used in viewpoints as well. It’s all pretty annoying and pointless, but that’s hate I guess.

  5. I do not disagree, but I also think there is a widespread inability to understand the virtue honesty as a virtue – it is mainly understood as the ability to tell the things the way they feel it never mind the consequences. It is not unusual to hear people say of a people that tend to be rude and nasty that “at least s/he is honest”, as if this in some way compensates for shitty behaviour.

  6. Perhaps a way of avoiding this, while drawing attention to the inconsistency, would be to point it out and praise it (I assume this could only work in rare cases), e.g., “‘They’ (insert random group of GOP politicians) say they are for reducing government involvement in the economy, but deep down they know that the government must do something, which is why they are advocating government intervention here…what they have not yet realized is that government intervention ought to take a different form and cater to these ______ (fill in the blank of other goals). We ought to commend that their gut feeling has overridden their loyalty to party ideology, and encourage further exploration of this intuition.” Oh, wait, that is not nearly polarizing enough to be American

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