Monday, July 7, 2008

On Hypocrisy

On Althouse, Perry Masonmint writes (in response to a joke about adultery):
Thank you for proving what I've long suspected -- that the reason wingnuts are the world's biggest hypocrites on personal morality issues is because they don't think there's actually anything wrong with hypocrisy.

To which I responded, "Thank you for proving moonbats have no sense of humor, just a clap reflex." (The post that offended him was only a moderately funny response, but it gave no signals at all of being someone's actual opinion.)

I followed up:

Seriously, though, you're almost right. It's not that wingnuts don't think there's anything wrong with "hypocrisy", it's that they think hypocrisy is inevitable.

Consider: Religious people believe both that moral codes are good things but impossible to adhere to. Nobody but God gets it perfect.

That's what Christians mean by "we are all sinners" and, indeed, the whole point of salvation through Jesus.

One of the finer points being, is it okay just to believe, or do you have to actually try. Most would argue the latter, I think, that it's important to adhere to the code as much as possible, and Jesus is there when you (inevitably) screw up.

The left has a similar religious philosophy called "No enemies to the left". As long as you espouse the right ideals--like, say, Al Gore--the fact that you don't adhere to the principles in the least (don't even address them, even)--is unimportant. As long as you have "free health care", it doesn't matter that your country is impoverished, even if the health care wouldn't pass muster for a dog in the US. As long as you are attacking the imperialist US, it doesn't matter if you blow women or children up. (They were all little Eichmanns anyway.)
By the left's definition of hypocrisy, a figure skater is a hypocrite when she doesn't land a triple salchow. After all, if it's such a thing to aspire to, why didn't she actually do it? What's her, you know, problem? If she can't do it, how can she talk about how great it is?

This is something I see now a lot more clearly than I used to, and hope to pass on to my children: We seldom have a simple choice black-and-white about what to do. Or, rather, when we do have those choices, these are not the ones that foul up the moral person.

I mean, I have a black-and-white choice, for example, about stealing. But it's not something that even occurs to me. And while society likes to slap a whole lot of punishment on choosing a black hat over a white one, it's just not a road a sane, functioning, rational person goes down.

No, the life-changing ethical questions come in two flavors. Knowing what's right and doing the right thing even when it's hard.

For the most part, e.g., I don't disagree with leftists (or rightists) in theory. In truth, we disagree on facts. If you believe the US blew up its own buildings in order to launch an unprovoked attack to steal their oil and kill a million Iraqis--which would be enough for needing mass graves--you aren't going to entertain a discussion about who the evil party is.

My best information says that the US didn't blow up its own buildings and that fewer Iraqis were killed under US occupation than Saddam killed for fun, and I occasionally wish we had stolen the Iraqi's oil, when gas here is about $4.75/gallon.

So that's some comfort, really. I think most of the anti-war crowd, if they believed the sources I believe, would at least agree that we're not so bad, if our war resulted in fewer dead people and was a reasonably strategic move in the GWOT. (Assuming they believe in the GWOT.)

But knowing the truth is the first struggle. This is the part that's usually the "gimme" in the movies. You can see gnostic spins on the Star Wars movies, positing that the Empire is a meritocracy while the old Republic was policed by an elite hereditary class. Or one of my favorites, Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn providing "balancing" commentary on the Lord of the Rings.

When I watched the western retrospective at our local theater, it was almost always a gimme. The guys in the black hats were bad--hell, they were wearing black. High Noon is light on expository bad-guy info, e.g., as its sci-fi remake, Outland.

In real life, we often confuse people's motivations and get our data wrong. Othello, it has been observed, would be a non-play if Hamlet were the lead character. He'd brood and analyze and suss out all the details, and ol' Iago would never fool him. Likewise, Othello in Hamlet would have dispatched his uncle instantly...and story over.

The second part: Doing the right thing when it's hard. High Noon again: Marshal Will Kane knows who the bad guys are and he knows he has to stop them, and he also knows he's getting squat for help. The rationalizations mount, and the movie makes several good arguments for him just flat out running. Or, go back to Lord of the Rings, and see that the real story--barely told by the 6-day-long movie trilogy--is that of little people, regular folk, having to face up to the biggest, baddest, most powerful evil force in the world, with the most likely outcome being death and failure.

Real life tends to be less grand, but about no less grand ethics. Standing up for what you believe in, even when we're not talking about Evil Conquering All, can be even more challenging. One way to justify unethical behavior is to trivialize its consequence. "Everyone is doing it" or "It doesn't matter".

Whether God watches everything and weighs it out on some karmic (heh) scale, I think it's obvious that you and I watch our own actions closely and weigh them out, and our own self-punishments would probably embarrass even an Old Testament deity with their severity. Oh, yes, we all have harsh standards for ourselves, however much we pretend otherwise.

I'm related to some far-left leaning types who simultaneously advocate government regulation of corporations and, well, everything, and yet do everything they can to cheat their way out of those regulations at every turn. They've got it justified, sure, but their lives are a total mess, and they're not stupid, incompetent or unattractive. There's no way their lives should be as hard as they are--and, hell, I used to buy the idea it was "society" or some other invisible force keeping them down.

Then I noticed a pattern of unethical behavior. If there was an edge to be exploited by lying, they would do it. I later found out the lack of ethics went into some very dark places, indeed. (Now, some very unethical people are also quite rich and successful, but I wouldn't want to be in their heads. Failure takes many forms.)

I guess what I'm getting at here is that either end of the political spectrum has its own set of hypocrisies: For the right, it's well known that they fail on morality quite frequently. But they kind of have that nailed down. They know they're going to fail on morality, they just find it's worth aspiring to anyway.

The left's hypocrisies--massive carbon footprints, buying, bullying or lying their way out of the systems they've implemented, advocating for "fair" social systems even when those have failed consistently in almost every known situation and typically produced a result opposite to the stated desired goal--tend to be more abstract at a personal level. And the general approach seems to deny them.

These are not the same sort of hypocrisies at all, really.


  1. High Noon is one of my least favorite westerns because it just isn't real. The fact of the matter is that vigilante justice was a big problem in the old west. Most of the pioneers were former army members or hunters and just really violent men who weren't afraid to mix it up. What was more true to life was what actually happened in Northfield Minnesota when the James Gang tried to rob the bank. The citizens of the town who were law abiding dull "square heads" all ran and grabbed their guns and shot the shit out of the robbers who thought they could do what they wanted. They shot them full of holes and effectively ended the career of the James gang. A great recreation is in the movie the Long Riders where you see the aftermath of what happens when the citizens get involved.

    High Noon is a McCarthyite allegory where the liberal writer whose name escapes me, (Foreman) and the producer/director want to stick it to the conservatives. A more realistic and moving Western that addresses these issues in a more historical manner is the great movie The Oxbow Incident with Henry Fonda part of a posse that becomes a lynch mob. It is true to what really happened in the old west while preaching to the liberal choir with an anti-death penalty thread that is a lot more effective than any Sean Penn/Susan Saradon screed.

    I just hate it when people cite High Noon as a good western when it is really namby pamby commie liberal bullshit in a cowboy hat. Jeeeez.

  2. Calling High Noon a great western is like calling Buggsy Malone a great gangster movie.

  3. Actually, I have that problem with a lot of westerns, but High Noon in particular: How is a western frontier town populated entirely by pussies?

    In Ox-Bow, nobody does the right thing, actually, so it makes a bad example for these purposes.

    By the way, I just saw Trumbo, and will review shortly.

  4. Yeah but in live, almost everyone always does the wrong thing even when they are trying to do the right thing. That's how life is most of the time.

    Most westerns don't really have a lot of pussies in them. More often than not the townspeople want to get into it or join a posse. It's law enforcement that tries to tame it down and not let it get out of hand. More often than not the townspeople just want to hang somebody and the marshall has to stop it.

  5. I just got my new Deadwood DVD's and I am in Heaven. I hope you caught the series, but if you didn't check it out as they are replaying it on HBO.

  6. That's true: The sherrif was almost always a calming influence. But not always. And you had to wonder how those people survived--like in Shane--when they'd allow themselves to get runned over so easily.

  7. Hell, yeah! Loved "Deadwood". Been thinking about getting it on DVD.

    It may interest you to know [kaff] that Al Swearingen has stopped by Althouse a lot lately.


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