Thursday, September 06, 2007

Hypocrisy

I really don't like defending politicians who do scummy things, but every time a (usually Republican) politician gets caught in a sex scandal, you get dozens of variants of this rant, including something like this sentence:

"There's nothing worse than a self righteous, moralizing hypocrite. "

Can we all agree that there are plenty of things worse than self righteous hypocrites?

People with scary ideologies who are completely consistent are probably worse. As are amoral people who seek only temporal power and authority.

Let me just throw out some world leaders whom we all can agree were not so good people (a list chosen to create minimal tangential controversy):
  • Idi Amin
  • Papa Doc Duvalier
  • Rafael Trujillo
  • Ferdinand Marcos

I don't think that any of these people, who collectively have caused huge amounts of human misery, could be accurately assessed as being self-righteous, moralizing hypocrites. To the extent that they said one thing and did another, it was because they personally felt exempt from the rules, or they were just disposed to lie to keep themselves in power.

Furthermore, hypocrisy is a cop-out accusation. It allows the accuser to duck the fact that he likely agrees with either what is said or what is done.

For example, let's say I take a vocal public position against random mass murder of people in restaurants. Then, for reasons unknown, I go to a local restaurant with a machine gun and shoot a lot of people. I am a hypocrite. But there's nothing wrong in my going around and saying that shooting people is bad, whether or not I shoot people. It's my shooting a bunch of people that is morally problematic.

But let's say, instead, that I belong to a religious sect that doesn't believe in reading newspapers. You catch me reading a newspaper. Reading a newspaper is not a horrible thing. There's nothing wrong with doing it, even if I'm not living up to my standards. It's just that my belief is silly and always was. It's, in some respects, intellectually bizarre to fault people for not living up to a moral code you find stupid and pointless.

11 comments:

Pedant's sister said...

I agree that hypocrisy is less bad than "bad."

Also, a lot of talk about hypocrisy makes me uncomfortable. Do all of our views have to make sense and jive with eachother? Because if so, Modern Orthodox Jews are screwed.

And FYI, Craig is demonstrating that those who choose to live a homosexual lifestyle are deviant and dangerous to our concept of marriage.

Harley said...

I'm going to have to disagree not with the fact that gun-toting madmen aren't bad, but with the fact that Craig's hypocrisy wasn't extremely harmful. He voted anti-gay measures into law every chance he got. I don't know about you, but that's pretty damn harmful to most gay people I know.

Someone who says one thing in his professional life and then does something entirely different in his personal life, when he is IN OFFICE for the immorally bigoted things he says in public-- I would say that's extremely harmful.

You've created a false dichotomy here, Pedant. Maybe there are things worse than Craig (I'll concede the point easily), but can't we condemn Craig, regardless?

Your analogy doesn't work in this situation, either, because the issue is not Craig's homosexual behavior (analogous to shooting people in your example). It's the same as you being voted into office arguing against gun-ownership, only to be discovered with an arsenal. Or to be voted into office because you're pro-life, to vote down all pro-choice bills, and then to be arrested for providing abortions out of your living room.

Except I think we can agree that Craig's offense is not evil, but rather the fact that he voted measures into law that infringed the lifestyle in which he himself was engaged is what's sparking the outrage.

And, Pedant's Sister, how is Craig's violation of his heterosexual marriage demonstrative of anything other than the fact that in society where gay men are shamed into leading false lives, they may choose to get their jollies illegally and on the sly?

Zie said...

i agree with harley. 100%. hypocrisy is an issue when you enact harsh punishments on behaviors you exhibit freely. it creates even more examples where ruling class people in this country have the pleasure of living under their own set of laws and opens us up to huge issues.

how would you feel if your rabbi spent every shabbat on the bimah telling the congregation to follow strict kashrut, but on sunday the rabbi is caught eating some shrimp. delicious yes, but def undermines any confidence the congregation had in the rabbi's ability to spiritually lead the community.

Pendant's Sis: And though it may be difficult to have each and every view fit under a general framework, I do think we need to have ethical standards that inform both our behaviors and our professions/what we preach. Otherwise I would imagine it would be hard to go to sleep with a clear conscience.

As a "non-observant" Jew I really don't have much to say about the issues around living as an Orthodox Jew in modernity, but I do feel strongly that religion is only applicable and relevant when readily able to adapt, at least somewhat, to the demands of modern humanity and society. Thats why the talmud exists. When the temple cult was no longer possible and the Israelites had to figure out a way to keep their culture intact, the culture shifted. When the enlightment and the creation of the "citizen" hit the western world, Jews were no longer an isolated and demeaned social group, but slowly and surely full members of society. big changes. its not about learning to live with our own hipocrisy. Its about really delving into the core ethical values of ourselves and our faith, so we can do our best to "practice what we preach." Damn. I bet that saying is from Jesus or something :)

Anyhoo... I dont care what that politician or any politician does in beds, bathrooms or kitchen tables.. i do care when that same politican limits my rights for a lifestyle he so easily and simultaneously enjoys and denies. whats "deviant" and "dangerous" to our concept of marriage (whatever that may be in this era of divorce etc) are liars and cheats who embarrass their families in the evening news. boo to him.

not someone pretending to have perfect morals said...

I agree with the two aforementioned comments in regards to why this situation in particular proves to be quite problematic. Above all else, however, I find this to be another situation where society has led a man into hiding. Becoming a person that marries, then in turn lies to his wife and acts on his desperation in dirty pubic restrooms, just proves to me that the very same cause that Craig helped to further, is just as strong as it was 50 years ago. I will say that Craig, much like many politicians, has not surprised me in the least. They lead lives that get them elected. Being gay, does not get you, if anything, elected. I will gladly condemn Craig on his previous arguments/actions against gays. I will not however, attack the desperate nature of his "secret" life. I will say though, that the pressure he felt to stay hidden, was the same force that many people felt when he and the other geniuses decided to pass anti-gay legislation.

Speaking on a personal note, I can easily see that when a system exists in which a river flows one way, rapidly, with the strength of what feels like, a nation, it is easy to get pulled along. This is not an excuse, but a point to think about. These politicians are elected to serve the people, but what if anything are they expected to do beyond that? Do we expect that they will be strong, kind and moral beings who will make this country better for everyone? I tend to look for my moral leaders elsewhere, as I have not found any in the US government. Ah ha. That seems to be the problem, right there. The morals. The government. Who decided that it was a good idea that elected officials start passing laws based on personal religious/moral beliefs? Craig helped to build a foundation for blatant hate in the laws of this country, so not only can he hate himself, he can hate everyone else too.

The Pedant said...

Harley-

The problem with hypocrisy is that either what someone said is wrong, or what someone did was wrong, but the both is really not that important.

So I'm an anti-gun crusader with an arsenal. Either an arsenal is harmless, and I was always wrong to crusade against guns, or I am wrong for failing the values. The fact that there's a discrepancy, in and of itself, isn't a problem.

Same with the abortion doctor example. Either abortions or bad, or crusading against abortions are bad. Doing both at once means that you're doing one thing wrong, not two.

Getting to Sen. Craig, I don't disagree that his stance on certain issues has been harmful to the gay community, but how is Craig worse than all the preachers and politicians who don't have sex with men or small children or prostitutes and still oppress communities? I would say there's no moral difference there. The problem is the oppression, not the contradiction.

Zie - I think the problem of "one law for me, and another for thee" is important, but because you're creating a subclass who doesn't get to do something permissible, not merely because there's a contradiction. THE CONTRADICTION IS LESS IMPORTANT THAN THE VIOLATION.

I'd say the same is true with the example of the rabbi. While you can say that he's chosen the rules that he lives by, the fact that he doesn't live up to them is only a problem if you feel the rules he lives by are important. Within his community, he's got a problem because he's violated an important rule. In the outside world, why should we care?

No, seriously. Just because those who can't do, teach, doesn't mean that they give bad advice. And conversely, just because someone is a moral scold doesn't mean they should be condemned for doing what you would do.

Zie said...

whew.. i got all caps. glad to have made you that rowdy. I don't think i would ever want Craig condemned for liking a little boy on boy fun. I condemn him for his despicable politics and though it is not the contradiction in and of it self that is bothersome, its the fact that such a contradiction correlates so clearly with opression (in my opinion). Arms dealers who are also devout christians, teachers who double as child molesters (random, too many "law and order" marathons) are also moral issues.. for both the crime and the hypocrisy. Hypocrisy may not fall under your legal definition of what defines someone as negatively affecting society, but the philosopher in me thinks this is a problem. listen, i am no ethicist or even a believer that someone could have perfect morals... but i do think integrity, trustworthiness and compassion are still nice ideals, etc. to work with.

montana urban legend said...

The contradiction indicates that the person proposing the law can't abide by the concept of equal justice under the law, assuming the law is passed. I suppose that's ok for those of us advocating a return to the era of kings, subjects and other examples of political double-standards between those in power and those "being led." But I'm not sure if anyone here is advocating that...

That being said, I understand the pedant's point - that people get a bit shrill about letting the personal problems of a political figure get in the way of debating the objective merits of their legislation, regardless of how well they can abide by it. Good legislation is good legislation and bad legislation is bad legislation, regardless of who enacted it, advocated it, or the "moral character" thereof. And as long as they are willing to accept the personal, legal consequences of violating such legislation then all the points above are obviated anyway. In any event, I think the gawking does seem to me to uncomfortably mimic the other schadenfreude-esque aspects of our warped, mass celebrity culture, which, if that isn't an example of self-righteousness, then what is?

montana urban legend said...

In case it isn't clear, by "moral character" I refer of course to one's ability to avoid hypocrisy or self-righteousness, not their ability to avoid the appearance of soliciting sex in a bathroom, let alone their interest in engaging in homosexual acts generally.

Anonymous said...

I was about to write, "To the best of my recollection, I have never had sex in a bathroom," until I remembered having sex in a bathroom during the summer of 2004, rendering the above statement false. -TR

harley said...

Pedant-

My point is that it's not just moral hypocrisy, which is not as bad as, say, shooting people, but because he was elected under false pretenses. I don't agree with his electorate, but Craig was elected on a Family Values platform by a group of people who maintain that a politician's personal moral fortitude is as important to his electability as his legislative credentials.

In this situation, the problem is both the oppression and the contradiction, since the latter led to the former. He would not have been elected had he not hidden his identity. In this instance, his constituents are wrong for being hateful, bigoted, jerks, and he is wrong for both being a hateful, bigoted jerk AND for lying in order to get elected.

Is a system in which someone's private sex life (and similar personal choices) is used as a measure of their ability to lead wrong? Yes. I think we can all agree on that point.

TR- Are you trying to get elected by the blog? Or are you just showing off, again?

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