Hypocrisy and the Game of Drones

by Jonah Goldberg

Dear Reader (even those of you who only subscribe to this “news”letter for the “Dear Reader” gags),

I got a late start this morning because I set the alarm on my iPad to 6:00 PM instead of AM. What this means is that I’m starting this “news”letter about two-and-a-half hours late and I got nothing, even after I sacrificed a dozen squirrels to Crom in the hope that he would help me battle through my writer’s blockage.

While I was kneeling shirtless in the rain, squirrel viscera splattered across my face, lighting a fire under the squirrels, waiting for a beam of literary inspiration to fill my writerly soul, or maybe at least clean off the rodent gore, the thought dawned on me: “Damn! Crom is a god known for his indifference! He’s not going to help me. Why didn’t I offer this sacrifice to Baal, or maybe Oprah?”

And then another even greater realization struck me metaphorically the way something tangible might literally strike me. “Damn! Crom isn’t just an indifferent god, he’s a fictional one! And these were good eatin’ squirrels!”

On Hypocrisy

Longtime readers of my work should probably take a break and stretch their legs. More relevant, such readers probably know that one of my great peeves is the way we think – and talk about – hypocrisy.

For those who don’t know where I am coming from, here are five points that will give you the gist. Feel free to skip them entirely. Heck, this is America, feel free to sculpt a scale model of Atlantis out of cream cheese.

1. A lot of what we call hypocrisy is actually just inconsistency. And even inconsistency isn’t always that bad. Certainly, changing your mind from the wrong position to the right position is a good thing. When the sinner finds God, when the fool finds wisdom, when the glutton finds a salad bar: These are all good things, right? Denouncing the wrong-doer for suddenly doing right is more often a form of intellectualized barbarism than it is a form of intellectual sophistication.

2. Now, in fairness, pointing out inconsistency is a good thing, and mocking it has its virtues as well, particularly if the person in question is an arrogant gasbag who will not acknowledge his inconsistency (more on this shortly). But too often people talk as if consistently holding to no standard, or bad standards, is superior to extolling high standards while occasionally failing to live up to them. Particularly in Hollywood, we tend to praise anyone who has a “code” even if that code is evil (as the serial murderer Omar says in The Wire, “A man’s got to have a code.”). The idea seems to be that consistently holding to an evil principle is somehow preferable to inconsistently holding to a noble one. Adultery is okay so long as you never said it wasn’t!

3. Going by the liberal definition of hypocrisy, all good parents must be hypocrites. I have such contempt for parents who preen about how they don’t want to be hypocritical with their kids. “I did drugs, so how can I tell my kids not to? I don’t want to feel like a hypocrite.” Here’s a quick tip: Being a parent isn’t about you, dipwad. Who cares how you feel? The point of being a parent is doing right by your kids, as best as you can. You could look it up. More to the point, parents are supposed to learn from the mistakes they made — not teach their kids to repeat them. I made a lot of mistakes in my youth, but today isn’t sharing day. So let’s stick with a hypothetical. If I went on a three-state killing spree as a kid, should I teach my kid it’s okay to go on three-state killing sprees? If at some point you don’t tell your kids to do as you say not as you do (or did), then you’re doing it wrong. I’ll take an inconsistently good dad over a consistently crappy one any day of the week.

4. But even real hypocrisy – preaching one thing for others, while doing and believing the opposite for yourself – isn’t quite the sin people think it is. The sin of hypocrisy isn’t inconsistency, it is deceit. The true hypocrite is a liar who preaches principles he doesn’t himself believe. Merely falling short of your ideals is not hypocrisy, it’s humanity. We are all fallen. We are all sinners. We are all carved from the crooked timber of humanity. My favorite line on this – as longtime readers know – comes from the philosopher Max Scheler who was accused of hypocrisy for being too fond of the ladies. He responded that the sign pointing to Boston doesn’t have to go there.

5. Conservatism is always going to be susceptible to the charge of hypocrisy because, unlike the libertine variants of liberalism and libertarianism, it doesn’t shrink from the fact that it upholds universal ideals and principles (beyond liberal boilerplate about “tolerance” and “diversity” and the libertarian focus on the harm principle). The tension between the ideal and the real is one conservatism acknowledges. Since I’ve been on a Chesterton jag of late: “It is a platitude, and none the less true for that, that we need to have an ideal in our minds with which to test all realities. But it is equally true, and less noted, that we need a reality with which to test ideals.”

The Seduction of Hypocrisy

As some of you may know, I’ve been loitering in the 7-11 parking lot known as Twitter too much. I like it for all the usual reasons. I imagine the spambot hookers really do think I’m awesome, etc. One of the useful things about Twitter is that you get a good peek into the various hive minds of the Right, Left, and mainstream media.

One thing you get to see in real-time is the siren song of hypocrisy. It calls us to the rocky shoals of bad positions just so we can condemn those calling us to those shoals.

I see this all of the time. People who denounce liberals as shameless, evil liars and mattress-tag rippers will in the very next breath embrace mattress-tag ripping because “we have to fight fire with fire.” During the Bush years, leftwing bloggers made it into a religious quest to emulate politicians and activists they considered to be subhuman monsters.

Game of Drones

The Obama administration’s position on targeted killing is pretty much identical to the Bush administration’s. If anything, it’s weaker. It’s also basically right though I have some caveats (See NR’s editorial today or John Yoo’s op-ed.)

It’s also incredibly hypocritical. Indeed, if hypocrisy were the sin some believe it to be, I wouldn’t stand near Barack Obama for fear of lightning bolts (a.k.a. God’s drones) raining from the sky.

And so the instant reaction from some folks on Twitter was not just to mock Obama’s position as hypocritical (which it is), but to denounce it as fundamentally wrong. We saw the same thing when Obama ordered the killing of those Somali pirates. My position is that the United States should kill Somali pirates, jihadi terrorists, Nazis, CHUDs, Skrulls, and radical anti-American factions of Up With People! whenever circumstances demand it. That is true when there are Republican presidents and when there are Democratic ones.

I am all in favor of mocking Obama for his hypocrisy and inconsistency. That’s all fair game. But we shouldn’t let the undertow of schadenfreude pull us into foreign waters (“I like the siren-song imagery better. Also, your hair is stupid.” – The Couch).

Piers into His Soul

And then there’s Piers Morgan. Some of you may recall my run-in with Piers Morgan from the book tour. The ensuing brouhaha came just in time for me to recycle my old line about Keith Olbermann: “I’m sorry to be such a pain in Piers Morgan’s ass, but it’s the fastest route to his brain.”

Anyway, as you probably heard, a deranged madman is going around shooting people in California. The former L.A. cop even left a manifesto behind that celebrates Piers Morgan as one of his heroes. Putting aside the horror and tragedy of all this (which is a pretty ridiculous thing to say when you think about it), this is pretty funny given how Piers Morgan, and countless liberals of his ilk, have a nasty habit of blaming violence on nonexistent evidence of incitement by conservatives. Sarah Palin caused the Tucson shooting because of a Facebook map targeting congressional districts. And, BECAUSE SHE’S SARAH PALIN!!!!

 But here’s a mass murderer calling out Piers by name! And Boy Howdy, people were having fun making fun of Morgan, whose gift for climbing to the top of the jackass tree and then hitting every branch on the way down is becoming legendary.

But here’s the point. It is ridiculous to blame these murders on Piers Morgan – just as it was (even more) ridiculous to blame the Tucson shooting on Palin. Mark Steyn was cited in Anders Breivik’s manifesto. But Mark isn’t to blame for the Norway massacre, either. The urge to mock hypocrites has the power to force us into adopting the hypocrite’s standards. Piers Morgan has two options. He can either stick to his own idiotic standards and apologize for inspiring a murderer, or he can apologize for ever touting those stupid standards in the first place. The better option is for him to be an inconsistent ass-clown than a consistent one.

NPR Names

As many of you know, I listen to NPR, and, despite its manifest flaws, I like it. Just because I like it doesn’t mean I favor its taxpayer subsidy. I like baseball stadiums, but that doesn’t mean I favor subsidies for them, either.

Anyway, one thing I love are NPR names. Last night I heard an interesting story by a correspondent with a great name: Padamanda Rama. She said it with a musicality that puts Shama Langa Dingdong to shame.

It might just be an illusion, but it certainly seems like having an exotic and mellifluous name gives you a leg up on NPR. The reason I say it might be an illusion is that many of the most exotic names come from foreign correspondents from countries where “John Smith” probably sounds weird. Also, any word sounds different if you focus on it or say it enough times over and over again. And the mellifluousness of the names might simply be the result of practice by the correspondents. I presume NPR teaches people how to speak with euphony. Certainly Ofeibea Quist-Arcton and Sylvia Poggioli have mastered the craft.

Still, with those caveats in mind, it certainly seems like the exotically named are over-represented at NPR: Mandalit del Barco, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Yuki Noguchi, Lakshmi Singh, Doualy Xaykaothao, Neda Ulaby, etc. I don’t really care – but I think it’s fun to imagine that NPR names are stripper names. Maybe someone can come up with a game to find out what your NPR name might be.

Various & Sundry

Here’s the latest Podhoretz-Long-Goldberg podcast.

Here’s my column today.

Here’s Tonik the human-faced dog.

Only two days before the return of the Walking Dead!  

Hoist on your own black hole.

Nine translation mistakes that caused big problems.  

How the Karate Kid ruined everything.

Five badass prison escapes.  

Goodbye.

 

The G-File

By Jonah Goldberg