The G-File

Politics & Policy

Rationalization: The Enemy of Integrity

Jerry Falwell Jr.'s politics are simply a right-wing version of the original progressives' habit of tailoring their arguments to wherever the field was open.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including those of you who feel unduly entitled to a fresh Dear Reader gag every week),

Because I am a human — no, really — I have a tendency to rationalize all sorts of bad decisions and habits.

“I couldn’t let the chicken wings go to waste.”

“Lite beer doesn’t count.”

I think, to one extent or another, everyone does this kind of thing. The trick is to keep it within healthy parameters. If you find yourself heading into Bad Idea Jeans territory — “Normally, I wear protection, but then I thought, ‘When am I going to make it back to Haiti?’” — it’s always best to take step back.

Usually, even when your decision tree goes awry, these kinds of rationalizations only penalize you. But, of course, rationalizations can hurt others, too. The road to adultery is mostly paved with rationalizations of one kind or another. Most bad parenting, likewise, is grounded in rationalizations of sloth, selfishness, and even cruelty. I sometimes tell myself it’s okay for my kid to watch more TV than she should because I watched a lot of TV and I turned out okay (“Debatable” — the Couch) or because I think she needs to be (pop) culturally fluent, when the truth is that I’m just too lazy or busy. Surely many abusive parents tell themselves self-serving lies about how whatever they’re doing is good for their kids.

While noodling this “news”letter, I googled around for essays on rationalization. I had the vague recollection that Friedrich Hayek had written something specific on the topic — and he probably did — but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I did, however, find an enormous amount on the topic on websites dedicated to counseling and ethics, including some interesting lists of common rationalizations. I particularly liked this, from something called the Josephson Institute:

Rationalizations are the most potent enemy to integrity. They work like an anesthetic to our consciences allowing us to avoid the pain of guilt when we don’t live up to our values. We want to think well of ourselves so much that we develop strategies to convince ourselves that we are better than we actually are.

The Church of Wales

And that brings me to this:

The Davis-Bacon Act was initially passed in no small part to keep poor blacks and immigrants from stealing “white” jobs. But that doesn’t mean the modern AFL-CIO is motivated by racism when it spends millions to defend it.

There’s nothing inherent to the identity politics of the Left that requires its ghastly bigotry against people with Down syndrome. The bulk of the Left despises every argument about IQ differences among populations in part because leftists claim it denies the humanity of certain groups. Feminists leap to fainting couches when you float the idea that there are significant statistical differences between the sexes. On the most basic level, the argument for diversity as its own reward should celebrate people with Downs because they make a meaningful contribution to the rich diversity of humanity. The few people with Downs I’ve gotten to know even a little have been among the most joyful and courteous people I’ve ever met.

But here’s the problem. Some people don’t want to have kids with Down syndrome. And, I will admit, I think this is entirely understandable. But that’s not the relevant issue. Abortion advocates also believe that there should be no limitation on abortion rights for any reason — which is why we are joined by North Korea and China as one of only seven countries in the world that allows abortion past 20 weeks.

And that is the motivating passion here: maintaining a maximalist abortion regime. If, somehow, abortion and Downs never intersected, it would be easy to see people with Downs being celebrated as part of the rich rainbow of humanity. But they do intersect, and turning them into disposable humans — or what the Germans called “life unworthy of life” (Lebensunwertes Leben) is apparently a small price to pay in defense of abortion. I’m not saying there aren’t strains of eugenics in modern progressivism, I’m saying that the devotion to abortion can cause some people to rationalize almost anything.

Various & Sundry

This week’s Remnant podcast is out. We went guestless in order to respond to various and sundry questions from various and sundry listeners. We covered the waterfront, from that time Cosmo the Wonderdog peed on the floor of Christopher Hitchens’s apartment to the politics of Star Trek to, well, other various and sundry things. (By the way, if you like The Remnant, you increase your odds of getting a retweet from me if you say so on Twitter. Just FYI.)

My column today (linked below) offers a defense of free trade deeply inspired by my forthcoming book, The Suicide of the West. Which reminds me, readers should know that as we approach publication date (April 24), I will be discussing the book and its various themes quite a bit here and on The Remnant and — hopefully — on the road across the country. The best way to follow the conversation is to read — and, yes, buy! — the damn thing. I put an enormous amount of effort into it and part of the rationale (not rationalization) for this (ahem, free) “news”letter, not to mention the podcast, is to help me get the thing out there. If you think this “news”letter is worth, say, 25 cents a week, buying the book pays for a year and a half of G-Files.

Canine Update: This should really be called human update, because the beasts are driving me crazy. They miss the Fair Jessica terribly, and so they are incredibly needy these days. Of course, the only recourse is to exhaust them as much as possible. The problem is that the more you exercise them, the more exercise they need. Meanwhile, David French, envious of my doggos’ popularity, has attempted to join dog Twitter. He claims, ridiculously, that his shockingly froofy hypoallergenic doodle-dogs are better than the Dingo and the Spaniel, which everyone with eyes to see knows is ridiculous. Of course, they’re good dogs, but come on. I will say they are much more appealing than John Podhoretz’s pet, but that’s a pretty low bar.

Other pertinent links:

T. A. Frank has written a widely discussed and at times remarkably generous and comprehensive essay for the Washington Post called “Welcome to the Golden Age of Conservative Magazines.” Rich Lowry appears prominently, as does the King of Pet-Rock Twitter, John Podhoretz, and that Steve Hayes guy. I have a bit of a cameo as well. Maybe we’ll talk about it more next week.

Last week’s G-File

My thoughts on I, Tonya

Passing the talking stick on the latest Ricochet GLoP Culture podcast

Trump should trade the wall for more meaningful reforms.

On the FBI stuff, let’s wait and see.

The latest Remnant podcast

Trump’s tariffs are bad

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Thursday links

Debby’s Friday links

The boy who stayed awake for eleven days

What’s the deal with those alien alloys in the New York Times story?

If you find aliens, who you gonna call?

A new recipe for hunting alien life

Why is blue so rare in nature?

Cooking ancient recipes

Venomous centipedes eat animals up to 15 times their size

Spider wasp handily defeats Huntsman spider

Sushi addict pulls five-foot tapeworm from his body

Cowabunga

What happened to animals with tail weapons?

Dog plays in seafoam

Concrete mixed with fungi can repair itself

The cat of the Hagia Sophia

The police blotter at the end of history

Man smashes through icy river to rescue dog

Man sentenced for smuggling king cobras in potato-chip cans

The Prozac of the Middle Ages

Everything you never knew about the making of Conan the Barbarian

How captured Israeli commandos translated The Hobbit into Hebrew

Alabama reporter may have found the wreck of the last American slave ship

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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