I HAVE PRINCIPLES—YOU’RE THE HYPOCRITE

In the world of blogging one finds oneself baring one’s thoughts and opinions, exposing them not only to the perusal of others, but also to potential backlash from commenters. I must say that while I have often found encouragement for my ideas, even total approval from and unanimity with readers who have contributed their own words in the comments section, such is not always the case.

Indeed, I have been accused of being utterly wrong, being hypocritical and inconsistent in my offerings or, at the very least being inflexible and unwilling to accept nuance or permit exceptions to “my rules” under even the most extraordinary circumstances.

I await sentencing subsequent to my plea of “No Contest” to all charges. I really do not believe I am guilty but can readily admit the evidence adduced for my prosecution might, just might, be sufficient to gain a conviction.

But as these charges are often applied to my ethical and moral arguments I do submit to the Court the following in an attempt to mitigate my punishment.

We are all guilty of the same behavior.

Thus could be characterized the summary of this article discussing the dichotomy frequently inherent in any moral or ethical argument between strict application and practical exceptions to be made for the greater good. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/opinion/sunday/how-firm-are-our-principles.html?_r=0

MORAL quandaries often pit concerns about principles against concerns about practical consequences. Should we ban assault rifles and large sodas, restricting people’s liberties for the sake of physical health and safety? Should we allow drone killings or torture, if violating one person’s rights could save a thousand lives?

We like to believe that the principled side of the equation is rooted in deep, reasoned conviction. But a growing wealth of research shows that those values often prove to be finicky, inconsistent intuitions, swayed by ethically irrelevant factors. What you say now you might disagree with in five minutes. And such wavering has implications for both public policy and our personal lives.

I have no doubt that my own scribblings…the end result of listening to the voices inside my head…are subject to this analysis.

How we arrive at the conclusions that form our moral framework appears to lie within two opposing philosophies.

Philosophers and psychologists often distinguish between two ethical frameworks. A utilitarian perspective evaluates an action purely by its consequences. If it does good, it’s good.

A deontological approach, meanwhile, also takes into account aspects of the action itself, like whether it adheres to certain rules. Do not kill, even if killing does good.

No one adheres strictly to either philosophy, and it turns out we can be nudged one way or the other for illogical reasons.

 I can deconstruct the process I went through to develop and post two of my most notorious entries in this blog, both dealing with killing—-the death penalty and our drone attacks on alleged terrorists.

The former is a long held belief that I adopted when I was a lad of 14 or 15. You can review it here, if you’d like. https://umoc193.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/death-kills/

It was a gradual process to be sure. But my reaction to the drone attacks after learning of the one that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, was immediate; it was expressed with certainty; and it was visceral.

Now I don’t feel the need to revisit the arguments on either side of either issue but refer to them because I hold just as tightly to one as to the other, but there are substantial distinctions between the roads traveled to arrive at each conclusion. Too, I am now equally as adamant and unforgiving towards disparate views on each topic, but most assuredly was not as rigid on the death penalty fifty years past.

Is that due to me being a callow youth at that time? That would seem to be self-evident but my recognition of what I consider to be the injustice of capital punishment was pretty damned sophsticated for that age.

True, I am well set in my ways in many areas of my life, whether through habit or possibly approaching senility (still many years on the horizon I would assert).

In most ways my take on  these two topics are internally consistent with each other. But I wonder, and perhaps there are volunteers eagerly awaiting the opportunity to advise me it is so or not, if my ethical and moral stance on these issues is compatible with and complementary to my stance on other issues I deem vital in my life and which also have a large moral component.

However, those subjects may not provide the best examples for how our morals (or to be more precise—my morals) may be more situational than anyone cares to admit.

And other published studies have shown that our moods can make misdeeds seem more or less sinful. Ethical violations become less offensive after people watch a humor program like “Saturday Night Live.” But they become more offensive after reading “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” which triggers emotional elevation, or after smelling a mock-flatulence spray, which triggers disgust.

Let’s see. Rush Limbaugh assailed Sandra Fluke for desiring birth control and called her a slut. Todd Akin denied a woman can get pregnant from a “real rape.” The other day President Obama remarked on the physical attractiveness of the California Attorney General, a woman.  All three men received at least a degree of enmity for their “sexist” statements.

I was offended by these remarks or believed them to be very ill-considered.

In February Seth McFarlane hosted the Oscars and several of his jokes or skits seemed to play on sexist stereotypes of women, particularly Hollywood actresses. One friend of mine, a woman whose intelligence and views I admire, was terribly offended. I have watched McFarlane work before and know that his humor can be quite crude and borderline offensive even as I’ve laughed my ass off. I didn’t feel he did anything unexpected or that anyone should have been upset at since it lay in the realm of satire, however poorly executed.

Ultimately we find ourselves facing problematic moral dilemmas of great importance relatively rarely. We ourselves are not at war, having to choose whether to save one person or five on the subway platform, or being a juror determining whether a convicted killer should die.

We do face questions of whether to exceed the speed limit, cheat on our spouses, accept the excessive change we receive from the cashier, or simply need to decide between right and wrong on countless options we have before us, most of which have no great long term consequence.

Here is where we far too often depart from our expressed values.

The politics of today has many of us immediately launching all out searches for the least bit of hypocrisy exhibited by the pols and pundits we love to hate.

In 2004 Peter Singer had his book published, The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush. Singer found huge inconsistencies in Bush’s public pronouncements and his administration’s actions. yet, when I read it, I was somewhat discomfited because Singer’s review was not nearly as scathing as I would have wished.

I cannot recall many specifics now but this book review may give you some insight into Singer’s findings. http://philosophynow.org/issues/49/The_President_of_Good_and_Evil_by_Peter_Singer

In fact the author was aware of the inherent difficulty in taking this approach.

Inquiring after the ethics of George W. Bush might seem to many like a Herculean task, and possibly doomed to failure, but worth a try anyway. Peter Singer, one of the world’s best-known philosophers, has taken up this daunting challenge in his The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush, and the result is a superbly instructive lesson on the strengths and limits of applying the methods of philosophy to current events.

It’s a very interesting read and, at this late date, may provide greater prospective to the first Bush term.

What are we left with?

We can take the cynic’s view that we are all hypocrites but this means we can never achieve full credibility in expressing our opinions or taking personal actions with a moral element attached.

We can each demand we are excluded from any charges of hypocrisy but that measn we are all saints and if there is any truth among us it is that NONE of us are saints.

Or we can bow to our natural humanity, strive for evenness of hand and the most consistent application of our moral values possible, realizing this is an unattainable ideal.

Except for the rightness of my blog opinions, of course.

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Comments

  • Little_Minx  On April 8, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    The trap that the right-wing crowd likes the lay is to (erroneously) claim moral equivalency among Limbaugh’s defamation of Sandra Fluke, Todd Akin’s pronouncement re “real” rape and Obama’s ill-advised comment on Kamala Harris — as though the matter of degree makes no difference, when in fact it makes all the difference.

  • Little_Minx  On April 8, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    Speaking of people in the news, did you see the following article posted this AM by the CBC?

    “Margaret Thatcher’s death evokes polarized reaction — British politician had strong admirers and equally vocal opponents”:
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/04/08/wrd-margaret-thatcher-death-reaction.html (Ricky Gervais’ comment at the end is hilarious, of course)

  • Little_Minx  On April 9, 2013 at 5:02 PM

    In case anyone missed this on UMOC’s “Friday Afternoon” comments — especially Tourist, but anyone else with similar tastes — “Where to Get a Grilled Cheese… in Tokyo”:
    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/food-for-men/grilled-cheese-tokyo
    Grilled Double Cheese (1150 yen, or approximately $11.63)
    Cafe Hohokam, Jingumae 3-22-14 2F, Tokyo

    Alongside deodorant and toothpaste, many ex-pats living in Japan moan about the lack of cheese on this side of the world. This means finding a grilled cheese is quite an undertaking. Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district is one of the only places in Japan with restaurants serving the sandwich, highlighted by Cafe Hohokam’s Grilled Double Cheese. It features cheddar and mozzarella melted between crispy pieces of bread, but additional lettuce, tomato, and sauce detract a bit from the cheese flavor. Still, for a place where Velveeta would demand top dollar, Hohokam’s sandwich is one of the best grilled cheeses in Tokyo.

    Cheese: 8 out of 10
    Texture: 7 out of 10
    Originality: 4 out of 10
    Intangible Grilled-Cheese Essence: 6 out of 10 (drop the vegetables and then we’d be talking)
    Final Score: 25 out of 40

    • Little_Minx  On April 9, 2013 at 5:18 PM

      Threadweaving Maggie Thatcher and grilled cheese sandwiches:

      I had the excellent fortune to be in a remote part of the world when Thatcher’s sweetheart R. Reagan died, so escaped nearly all the media hoopla surrounding his demise and funeral.

      In this distant location I also had the good fortune to enjoy a triple-decker grilled cheese sandwich at a local café. I’ve yet to reproduce this delicacy at home, but surmise one starts by making a pair of open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches, then assemble with a slice of toast in the middle. The sandwich must be served with piping hot French fried potatoes made with recognizable potatoes, fresh hot soup and a tall Coca Cola in a glass glass with a slice of fresh lemon in the bottom (cutting the sickly sweetness a tad).

      Mmmm, is it dinner time yet?

  • Little_Minx  On April 10, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    Speaking of hypocrites…

    “House GOPer: Biblical flood proves climate change isn’t man-made / ‘One would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change,’ said Rep. Joe Barton”:
    http://www.salon.com/2013/04/10/house_goper_biblical_flood_proves_climate_change_isnt_man_made

    He’s on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, & owned by the oil industry.

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