Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Emotionalism Over At Reason

Radley Balko of Reason.com is guest-posting on Instapundit, and links to a story about a Congressman resigning, adding his own comments. For example,
It appears that temptation has brought down another family values crusader. I blame gay marriage!
Please read his whole post - it's short. The usual justification for such juvenile insults is that everyone loves to puncture hypocrisy. But the squirming pleasure that both libertarians and anti-conservatives get from these stories - a pleasure they do not seem to take when the subject isn't sex or much less often, drugs - suggests that something rather adolescent is in play.*

People who approve of drunk-driving laws sometimes drive when they have had too many, and still approve of such laws after they have been caught (In some instances, they approve of them more). Folks who stretch the truth usually still disapprove of lying. A man might steal something and still approve of personal property laws. Doctors who write scrips for off-label uses still approve of pharmaceutical regulation; lawyers sometimes break the law; Cowards may wish they had courage.

Presumably, one might approve greatly of reason, even naming a magazine or a website after it, yet still not be always logical.

St. Paul tells us to take every thought captive. Miss Manners teaches us that politeness, properly understood, is the foundation of civilization. Old proverbs tell us to say nothing if we can't say something nice, or to make our words sweet because we may have to eat them. I approve of all of these rules. I don't always follow them, but I approve of them. Isn't this observation rather...basic? Obvious enough that it hardly bears mentioning? Why is there such difficulty absorbing

All this has been pointed out many times whenever a person professing a strict sexual morality does not live up to his own standards. Yet every time the scene repeats we read, not mere complaint or accusation but blood-drinking joy, as if some great moral victory has been won by the other side. So the logical argument is out there (often put far better than I have here), it remains unanswered, and the sniggering continues. Congressman Souder may indeed be a hypocrite and deserve exposure. But hypocrite has a specific meaning, of a person who pretends to a value he does not actually believe in - who privately doesn't believe the rule that he broke is true or very important. Or perhaps, believes that it is a good rule, but only for other people, not for oneself. That is not always the case when someone commits a sin. It certainly isn't true every time I commit a sin.

So I conclude that there is something that the critics just plain don't want to look at about themselves. The dish is on the buffet but they pass it by each time. Reason does not consist only in putting forth logical or mathematical premises and trying to draw conclusions. Come to think of it, that's not even the most important part. Self-examination to learn if one's views are driven by some reward - whether material, psychological, or social - is the more important part of Reason**. Because once we know there is some added benefit to saying X, we must search vigorously whether the benefit is causing us to bend our logic, however slightly, to come to a conclusion that will be gratifying to us.

Interesting that Ayn Rand's claim that altruism never exists because we always get something back for it should be so prominently illustrated among the Randians.

Aside from the high-school attitude in insult, there is something more subtle and dark. The jeers, as are prominent in Balko's post, suggest that the exposure of a hypocrite adds logical merit to one's own argument. If people only believed as we do, they wouldn't have all this problem. I think that came up a lot during the Catholic priest pedophilia scandals, as people pretended (and still pretend) that there is a greater incidence of this sin among priests, absent any data to support that claim.

*Balko also misrepresents the congressman's statements about drug laws - misrepresents them to the point of deceitfulness and even (gulp) dishonesty. But that's only a sidelight here.

**Because a person who realises that he has selfish motives in holding a certain opinion or advocating an action might refrain on that basis alone, even if he hadn't worked all the logical points out.


terri said...

hmm..I read the link and the update about a video with Souder being interviewed about abstinence-only education by his mistress.

ugh...it galls.

I think your points about hypocrisy have some merit. Committing a sin isn't necessarily an indication that someone can't simultaneously believe that what they are doing is wrong and shouldn't be done.

It isn't the sin, its the vocalness of the sinner that galls. It's hardly news that a politician cheats on his wife...it becomes news when they are seeing prostitutes while also prosecuting them(Spitzer).

There seems to be, at least pseudo-scientifically in my mind, a direct link between a person's level of outrage about a particular sin and the likelihood that they are either committing it, or thinking seriously about committing it....a la George Rekers and his Rentboy situation.

Recently there was a flurry going around the Christian blogosphere about how hotels report much higher porn usage when they are hosting Youth Leader Conferences, as opposed to other conferences.

There could be many ways of trying to explain that....but after a while it does seem like something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

I don't know. Is it better to try and make everyone live up to a standard that you, yourself, don't meet, or simply hush up about the matter?

I had a little blurb about Woody Allen defending Roman Polanski on my blog. I suppose that could be unfair of me.....but I think the opposite of being outraged at hypocrisy is making excuses for other people that do the same, or similar things that we do. When I read Allen's comments I couldn't help but think that they served more as a balm to his own troubled, unorthodox, "sinful"? behavior, rather than simply coming from a place of sticking up for a fellow "artist".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is something different when people make the point about sin harshly instead of humbly if it's their own besetting sin.

As to the youth leaders conference porn, I first heard someone claim that about ministers' conferences about 20 years ago. I have never seen anything to back it up. As it fits a particular narrative - and not just nonbelievers narratives but some preachers as well - so tightly, I wonder if it's just a little too neat, and actually unsubstantiated. Not that I'd consider it impossible, but it's just a little too tidy.