Pious Hypocrisy and the Lesser of Two Evils

You will all have noticed that your political opponents have no concern for truth. Or rather, they only have concern for and allegiance to truth when such truth is inconvenient for you. Have you noticed, though, that your side is essentially the same in this regard?

This isn’t about whether your values or theirs are more humane or more effective, but about the way in which partisans in service to whatever values routinely adopt the same behavior. This behavior, in a nutshell, involves pressing issues of truth that are unflattering to the opposition while dissimulating truth that is unflattering to oneself.

It is essentially the same behavior as partners in a bad marriage. Just as in a bad marriage, the participants are so possessed of a sense of justification and victimization that they always regard themselves as pushed by necessity, and the other as pushed by capriciousness. What’s more, this behavior is not only emotionally driven but rationally supported.

We’re now accustomed to calculating our vote according to a lesser-of-two-evils standard. Partisan hypocrisy is justified in terms of this same principle. Generally it is unconscious and emotionally driven. Should a person recognize themselves as a hypocrite, though, this rationalization waits as a sort of backstop, to redirect them back into the same behavior.

In short, the rational partisan views hypocrisy as a necessary measure, a necessary evil in service to a greater good. Deflecting truth by recourse to talking points is bullshit, to be sure, but it’s necessary bullshit.

Indeed, one of the dangers facing any movement is an excessive, disorganizing, openness to factual analysis. The sophisticated partisan simply takes the black and white, either/or, imperative of an election as an abiding condition.

The problem with this is that it paves the way for internal corruption. The more a movement is locked in struggle with an opposing movement, the more it can justifiably insulate itself from self-reflection. This recourse to talking points opens the movement to a self-reinforcing departure from reality. The more it avoids negative reflections, the more of a shadow it develops and the more negative reflections it must avoid.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Portabella says:

    Typo in last paragraph — “more more”.

    Confirmation bias has been explored by other writers, but it is not hard to say that it is under-appreciated, and unexplored amongst the majority of people. But your piece explores it from a different angle. We are used to hearing more about how biases render the task of seeing the points of the other side impossible for the partisan. But your piece brings up one of the strategies this bias deploys when the evidence in its favor is especially thin. It is to use the crisis of the other side gaining the power to push life as you regard it off a precipice in order to render the deceptions of your own side as existentially necessary. The self-deceptions necessary for a prolonged campaign of the same, lest one be a n untroubled cynic of the baldest variety, in turn corrupt the values for which the deceptions were a defense.

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