Monday, September 10, 2007

Moral Weakness or Hypocrisy

Several Republican politicians and supporters who have been vocal advocates of ‘family values’ with its condemnation of homosexuality have recently been found to engage in homosexual acts. For this, they have been charged with hypocrisy.

Time Magazine had an article, " The Psychology of Hypocrisy" this morning explaining why ‘hypocrisy’ might not be the appropriate charge to make in this case This article argued that it would be more accurate to accuse these people with ‘moral weakness’.

The difference is that hypocrisy itself is a moral crime – something to be condemned. Moral weakness, on the other hand, is something that all of us suffer from to some extent. If we were to condemn the morally weak the way we condemn the hypocritical, then we would all have to condemn ourselves. So, we tend to forgive the morally weak. They, at least, understand the wrongness of their actions, even though they have a hard time living up to their ideals.

This does not imply that moral condemnation is not warranted in case of moral weakness. The difference is that moral weakness is not a separate moral crime. The person who lies when placed in an uncomfortable situation, or who pockets the money he finds in a lost wallet, is not condemned once for the lie and once for the moral weakness. However, the person who excuses his own lies while condemning the lies of others under similar circumstances deserves not only condemnation for the lie, but separate condemnation for the hypocrisy with which he lies.

The idea that everybody is morally weak to some extent is not the claim that none of us deserve condemnation as a result, but a claim that all of us will deserve some moral condemnation throughout our lives. Some will deserve significantly more than others.

Of course, in the case of these Republicans, we introduce another complication, homosexual acts are not necessarily immoral. They can be – just the way that driving a car can be immoral when one drives recklessly or with an intent to do harm. However, there is nothing in their nature that makes them necessarily acts that a person with good desires would not perform.

In this case, the agents believed (wrongly) that homosexual acts are immoral. When speaking, they stated their beliefs. However, this belief that homosexuality is wrong did not change their desires, and their desires still motivated them to engage in homosexual acts.

Desire utilitarianism allows for an easy accounting of moral weakness. A right act is an act that a person with good desires will perform. However, the act that any given agent would perform at any instant is that act that would best fulfill his desires, given his beliefs. Unless the agent actually has good desires, and has each desire at its best strength, we are going to find difference between the way an agent acts and the way an agent should act. I think it is safe to say that no person will have all of the right desires in all of the right strengths, so we are all going to morally fail to some extent. Only, some will fail more than others.

Many drunk drivers, drug addicts, child abusers, thieves, shoplifters, and the like are people who know that their actions are wrong – that a good person would not do these things. They need not (in fact, they almost certainly have not) expressed that wrongness in desire utilitarian terms. Yet, they still know that the actions are wrong. Yet, they perform the action anyway, because their desire not to do that which is wrong is weaker than whatever desire is motivating the action they know to be wrong.

The drunk driver who campaigns against drunk driving may well be somebody who knows that drunk driving is wrong and know that it is important for society to take steps to condemn it. In fact, as he campaigns for tougher laws against drunk driving, he may well think, “I must make the laws strong enough so that they will cause even me to think twice about violating them, so that I can end this destructive and contemptible behavior I engage in.” This is not a hypocrite. This is someone who finds himself with desires that motivate him to perform actions that he knows a good person would not perform.

I have often used the charge of ‘hypocrisy’ against others. However, I have not used the term to mean merely that a person performs an act that he condemns. Rather, I have used the term to refer to those who hold a double standard. A hypocrite not only does things he condemns, but he hold an act to be acceptable when he does it that he condemns when he catches somebody else doing it.

One of my best examples of hypocrisy these days comes from liberals who insist that America withdraw from Iraq. Many of them condemn Bush for intellectual recklessness in supporting the war in Iraq. Some call him an outright liar, but others are willing to assert that he told the truth, but recklessly determined what to believe. At the very least, they recklessly believed that the Iraq invasion would be over quickly and have a very low cost.

These anti-war liberals think that the policy of withdrawing troops from Iraq will also have a very low cost. They speak about withdraw as if it could not possibly have any adverse affects. There is one affect that I am relatively certain it will have. It will allow al-Queida recruiters to claim, “God is with us. We have defeated the infidels,” which will substantially increase their recruiting and funding efforts. The most important factor in any conflict has never been the size of the army, or the sophistication of their equipment, but the morale of the soldiers. Military leaders will tell you that to win a war you do not need to destroy the enemy, you simply need to destroy their will to fight.

Anti-war liberals are conveniently ignoring these facts because it does not support their policy. They are engaging in the same type of intellectual recklessness that the Bush Administration engaged in at the start of the war. These people assert that the Bush Administration is morally culpable for not checking its assumptions, while these people express no moral objection to check their own assumptions.

This would be hypocrisy.

Why is this distinction important?

Well, if a machine is broken, and you have false beliefs about what is wrong with it, chances are this will make it more difficult (if not impossible) to fix the machine. On the other hand, if you know what is wrong with it, you will be more likely to find a solution that addresses the actual problem.

Condemning these incidents as hypocrisy simply means that agents should put more effort into making sure that their behavior conforms to their own moral standards. As I suggested above, one of the things some of these agents might have been trying to do is to strengthen society’s condemnation of homosexuality so that it might have a stronger affect on their own behavior, and they would commit fewer sins – simply because the opportunity to do so would be lessened.

This does not actually fix the problem. In fact, since homosexual acts are not wrong in themselves, this makes the problem worse.

On the other hand, if we get the moral diagnosis correct, we will say that to these Republicans that they have been twice harmed. First, because of the deception that was fed to them when they were children and too young to think for themselves, they have grown up to be people devoted to activities that are harmful to others. Their chance to be good people who have made a positive contribution to society is greatly diminished. Second, because the list of people whose lives are being turned upside down by these false moral claims are their own.

You are not a bad person just because you want to have sex with somebody of the same gender. You are a bad person because you want to do things that are harmful to others. Now, take a good look at your life. Of all of the things that you have done with your life, where were you and what were you doing when you were making the lives of others worse than those lives could have been?

Those people who have been dead for 2000 years were as much in the dark about the moral universe as they were about the scientific universe, and holding them up as the model of moral perfection is not only insane, it is harmful – it turns otherwise good people such as yourself into people who harm not only others, but people who harm even themselves.

So, quit devoting your energies to policies that harm people who you know are not hurting anybody, and start going after the people who are doing real harm. If you do that, you might actually accomplish the good that you want to accomplish.

I do not epect this type of claim to convince the person it is aimed at. That person will probably continue along his or her chosen path out of inertia alone. However, if this is said loud enough and often enough, somebody would hear it who will actually ask himself, "Do I really have good reason to make others merable by supporting this type of legislation? Is this, perhaps, really another ancient moral mistake?"

As the cultural attitude shifts, then perhaps fewer politicians will feel the need to pursue these types of policies, or think that they are electable when their campaign promise is to do harm to others in the name of God.


Anonymous said...

Alonzo --

I don't think liberal Democrats who accused Bush of intellectual wrecklessness in leading us into Iraq and who also support withdrawl from Iraq is a good example of hipocrisy.

For one thing, I think you're constructing a strawman -- liberal Democrats who argue both that there are no dangers in withrawing the troops and the only way to win a war is to vanquish the enemy.

Perhaps there is somebody who is a Democrat and makes these claims, but I don't think it paints an accurate picture of prominent Democratic leaders.

Most liberal Democrats who support withdrawl would probably claim one or both of the following:

1. There is no enemy we could defeat that will result in a peaceful Iraq.

2. We cannot prevent civil war in Iraq. We can perhaps delay it, but eventually, it will happen. If so, why waste our time, money, and troops lives stalling the enevitable?

Now, one could take issue with these claims, but I don't think they are comparable to the absurd assumptions made by Bush in the lead up to the war, or the lack of planning that went into the war itself and the aftermath.

Finally, how are you certain that pulling the troops, apparently no matter how it is done, will certainly increase al-Queida recruits and funding? Surely our continued presence in Iraq itself has these effects. Are you certain that removing the troops can only lead to even greater funding and recruiting?

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Actually, I have not argued that we should not pull our troops out of Iraq. My position has always been to go with the judgment of experts in the field - non-partisan scholars whose life has been dedicated to the study of such issues.

My complaint is with Democrats who argue that we should pull our troops out of Iraq even though the only thing they know about the situation is what they hear on the news. They mentally filter the news, hearing what they want to hear and disregarding the rest, the same way that Bush did with Iraq.

I do not need to show that their conclusions are wrong to accuse them of hypocrisy. All I need to show is that they are basing their conclusions on incomplete and unvetted information. Thus, they are condemning others of intellectual recklessness while they are guilty themselves.

Sheldon said...

"My complaint is with Democrats who argue that we should pull our troops out of Iraq even though the only thing they know about the situation is what they hear on the news."

Gosh Alonzo, you actually seem to be one of the people who actually buy into the premises that is supported by mainstream news.

First is your acceptance of the assumption (promoted by gov. propaganda) that Al Qaeda is the weighty and primary actor in the insurgency. And that if the U.S. pulls out, then this equals a victory for Al Qaeda. Dig a little deeper beyond alleged "credible" news sources, and you will find that Al Qaeda is not so much the powerful political military force in Iraq. It could be just as easily argued that a U.S. withdrawl might result in taking the winds out of Al Qaeda's sails.

Second, who are these alleged "non-partisan experts" who you think know best about what to do in Iraq? I don't really give a rats ass about their party affiliation, which is not neccessarily a good indication of their non-partisanship. There are plenty of so-called independents, liberal Democrats, or Republicans that are still partisans of U.S. empire. Much Democrat anti-war posturing is only a politics of convenience, they can see which way the wind blows. These so-called "liberals" caved in with a lack of skepticism when Bush and Co. made their case for war. Meanwhile there was abundant evidence to the contrary of Bush and Co.'s claims. Looking for experts? Scott Ritter. Want a guide to choosing your experts when it comes to war and politics? Look for the guy that is scorned and dismissed by mainstream conservatives and liberals alike, because they question the acceptable premises. Like Scott Ritter, Noam Chomsky, and others.

"These people assert that the Bush Administration is morally culpable for not checking its assumptions, while these people express no moral objection to check their own assumptions."

Alonzo, I question your assumptions, that accepts the prevailing wisdom, that somehow U.S. military presence in Iraq is somehow preventing a disaster. When in fact, it is the U.S. presence that opened the Pandora's box of disaster, and exacerbates that disaster.

"At the very least, they recklessly believed that the Iraq invasion would be over quickly and have a very low cost."

Well, I was never one of "those liberals". With my relatively amatuerish study of the situation, I predicted very much what has happened. Not because I am that smart, I just consulted the experts that are scorned and dismissed by the mainstream.

Pardon my rant, I just seem to choke on your musing on the Iraq situation.

Here is a link to an article that take a different perspective on the Iraqi crisis. Cheers.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Item 1: It does not matter whether al-Qaeda is the primary actor in the insurgency. Any public relations firm will tell you that it is perceptions that matter. Al-Qaeda and other Muslim fundamentalists will be able to advertise an American withdraw as proof that Allah is on the side of those fighting America.

It could be argued that an American withdraw will not help al-Qaeda. However, that makes my point. People are making decisions based on incomplete information - asserting certain knowledge of effects they cannot know. I am concerned about the potential morale boost that al-Qaeda can get from an American withdraw. Yet, my position is still to trust the experts in the field.

Ultimately, I don't think anybody can give qualified advice on the best course of action to take in Iraq who does not have a top secret military clearance and has used it to study the best information available on the subject.

Item 2: The 'non-partisan' experts that I referred to are the Iraq Study Group and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military. Each member of the Iraq Study Group was partisan, but the group itself was set up to be non-partisan. And I think that the Joint Chiefs of Staff can be considered reasonably qualified to discuss different military strategies.

Merely being disliked by conservatives and liberals alike is not a qualification. Nazis are disliked by conservatives and liberals alike, but they are not the model of intellectual integrity.

Item 3: I pretty much predicted what would happen as well. However, I still would not argue that I am a master of mid-east politics and, thus, can be trusted to design the perfect strategy for America's future in Iraq. Maybe I just got lucky.

Sheldon said...

"Item 2: The 'non-partisan' experts that I referred to are the Iraq Study Group and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military."

It is precisely that group of people who I think we should be skeptical of. They may be non-partisans across the Democrat-Republican divide, among U.S. elites, but they are not disinterested observers in the goal of resolving the Iraqi conflict. They are what I meant by "partisans for empire". And soldiers are soldiers, they generally do what is expected of them.

I guess that we approach the subject of Iraq with very different premises and assumptions.

It is frustrating to me because I think 90% of what you write makes sense. Yet, from my perspective, when it comes to Iraq you throw skepticism to the wind. However, I certainly recognize that I could be wrong about many things.

And a clarification. I did not claim that just because somebody is scorned by the mainstream, that we simply accept their positions and arguments as true and valid. Of course you must evaluate their credibility and the info. and arguments they put forth.

And I did give an explicit example in Scott Ritter. Former UNSCOM inspector in Iraq. When the mainstream media were cheering us into war, and Congress was not asking tough questions, Ritter was telling us what we now know to be true, but he was marginalized, and still is.

Socio-Political issues are not like biology or physics, where one can reliably consult the popularly accepted experts.

Sheldon said...

"I am concerned about the potential morale boost that al-Qaeda can get from an American withdraw."

Sorry to over-comment here. But I did want to mention that this is a lame rationalization for occupying Iraq. A much more solid concern is the potential for genocide in Iraq.

To see what probably boosts Al Qaeda moral, see the HBO film "Alive Day" which can be streamed directly over the internet.

Anonymous said...

It IS the gods fault:::They manage planet earth through their clone hosts and, being the control freaks they are, everything is PRECISELY as they wish.
True, in most 99% of cases it is their primary tool, Artificial INtelligence, doing all the work. But events like this Situation is when they get personally involved and we get a glimpse into their true pathology.
Yes, some of it could be misleading temptation. So it's ok to be evil as long as the ends justify the means??
Immoral hypocrites.
crab $5,95 a pound.