Posts Tagged ‘political rhetoric’

The argument from hypocrisy

March 3, 2011

It’s too bad so much political argument nowadays is based not on what’s true and what’s false, or what’s right and what’s wrong, but on the allegation of hypocrisy and consistency.

Al Gore lives in a big house that must use a lot of energy; therefore global warming is a myth.  Liberals exaggerated the rowdiness at Tea Party rallies; therefore complaints about Fox News mix-and-match footage are invalid.  Soviet generals participated in the Nuremberg trials; therefore there were no Nazi war crimes.  I am not making up any of these arguments.  What’s wrong with them?

First, almost everyone is open to that charge. Inconsistency and hypocrisy are universal human foibles.  Hardly anybody, certainly not me, has thought through their ideas thoroughly enough to be sure they are free from internal contradiction.  Hardly anybody, certainly not me, can claim that they live up to their best ideals all the time.

Second, such charges shift the basis of the argument from the real to the hypothetical.  Instead of saying, “X is true and I can prove it,” you say, “If your side says Y, my side is entitled to say X” or “Your side did Y in situation A, so you have no standing for criticize my side for doing X in situation B.”

Third, a person can be 100 percent consistent and 100 percent honest and be wrong 100 percent of the time, and someone else can be completely inconsistent and completely hypocritical and still be right 50 percent of the time.

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The kind of political rhetoric we need

January 14, 2011