Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Megan McArdle, bless her heart, accuses someone else of hypocrisy.
A divestment activist from the University of Michigan has chided me for failing to consider the moral dimension of divestment. Even if it has no effect, is it not reasonable for nuns to divest from companies that manufacture birth-control pills? Or universities to divest from a South Africa's apartheid regime?
Especially since McArdle said Hobby Lobby should be able to abstain from government regulations for religious reasons. It would be hypocritical to support reducing regulations for moral reasons while ignoring, undermining or attacking people who say they have a moral duty to preserve our world for future generations. (And let's not forget that McArdle didn't have the manners to name, link or quote the activist, or the professionalism to say why she chose to keep him anonymous.)
Sure. But there’s a wee bit of difference, which is that in the examples above, the divesting groups are not making heavy use of the offending subject while castigating those who produce it.
It would also be hypocritical to attack universities' use of fossil fuels while attacking fossil fuel use when she is taking tax breaks and government largess while fighting tax breaks and government largess.
I understand that universities are exploring sustainability. Just the same, they consume huge amounts of fossil fuels.... The point is that the fossil-fuel consumption of every university in the country dwarfs the impact of their investments on climate change. Doing all this while divesting from your fossil-fuel investments is the moral equivalent of divesting from Janssen Pharmaceuticals ... in your abortion clinic’s endowment. Of divesting from South Africa ... at the University of Alabama in 1949. It is doing the pointless but easy thing while actively continuing the stuff that is actually harming the planet.
As McArdle has pointed out many times, we don't have much of an alternative right now. There's more but I'll spare you.

Hypocrisy is a very interesting thing. From Wikipedia, we can see that it is a fundamental characteristic of the authoritarian character. It is based on the Greek word that means play-acting (among other things). Some snippets:
Hypocrisy is the claim or pretense of holding beliefs, feelings, standards, qualities, opinions, behaviors, virtues, motivations, or other characteristics that one does not in actual fact hold. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another.[1][2] In Moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles.[3]

In everyday reasoning, humans do little to get real evidence when taking positions or making decisions, and do even less to get evidence for opposing positions. Instead, they tend to fabricate "pseudo-evidence"[16] – often after the decision had already been made (“post hoc fabrication”).[17]
Humans take a position, look for evidence that supports it, then, if they find some evidence – enough so that the position "makes sense" – they stop thinking altogether (the “makes-sense stopping rule”).[18] And, when pressed to produce real evidence, they tend to seek and interpret “evidence” that confirms what they already believe (the "confirmation bias").[19]

Moreover, humans tend to think highly of themselves, highlighting strengths and achievements, and overlooking weakness and failures (the “self-serving bias”). This is particularly true of Americans and Europeans: when asked to rate themselves on virtues, skills, or other desirable traits (including ethics, intelligence, driving ability, and sexual skills), a large majority say they are above average.[20] Power and privilege magnify the distortion: 94% of college professors think that they do above average work.[21] This effect is weaker in Asian countries and in other cultures which value the group more highly than the self.[22]


Robert Wright wrote that "Human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse."[23] Humans are very good at challenging the beliefs of other people, but when it comes to their own beliefs, they tend to protect them, not challenge them.[24] A consistent finding of psychological research is that humans are fairly accurate in their perceptions of others, but generally inaccurate in their perceptions of themselves.[25] Humans tend to judge others by their behavior, but think they have special information about themselves – that they know what they are "really like" inside – and thus effortlessly find ways to explain away selfish acts, and maintain the illusion that they are better than others.[26]

The myth of pure evil[edit]

This distortion – hypocrisy in its most destructive form – is characterized by the belief that (1) evil is the intentional and gratuitous infliction of harm for its own sake, (2) perpetrated by villains who are malevolent to the core, (3) inflicted on victims who are innocent and good.[27] Psychologists call this a myth because believing in this fiction often blinds one to the reality that evil is in fact perpetrated mainly by ordinary people, who respond to perceived harms, including “provocations” by their victims, in ways they feel are reasonable and just.[28] Evil is not rare – it is commonplace, banal.[29] And all humans are capable of evil acts. Psychologists like Jonathan Haidt and Steven Pinker maintain that most if not all the major atrocities in human history were carried out by ordinary people who believed that they were good, that they were innocent victims – that they had God on their side – and that their enemies were pure evil.[30]
And low and behold, authoritarianism brought forth the fruit of hypocrisy. It's inevitable. From their first rationalization (Mom and Dad hit and insult me because they love me) to their last (death panels!), authoritarians cannot face any truths that destroy their myths.

They have to tell themselves they are special constantly to make up for the self-loathing that comes from abuse or just never being taught self-esteem, never shown they are cherished and loved and important to someone. They have to make up a fake persona to face the world, afraid that nobody will like the real person.

It would be sad if they were not so dangerous.


aimai said...

Its untrue that Hobby Lobby was "not making heavy use" of the things that they were refusing to allow the government to regulate and provide (i.e. birth control.) For one thing there would be no need for Hobby Lobby to protest the provision of birth control to its workers at all, in the first place, unless they believed that those workers were going to avail themselves of that birth control. For another Hobby Lobby the corporate entity was heavily involved/invested in birth control as an investment strategy. And, of course, Hobby Lobby as a corporate entity did business with China for whom birth control and literal forced abortion as well as quasi slave labor are component parts of its ownbusiness strategy and the creation and sale of the goods to Hobby Lobby.

So: there is no distinction between Hobby Lobby (or little sisters of the poor for that matter) choosing to "divest" itself, if you want to call it that, from birth control while simultaneously profiting off of the use of birth control by some or many members of its community and the University choosing to divest from fossil fuels while still using fossil fuels.

Susan of Texas said...

Exactly. And they surely know this; if they didn't then they do now.

I am sure McArdle is doing nothing but indulging in a lengthy gotcha, a bit of liberal bashing costumed as Economic Analysis. (She finds this costume at Party City, right next to her Free Market Fairy and Feminist costumes.)

If she were not a liar and hypocrite she could not belong to her group. Libertarians are very strange.