November 5, 2008

HYPOCRISY IS BAD: A Deliberate, Numbing Assault on Our Public Conversation

This is a long Essay: 3000 words. Only required for graduate-level credit.



We are all hypocrites. We are all immature. Some of us are more intellectually and ethically honest about it than others. There is no dishonor in honesty.

Gentle, self-deprecatory fun, made of oneself, is funny. We gently mock our own grandiosity. We play upon our inability to perceive ourselves accurately. We are knowingly hypocritical. This kind of hypocrisy is funny. And goodness knows, We are Funny.

Startling, unexpected, disjunctive and incongruous juxtapositions often make us laugh. Admittedly, sometimes that laughter is a bit jittery. In humor most often there is a victim of some kind. In some of best, the victim is oneself. The opportunities for comic timing with this kind of humor are endless.

So hypocrisy can be funny.  John Stewart, Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow think hypocrisy is funny, and we think they are very funny. In these times, we all get a scream out of outing bald self-contradictions on the part of the reactionaries. At times, though, things have been getting decidedly unfunny. After all, we, the Editor, thought George W. Bush was a clown and buffoon. He is, but we badly failed to recognize the harm that his cadre of carnies could do.  Our laughter has become a bit strained at times. I mean, what the fuck is Tom DeLay doing on MSNBC on election night? Granted, he was a victim of funny satire, but the damage he has done is deadly serious.

The voluble among the righteous right are mostly shrill, overwrought nincompoops. Especially because they are so serious. This is not self-aware irony with a wink. It is eye-popping, vein-pulsing hostility, anger and hysteria. Even the more soft-spoken among them, like Pat “Buck-Dick” Buchanan and Karl “Crap-Stack” Rove, strain civility.

Serious, commercial-grade hypocrites are not funny. They do not see themselves as funny and they are not trying to be funny. They are not having fun. We are sure they are going to be having less and less fun in whatever manner of New World Order will emerge for this generation. They will not respond to “I told you so,” so we will be poking them with sticks to make them snarl, for our own amusement.

We are unhinged and drifting away from a region of social stability that has allowed doctrinaire fundamentalists to disdainfully dismiss the real contradictions, complexities and puzzles that we find in the real world. In a future Essay we will prepare a quick compendium of interesting references on the subject of the periods of profound change, unpredictable positive feedback, instability and chaos that punctuate periods of dynamic stability in natural systems. Our Friend and Collaborator in the Northwest elegantly refers to these as “fibrillations.”

It is going to be much harder to defend the kind of righteous ignorance that allows one to be smug in a Ford Expedition with a McCain sticker on it, when that person is out of a job and the Expedition is surrounded by earnest community organizers in Priuses and  glorious, gleaming public-works projects. It will be an Expedition of another kind.  It is going to be an increasingly sour vocation to be a conservative television pundit/operative. Lusty progressive voices are beginning to heard in he wilderness again. Good night, Irene.

A complex social reality in which we are more accountable for ourselves and to one another will not so well insulate the simplifying, narrow and selfish doctrines of right fundamentalists in all of their stripes. The repressive, selfish, atomizing and harsh ontologies of the simple will be overwhelmed by the undeniably social and cultural nature of our changed and changing societies.

The simple, dismissive, aphoristic and totalizing bumper-sticker beliefs of the so-called “conservatives” are already much harder to support. The presence of Olberman and Maddow on the cable-waves is in itself a discomfiting breach in the monolith.

And the spreading realization that Senator Obama is our President-Elect must elicit a sinking feeling. The kind of sinking feeling we get when we have that electric flash of comprehension that our construct of reality is suddenly and completely uncoupled from the world around us. This is the kind of thing that keeps heavy pot-smokers and acid heads from going to the mall impulsively. We do not suggest that heavy drug use is unequivocally bad, mind you. Chemically induced, world-view-shattering epiphanies can be our greatest teachers. We take a moment to acknowledge our Friend, great teacher and fearless Warrior, Hunter S. Thompson, at this giddy political crux. Hunter hated and fought hypocrisy with an unmatched fervor. We needed him, and he was true. Today, he might have had Fun. We miss you, Doc.

Hypocrisies are fundamental contradictions, juxtapositions of elements that are irreconcilable. Sometimes they are so comprehensively contradictory that they are nonsensical and indescribable. They come from such different worlds that the very power of language to bridge across them is defeated, numbed and silenced. There can be –literally- no SINCERE common language that allows them to be illuminated in terms of one another. At these times, hypocrisy is very dangerous and we must go to war to recover our language. Ah, well.


Do you Know the Universe? Generations of Enlightenment Realists, Positivists, Determinists and modernists of all colors and stripes craved a single, finite and terminable Cartesian model in which no things can simultaneously be true, and inherently contradict one another. Knowing the universe requires a bus terminus, a final destination, a punched ticket, of some kind. A knowable and predictable clockwork universe runs on time.

We may want to POSSESS explanatory models that are capsular: both sufficiently encompassing and internally sufficient to shape a cosmology in which no things that one knows contradict one another. Those who are unable to contain contradiction and uncertainty require continually new, hastily erected cosmologies. And totalizing ideologies.

Such a universe must be a hull with sufficient internal pressure to expel the intrusion of any observations or perspectives which are not assimilable. In fact, we are encouraged to call these categorical expulsions “externalities.” At times, we, the progressive-voices-of resistance Editors, think of our voices, our perspectives, our humanity and our very selves as marginal, social “externalities.” Let’s think theoretically of social, cultural externalities, and remind ourselves that we are the objects of a declared “culture war”.

(Thomas Kuhn, by the way, sought a sufficient, self-contained and modernist theory to explain scientific “progress.” He is thoroughly sructuralist and for our purposes here, insufficiently cognizant of the social.)

There may be some startling, illuminating value in looking at this usage of language of “externalities” and “internalities” through the model or construct of feminism. Karsten Harries described a (gendered) world polarized into the horizontal and the vertical. (Find and include a Citation).

We offer here the plurality and polarity of a world of  “internalities” and “externalities.” In fact, another day we might like to explore the idea of “submissive paradigms” to complement your “Dominant Paradigm.” Startling, unexpected, provocative and funny. Read “Seduction” by Baudrillard, and ingest it with some well-aged cheeses and good, strong fortified feminism. And Viagra. But this, dear Word Warrior, is a subject for another venture where we may boldly go, in another time.

But wait. How do we really Know the Universe? We, the editors, do not know a universe free of contradiction and complexity.

We live in a universe that is not –ever- free of contradiction, or even one in which two things that contradict one another cannot both be true. Or valid, or meaningful, or simply useful for deepening understanding- or just communicating.

We have little enthusiasm to encompass, to contain, to encapsule, to expel and repulse contradiction. We lose interest in internal and inherent consistency. We offer –ready?- for your consideration, the initial proposition that all things are true and contradict one another.
“Rules For Axioms: I. Not to omit any necessary principle without asking whether it is admitted, however clear and evident it may be. II. Not to demand, in axioms, any but things that are perfectly evident in themselves.”

Blaise Pascal: Thoughts, Letters and Minor Works: Part 48 Harvard Classics. Blaise Pascal and Charles W. Eliot. F.F.  Collier New York: 1910,

The initial distinction between what we know –about the world we live in- and how we know it, is significant. This is an elementary, first-order question of ontology and epistemology.

Obviously, two things can be inherently contradictory and true. Duh. This is the nature of truth. At least the kind of truth of which we are most fond -our kind of truth: the endeavor of knowing and understanding and striving for shared meaning. Not one, but two or twenty glorious, fantastic towers made of the twigs of metaphor and contrast can hardly be anything but true. Do you know of a monolithic truth that can contain both Babel and Burning Man?


Cosmologies that preceded the inhuman and unfathomable one-god, relished this gritty, raucous truth. We pine for a rabble of rowdy, hypocritical gods. We long for multi-party politics. We are in love with the way the jealous, fickle and most human Greek gods coalesced and dissolved a coalition government. (One party politics is like the one-god. Two-party politics asks us to choose a one-god from among two one-gods.)

We relish an intellectual territory in which the questions are more important than the answers, and in which the best answer is actually often a question. In which the rules are ambiguous and the star maps incomplete at least, and rich in constellations of gods and myths and metaphor at best. A night sky, filled with imagination and meaning. A firmament clouded with deepening, multi-dimensional structures of knowing that grow and divide, extensively and intensively: externally and internally.

We are reminded of the brilliant book The Educated Mind: How Cognitive Tools Shape Our Understanding by Keiran Egan. Within Egan’s thought, what we describe here is the Ironic way of knowing.  This would be nicely complemented by Merlin Donald’s Origins Of The Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. This is an important and rewarding line of inquiry and could well be taken with cold vegetables. It so happens that we have some cold vegetables down here at the GOP headquarters.

The best models for understanding multiply in an interminable synthetic process. We knock one against another and a new particle of truth springs into existence. Together, the two allow the generation of further dimensions and their corresponding perspectives that startle and bewilder. New territories of wildness appear, that astonish, stun and sometimes terrify. In through the cleavages and seams and interstices flow meaning and collective understanding. These new terrains can be seen between the blades of multiple models that we sharpen one against another. We will post a Definition For a New World Order here, among our Features, of the Assertino: the smallest, indivisible known unit of Truth. Now this… is fun. Stardate: Sometimes models explain. For some, models must explain. But at their richest, they throw open vast terrains of the unknown. Always, they entertain.

When we encounter the unexplained, we sometimes abandon explanation and embrace exploring. Then we can embrace and endure inexplication. For your amusement, our Definition For A New World Order: INEXPLAINISM.

It is not so much that we tolerate the admissibility of the inexplicable. We need only suspend the inadmissibility of contradiction for this magic to work.

We admit, welcome, enfold and cherish the possibility and practice of (not)explaining. Could you inexplain that, please, Mr. Professor sir?  We offer… Inexplication as Method. As Doctrine. Maybe we are the Inexplainists. We offer, for your consideration, Post-Explainism, an -ism with an -ist to call it’s own.

But. Back to the social, and why Hypocrisy is Bad. Earnest statements that are hypocritical can be honed and sharpened against one another too, until they are so keen that when they are laid against one another they shatter. Occasionally they shoot brilliant beams of clarity and insight off into space. This is what Stewart and Olberman and Maddow can achieve. They do a great public service. We need the light of these beams to see the truth, and they are very, very funny. Hunter did this with bonfires and ammunition. On still nights in Woody Creek we can still hear the merry crackle…


Hypocrisies become (not)lies when they are normalized, and this is bad. So when is hypocrisy really, really bad?

We embrace, we worship uncertainty and ambiguity. We practice tolerance of multiple perspectives and points of view. Competing interests and contesting paradigms. This is not hypocrisy. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

Irreconcilable contradiction by those who cannot tolerate complexity and contradiction is hypocrisy. It is hypocrites who are unable to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty and multiple perspectives. They cannot tolerate the kind of ironic thinking that allows seeming contradictions to be integrated into synthetic, higher knowing.

They compulsively aver the certainty of self-contained, self-referential answers, self-completing, free of unchained flights of uncertainty or incompleteness or even of speculation. They admit no antithesis and synthesis. There is no integrative, productive and creative assimilation into ideas, or deepened understanding or shared meaning. There is no… wisdom.

They require willful blindness: the elision or eclipsing or erasure of whole regions of the obvious and the true. One crude truism can exist: Another must wink out of existence: become false, unsupportable or simply invisible. There is no… tolerance.

When these contradict, they are simply… wrong. We argue that totalizing statements can only be… wrong. Worse, they are anti-democratic and anathematic to common understanding

“It is time we realized that to presume knowledge where one has only pious hope is a species of evil.”

Harris, Sam: The End Of Faith. 2004: W.W. Norton, New York. pp. 225

When these people contradict themselves, that is hypocrisy. When they earnestly and insistently expound assertions about the nature of the world that are patently contradictory, then this is true hypocrisy.

When these people make accusations about the inconsistencies, contradictions, hypocrisies, mistakes and even lies of others, this is Hyper-hypocrisy. It is hyper-hypocrisy because it is actually created, synthesized, by those who cannot tolerate contradictory assertions. For you and we, these things may be complex, or nuanced, or slippery, or deep, or whatever. But to those who cannot tolerate so-called hypocrisy, they are nothing but inconsistency. This excites the most fervid of condemnations and attacks from the intolerant.

Where there is room, there is room for error. Where there is give, there is tolerance. Tolerance for assembly, for error, for future expansion.

Inconsistency. We, The editors, will die, we are sure, lamenting that we have not been more consistent. And that we have not been more cautious and less impulsive and adventurous. We will surely regret that trip to Asia.

Our critics who analyze, criticize and challenge the flood of fundamentalist hypocrisies have been systematically dismissed as marginal, non-normative, shrill, immature and distracting. When challenging lies elicits contemptuous dismissal, and this is normalized, we have acute hyper-double-meta-hypocrisy. We are in trouble. We think that this is one of the most crass and hypocritical  tactics from the right-reactionary play-book that has done so much damage to the public discourse.

We think this is especially insidious and dangerous. It is a deliberate, unremitting flurry of body blows. Think of it as relentless self-contradiction as Political Method. Like the sinister clown-suits that came out around the time of the Republican National Convention in this past (whatever month that was). Relentless, absurd, psychotic nonsense.

This hypocrisy is wrong. Dishonest. Disingenuous. Deceptive. But it is also manipulation and outright plundering of our civil discourse. It is a massive hijacking of our language. Bullshit is seemingly normative, no longer remarkable. Like the normalization of desolation by the third pages of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front. It becomes so constant and relentless an irritant, a foreign body, that we cease to sense it.



Imagine that you suddenly awake in a bombardment. An assaultive, unrelenting, pervading shit-storm of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is like a neutron bomb. It destroys the thinking brain and leaves the Zombie body standing. Zombies. It is like a local anaesthetic of the public conscience. It destroys our capacity for illuminating and deconstructing lies.

It erases, like an Etch-a-Sketch, our native resistance to dishonesty, our innate recognition of lies and deceit and perfidy. It has the power to actually erase much of the truth. Not just to cloud and obscure and erase specific truths, but to dumb, to benumb and to cleave off whole limbs of possible truths.

The bandwidth of our collective communicative nervous system can only handle so much over-amperage of sheer bullshit noise. Like the computer HAL2000 in Arthur Clark and Staley Kubrick’s realizations of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we will be reduced to a simple, irrelevant sing-song. Daisy, Daisy…. True. Something about true…

A healthy public discourse mobilizes, identifies, encircles and destroys bullshit. It is like an immune system. But it can only handle so much assaultive violence. No wonder our public life begins to look like it has a wasting disease. (We strongly urge the reading of Emily Martin’s book Flexible Bodies: The Role of Immunity in American Culture from the Age of Polio to the Age of Aids. This is a compelling anthropological examination of the discourse of conflict, aggression and “global flexibility-” (the negation of the “social body”)- internalized: taken –literally- within the individual body. We might suggest that you digest this with Foucault’s piquant The Birth Of The Clinic.)

We are inured not to wounding but to feeling, and then to hearing. We develop tolerance and not resistance. It is like a traumatic injury to stretch receptors.  A proprioceptive trauma. The nerves persist in calling our attention to the problem for just so long, and then they just give up. They succumb to Polemical Shock and Awe. We may sometimes only hope for a a complete erasure- a merciful absence of phantom limbs. (We are thinking of Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Global Capitalism. This is shock doctrine at it’s most internalized, most inwardly destructive. We might pair this with Bradshaw’s The Enemy Within.)

The outrageous becomes prosaic. We know it has become really bad when we are just too tired, and too jaded, and too inured to resist. We cannot muster the attention to raise our heads to laugh, or cry, or protest, or even remark what is happening.

But painful, laborious physical therapy can restore the functioning of injured joints. Satire and forced laughter, repetitive exercises of the small muscles and hard tissue that make up the citizen, can heal. We can inoculate our young with the dead cells of dishonesty, and reduce inflammation with steroidal truth.

We may need the help and encouragement of dedicated rehabilitative therapists. John Stewart and Al Franken will be there for us. We acknowledge our honorable fallen Warriors, such as George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce. Getting up in the morning and willing ourselves to go to one more rehabilitation appointment may require the more insistent alarums of Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader.

So. Hypocrisy is bad. We know, in these cases where outrageous abuses of intellectual honesty and crushing blows to sheer credulity are made in the pursuit of public power, that it is much, much more destructive and dangerous than dumb-ass lying.

We know it to be especially dishonest when it is done by the intolerant, in order to persuade and inflame the intolerant. These are not people who are gently amused by ironic, self-deprecatory and self-contradictory humor. These are people who are deadly serious about lying to get power.

Anyway, it is honorable to acknowledge and honor one’s inherent contradictions, conflicts and immaturities. There is no dishonor in honesty. And there is no hypocrisy in acknowledging the wrongs and injuries we do to our fellows and our planet. If done in a gentle, self-deprecating way, and with a wink (and excellent comedic timing), it can be very funny.

Hah! (End)

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