Saturday, April 09, 2011

Hypocrisy is Underrated

With an election coming up here in Canada, talk of politics is everywhere. Let's have a little chat about something that transcends political parties and gets at the nature of belief.

People seem to think politicians should always be consistent in their viewpoints. A candidate who says something one week, then does or says something inconsistent with it the next week, is seen as a hypocrite, and judged harshly for it.

I love The Daily Show, but it thrives on this. An entire bit can consist of a series of clips showing politicians saying one thing, then the same person three years later saying the opposite thing.1 It's funny, yeah, but does it really tell us anything? Should we trust these politicians less?

I don't think so. I'm more concerned that a position is consistent with reality than with a past position.

In fact, I respect a changing viewpoint more than an unwavering one. A reasoned opinion is based on infromation, and information is constantly evolving. That's not a bad thing, it's a rational thing.

The consistent politician who sticks to their guns despite all evidence to the contrary is closer to a zealot than a strong leader fit to run a country in a rapidly changing world. Flexibility should be admired more than steadfastness.

Maybe it has to do with a reluctance to call anyone wrong. You may vehemently disagree with a viewpoint, but concede that it's "just an opinion," and opinions should persist over time. Someone has to be wrong though. It's one thing to respect other viewpoints, but another thing to fail to acknowledge that viewpoints are based on facts that may or may not be true.

As a concrete example, take gay marriage. Opposition to gay marriage is not just a personal value judgement; it is based on facts, such as "gay marriage hurts traditional marriage," "people choose to be gay," and "an omniscient creator does not approve of it." This opposition may filter through generations and manifest as subjective hate, but its original origin is objective facts, and these facts are either true or they are not.

(Spoiler alert: they are not)

Screw consistency over time. Consistency with reality is what matters. Judge politicians and their parties by their current platform's consistency with and effect on reality, not some nebulous gut need for stability.

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative." 
-- Oscar Wilde,
 "The Relation of Dress to Art," Pall Mall Gazette (Feb. 28, 1885)

1 Another example is attack ads. It drives me mildly crazy to see an old out of context quote from a rival politician played over and over as if that actually means something. It's such a blatant insult to the viewer's intelligence, it makes me want to avoid voting for any party that runs attack ads, but that could mean not voting at all.


Unknown said...

I like this post and certainly agree with you. I think staying on one opinion can show a stubbornness and politicians need to move with the times. However, I think we have to be careful as some opinions that are shared in the past are not taken out of context. The question is, how do we know which?

Johnson said...

I couldn't agree more. I can't stand in when a politician accuses another of being a "flip flopper."
Politicians should base their opinions on the information they have at hand. I'm sure few who were in favour of a war in Iraq would state that they still are given the clusterfuck it has become and given the knowledge that it was initiated based on false information.
However, I doubt those that throw around "flip flopper" as a slur actually care.
You could easily imagine a group criticizing a politician because of his or her stance on something and then calling that person a gutless flip-flopper if/when they change their policies.
It's basically just another way to slander people.

Phronk said...

Chad: True. Though even if in context, a past opinion should have an expiration date. An opinion five years ago, even if genuinely repugnant, may not be relevant to the same person's opinions today.

Johnson: Hah, great point: can't stick with an unpopular opinion, can't change it in fear of being a flip flopper. There are always names to call the "other side," but I guess that just goes to show that we have to look past the name calling and get at the real issues underneath.

Tatiana said...

I find most politicians insulting to our intelligence. I don't understand why politics has to resemble kindergarten pandering to the lowest common denominator. Choosing between the least of all evils is a pretty shitty choice, and the root of voter apathy. I'm very much a libertarian at heart, and resent anyone thinking they can represent my opinions, infringe on my freedoms and take money out of my pocket to pay for it. But to go with your post, yes, the ability to change one's opinion based on new information sounds like the very definition of intelligence to me.