There are two kinds of people in this world: those that think in terms of opposition, and those that don’t.
I would characterize our current condition as one in which people obsess over the hypocrisy of their opponents. Wherever you are on the political spectrum, the denunciation is the same. “This group of people over here is guilty of saying one thing and doing another!” It is a charge of unequal application of a principle, of focusing only on certain cases that support a belief, and ignoring others that challenge or undermine it. Let me first say that I don’t really know what this means or what could be done about it, or if it’s even a positive or negative development. I’m merely outlining what I see as a limit to our thinking in the present.
It might have something to do with the rapidity with which people typically share information. It might be that people are generally crass, listless, and only feel passionately engaged when they are exposing the weakness and stupidity of others. A belief or an idea is never examined for itself or on its own merit, it merely serves as a pretext for sneering at people. Similarly, we love to indulge in sloppy psychologizing. Rather than ask whether a belief is plausible, or whether it is relevant to the specific context of the conversation we’re having, we focus on what it must mean for a person to hold such a belief. “If you think this then you’re afraid!” Fear is bad, but only when it is the wrong kind of fear, and that is determined by….well, people who shout louder in the arena I suppose, or pretend to a democratic majority.
People that fear the government are paranoid, people that fear muslim terrorists are redneck racists. People that turn around and make a show of fearing radical white christian terrorists, on the other hand, are witty political satirists. If a muslim blows himself up and takes others with him, people say, “that wasn’t because of his beliefs, it was US foreign policy.” When a white man shoots up a church, planned parenthood, or school, people say “it was his beliefs, imposed on him by fox news, and not US domestic policy.” And you see that even now I am doing exactly what I described just moments ago. I can only point out inconsistency in the application of a standard. I am trapped by this way of thinking just like everyone else. It’s fun and pretty easy to d0, makes you feel accomplished and perspicacious, and distracts attention from your own inadequacies.
And there I went ahead with the psychologizing. It must be a desire to appear a certain way to oneself and others that drives this behavior. The one two punch: condemn hypocrisy, psychologize your opponent. We dance into the night, enemies in arms.