Wednesday, October 15, 2003

A Gentle Reminder: Hypocrisy is when someone abandons or contradicts his or her views in speech or behavior, essentially creating a double standard that exempts, for example, oneself, one's friends or family, one's political allies. A nice, fresh example is Rush Limbaugh: big supporter of the war on drugs; got his yuks bashing Clinton as a pot-smoker. Come to find out he's been popping pills himself -- which, done without a prescription, is as illegal as rolling up a joint in your off-campus pad near G-town.

I don't think that definition is controversial at all, and you probably don't either. But one thing hypocrisy is not is a license for everyone else to abandon or contradict his or her views in speech and behavior. Another fresh example: Jeff Jarvis, who has been taking heaping servings of schadenfreude out of the Limbaugh story (see here, here, here). Whatever: I'm not here to defend Rush in the slightest. He did set himself up on this. But here's the problem: Jarvis says, "I read a lot of people saying that we should be giving Rush sympathy now. Yes, about as much as Rush gave other drug addicts -- even while he was popping thousands of pills." Now, I take it that Jarvis is implying that, yes, an addict -- someone with a sickness, in the therapeutic jargon -- deserves sympathy. But he's also saying that that sympathy is revocable based on the political views, and the consistency thereof, of the addict.

Jarvis has a couple of questions to answer: First, either addiction is a sickness, or it is not. Jeff: Agree or disagree? Second: Addiction is a sickness deserving of our sympathy, like any other suffering. Jeff: Agree or disagree? Third, supposing Rush's sickness was, say, inoperable cancer; supposing further that Rush opposed federal funding for cancer research: it would still be fine to ridicule him and revel in schadenfreude. Jeff: Agree or disagree? (Yeah, it's not an exact parallel, but it's meant to capture the suspension of sympathy based on hypocrisy or disagreement.)

Like I said, I have no brief for Rush, and I'm a big fan of Jarvis. I just think Jeff's dancing is making him look small (even in comparison to Rush, who has -- as Jarvis notes -- offered no sympathy to drug addiction "victims," but who has asked for no sympathy and refused to call himself a victim). Any hypocrisy by Rush is not, as I said, a license for Jeff to abandon his previous position in order to more gratuitously stick his ass in Rush's face during the victory dance. Or, put briefly, the only antidote to hypocrisy is steadfastness, Jeff; thus, if you think addicts deserve sympathy, your only proper response to Rush's situation is to shut up and offer sympathy.

A bit more: I don't want to be the hypocrisy police or the arbiter of the proper response to Limbaugh's predicament. I'm just calling out Jarvis because I think he's not only smarter but more compassionate than he's acting.

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