Sunday, November 14, 2004

Krugman, Bennett, and Hypocrisy

Did you catch Paul Krugman’s address to the Miami International Book Fair on C-Span 2 yesterday? It would take many a post to shovel through the load of rubbish he presented, and even then I would be only half done.

For the moment, a comment on how he and so many liberals and leftists (mis)use the word ‘hypocrisy.’

A hypocrite is not someone who advocates high ideals but falls short of them from time to time. Otherwise all of us who advocate high ideals would be hypocrites. A hypocrite is someone who pays lip service to high standards but makes little or no attempt at exemplifying them himself.

Once this simple distinction is understood, it is easy to see that Bill Bennett’s wasting of large sums of money on the slot machines – a practice he has given up – did not make him a hypocrite. Gambling is neither illegal nor (if you can afford it) immoral. But doesn’t Bennett preach such virtues as self-restraint? Yes indeed, and he is on balance a self-restrained and disciplined man. One does not lose weight, give up smoking, and write as many books as he has by being dissolute. He practices what he preaches – it’s just that, like most of us, he is far from perfect.

Or as I like to say, "Every man has his wobble."

Gambling is suboptimal behavior and I take a dim view of it. (And for the state to promote it via lotteries, see here, is outrageous.) But to call Bennett a hypocrite, as Krugman did at the end of his talk, shows that he doesn’t understand the concept. But nowadays very few people can think correctly in moral categories.

Questions for further pondering: Isn’t there someone morally worse than the hypocrite, namely, the person who advocates no ideals or else low ideals? Why do libs and lefties have such a hard time with the advocacy of high standards of behavior? What is the psychology of this? Adolescent rebelliousness? A fixation on the untenable Marxist notion that ‘bourgeois morality’ is ideological in nature, an illusion to be unmasked and a set of prejudices that serve only to camouflage class interests?