Way before “check your privilege”, we had “check your premises.” The phrase is commonly attributed to Ayn Rand and her novel Atlas Shrugged, which tells us that “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”
It was useful advice sixty years ago, but it is essential advice in an age where the Seven Deadly Sins have been replaced with the Two Deadly-To-Your-Career Sins of “ism” and hypocrisy. We are absolutely obsessed with hypocrisy nowadays. Neal Stephenson offers a thought-provoking reason for that obsession in his novel The Diamond Age: “It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticize others–after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?” I would also suggest that modern Americans find hypocrisy comforting, because it relieves our consciences. Why shouldn’t we indulge in the worst perversions possible and permit ourselves every selfish excess? Those priests and pastors and politicians are even worse! Newt Gingrich divorced his wife, so why should we listen to his opinions about abortion? You get the idea.
Today’s political pundits just adore finding hypocrisy in the actions of their opponents. Mark Zuckerberg says we should have open borders, but he has a ten foot wall around his mansion! Donald Trump says we need to restrict immigration, but his wife was admitted under a special program! While there are plenty of actual cases where people are absolute filthy hypocrites, in many cases we can resolve or dissolve the so-called hypocrisy by checking our premises. Here’s an example: It’s often noted that “pro-life” people are often in favor of capital punishment, while “pro-choice” people are often against it. Aren’t they both hypocrites? Probably not. Pro-life people believe that a fetus is a child, and a child is innocent. On the other hand, a murderer is not innocent, and therefore he can be put to death. On the other side of the matter, pro-choice people often believe that a fetus is “just tissue”, while a murderer on Death Row is a fully-formed human being who deserves humane treatment. There is no contradiction in either of those stances. The perceived hypocrisy is a product of deliberately misunderstanding the other side’s ideas.
There’s quite a bit of discussion among the alt-right about the perceived hypocrisy or stupidity of the Black Lives Matter movement. This meme sums it up: BLM supposedly thinks all police are racist and evil — but they also think that only police should be allowed to have guns! Now that is some serious hypocrisy — enough that I decided to take a closer look at what the BLM position on gun control really is. Turns out that things are not nearly that simple.