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Hypocrisy and Situational Ethics


So often in the leftosphere, intentions matter more than outcomes. Wikileaks, for instance, is focused on truth-telling without regard to the lives which might will be lost when secrets are exposed.

I’m not of firm opinion about spilling secrets like this. My anarchist nature likes any check on government shenanigans. And few things are permanently secret anyway. It’s more a matter of timing the reveal; today is inconvenient, while tomorrow will help explain history.

But also I recognize evil in the world and accept that compromises must be made. Governments and their secrets are the best of many bad choices.

Neo-neocon makes an excellent point about the kinds of nations and governments that can be harmed when state secrets become public:

But it’s been clear for quite some time (since, perhaps, Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers) that no significant punishment will be forthcoming for the self-proclaimed whistleblowers who just can’t stand the hypocrisy of a government that fails to live up to its highest principles.

That means the targets of groups such as Assange’s Wikileaks can only be Western nations that aspire to something close to morality, who seem to have principles, not the bad guys who are unapologetically bad.

Lefty radio has been hitting hard on that hypocrisy in recent days. But is failing to live up to your dreams a hypocritical act?

From the scant handful of leaks I have looked at, it appears hard to argue that any officials were plainly lying. I do not detect bad intentions. The nature of secrets implies underlying truth. Only honest, accurate or sincere information must be kept hidden. Lies, on the other hand, must be told into existence. Lies do not work without anyone to hear them.

Being hypocritical is playing both sides of an argument. Either torture is acceptable or it is not, to use an example I heard on lefty radio. To claim that when our team tortures it is O.K., but when the other team does the same it is wrong might seem like a contradiction. Either there is a lie about the general acceptability of torture, or there is a double standard (hypocrisy).

If the official who have been leaked were not lying, we’re left with the hypocrisy of a double standard. But moral questions hinge upon particular conditions and available options. When our team tortures (a word with a slippery definition), our team might do it after more alternatives are tried and found unsuccessful. Their team might torture as a first option.

Then, judging the same act differently is no longer a double standard. Intent does matter in moral questions. And if one allows that a nation or government can have collective principles, that government must be judged with consideration of its intent. In an imperfect world only a naif or a fool holds his fellow men to absolute standards.

We must always aim at the ideal. Falling short, of itself, is no cause for punishment.