Marriage For Thee, Stairwell Makeout Sessions For Me

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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136 Responses

  1. Saul DeGraw says:

    I’m with you here but only to the extent that Vance McAllister is an elected politician.

    We are all human and all have our hypocrisies or periods of hypocritical actions* but if someone makes a career out of being a public moralizer, they should be as close to non-hypocritical as humanly possible.

    I’m not surprised by these sorts of stories anymore.

    I think more broadly the argument against tu quoque is about separating ideas from behavior. Humans will always be hypocrites and fall short of ideals.

    That being said when it comes to opponents of same sex marriage being caught in moments of adultery, I tend to be on your side.Report

    • I’m trying to resolve the first and last sentences of your comment. Does it only apply to elected politicians or all opponents of SSM?Report

      • Saul DeGraw in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        Mainly it applies to conservative candidates who campaign on family values and what not.

        There are probably plenty of philandering Democratic politicians but very few of them campaign on being crusaders for public and “traditional” morality. John Edwards was an adulterer and I felt sorry for Elizabeth Edwards. However, he never campaigned or lectured as a moralizer on these kinds of issues as far as I know, so I don’t feel like he is a hypocrite in that regard. Edwards is just an ordinary human with ordinary human failings and adultery seems to be a fairly common failing.

        It is a bit rich for someone like Newt Gringrich to pretend he is the defender of
        “traditional” values and the family and whatnot.

        Basically, if a politician lectures about the evils of secular society, sex before marriage, sin, and whatnot, I am going to be more unforgiving when it shows that they are just as vice-filled.

        If a politician campaigns on reforming the drug war and gets caught with narcotics, no big deal. If they campaign for harsh sentences in the drug war and get caught with cocaine, that is a big deal.Report

  2. Burt Likko says:

    1. McAllister wasn’t making out with a dude. “Traditional marriage” might allow for divorce; like many code words it can mean what you want it to mean, with some flexibility.

    2. McAllister was not valuing his own marriage, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t value marriage generally. He fell short of living up to his own announced ideals. (That said, I’ve been married 10 years myself and have not once found myself making out with someone not my wide. Perhaps I have less opportunity to do so than a sitting Congressman.)

    3. The kind of voter who is going to be swayed by McAllister’s pledge support for traditional marriage isn’t going to care the tiniest bit that McAllister might be guilty of marital infidelity. The kind of voter who is going to point at McAllister and cry “hypocrite!” was unlikely to vote for McAllister in the first place. The kind of voter who is going to form a character judgment about McAllister because of his apparent infidelity was unlikely to particularly care about his stance on “traditional marriage” so much as about a generalized assessment of McAllister’s character: he cheats on his wife, so his promises do not mean as much as a man who is faithful to his wife.

    4. Unless, of course, he and his wife have “an arrangement,” which would be none of our business if they do. But, I tend to doubt that.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Mention of the man’s hypocrisy is a jumping off point. Those who themselves remain committed to “traditional marriage” might still be unwilling to break bread with a man who does not share their commitment to the institution. And if they are, then there remains a broader point to be made on the basis of that.Report

    • Pinky in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Does the woman you married know that you call her “my wide”? I think that might be worse than cheating on her.Report

  3. Your continued willful misunderstanding of tu quoque is becoming embarrassing.

    As I have repeatedly explained to you, tu quoque is a logical fallacy. That means it’s about truth and/or falsity of statements.

    It’s not saying never to judge character. It’s not saying that hypocrisy doesn’t count as a character flaw. Hypocrisy is a character flaw.

    Now, after recognizing and condemning hypocrisy (both of which the proper identification of a tu quoque argument implicitly does), rejecting the fallacy then asks us all to recognize a simple fact: Even hypocrites can sometimes still utter truthful statements. And when they do, the speakers’ hypocrisy is not to be taken as disproof of the potentially truthful things that they have uttered. The fact that a statement spills out of the mouth of a hypocrite does not mean that it’s untrue.

    Rejecting tu quoque is not about “civilized argument” — as if there were any other kind — it’s about the truth value of statements. Which we can’t learn by looking at a speaker’s character.

    So… “Don’t swindle,” says Bernie Madoff, before he got busted.

    Do you say “You’re a hypocrite”? Great, I’m with you. I agree. Swindlers are bad, and hypocritical swindlers are worse.

    Do you say “Swindling must be alright, if that hypocrite is against it”? That — and only that — is a tu quoque argument.

    It also has the same form as your justification for same-sex marriage: “I observe adulterers opposing same-sex marriage. Therefore, I am in favor of it.”

    That’s a sad, sorry bit of argument right there.Report

    • James K in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


      That context is helpful, because I was at a total loss to figure out what Sam’s post had to do with tu quoque.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to James K says:

        Thanks. I was confused for a while too.

        The fact that Sam thinks he’s making a (purportedly legitimate) tu quoque argument against Reihan is proof that he does not understand, or more likely refuses to understand, the concept.

        Sam is saying he doesn’t trust Reihan’s judgment. Reihan’s a smart guy, but when it comes to foreign policy, I wouldn’t trust his judgment either. That doesn’t mean he’s being a hypocrite about it. Still less does it mean that any hypocrisy of his has magically altered the geopolitical calculus in the middle east.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to James K says:


        To have to engage with Reihan only on the terms of whatever the next war he’s going to cheerlead – and not cite the disastrous Iraq war which he also gleefully backed – is doing him a favor that he does not deserve. To not say, “You’re bad at this Reihan, and when you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted, the results have been bad for America,” but instead say, “Let’s weigh the pros and cons of fighting in Crimea and not consider at all your previous judgement on similar matters…” would be ludicrous.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to James K says:

        “You’re bad at this Reihan, and when you’ve gotten what you’ve wanted, the results have been bad for America,”

        Sam, that’s nota tu quoqe. If you’re going to keep arguing this tu quoque issue, you’d really be well-served to get serious about learning what the tu quoque fallacy actually is, instead of continuing to fly by the seat of your pants.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to James K says:

        To have to engage with Reihan only on the terms of whatever the next war he’s going to cheerlead – and not cite the disastrous Iraq war which he also gleefully backed – is doing him a favor that he does not deserve.

        [Shakes head.]

        I would point out that, in similar matters of judgment, his judgment has been way off in the past. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s not tu quoque. That’s just bad judgment.

        Tu quoque would be like if he were (a) a Quaker and (b) arguing for war anyway — and if I then said (c) arguing for war is correct, because (a) and (b).Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to James K says:

        Dismissing Newt out of hand when he talks about the sacredness of marriage is a tu quoque, but it’s impossible to resist.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:


      Whenever Vance McAllister says that “traditional marriage is important” or “Jason’s family should be excluded from this institution” the very first reply should be to observe that he is lying about his admiration for the institution, and in fact, that he clearly has no genuine commitment to the institution whatsoever, as evidenced by the affair that he had. The second should be to observe that if it isn’t his commitment to the institution that is driving his position, something else must be, and figuring that out before going forward should be the top priority. If the obvious example of disingenuous behavior is disallowed from the conversation, he is advantaged from the start, because we treat as truth a liar’s words. He should have to explain why he believes in no government sanction for himself but plenty for you. Instead, we let him off the hook for no good reason at all, and in fact attack the person making the entirely fair observation that he’s being disingenuous.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        I can see looking at his positions and his actions and coming to a conclusion on him.

        I can’t see how we can get from there to “therefore we can come to this conclusion about his positions.”Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        You don’t think his own infidelity can be used to conclude that any claims he makes about his commitment to the institution of marriage are bogus?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        be used to conclude that any claims he makes

        Dude. As I said: I can see looking at his positions and his actions and coming to a conclusion on him.

        I’ve got that shit hammered down quite flat.

        It’s the “so now what?” where I get all ignorant.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        This is where your relativism — our preferences are the truth, and are revealed by our behavior — becomes dangerous. Is lying not worse than telling the truth, since everyone lies? Is looking out for the less fortunate not better than stepping on them, since in one way or another pretty much everyone steps on them? Your arguments here and elsewhere (the posts about the Catholic Church, e.g.) force us to conclude that lying and stepping on the poor are both better than their alternatives, because that’s what people do, and what people do determines not only what they believe but what is right.

        Look, it is important to judge a political philosophy by a.) whether it is implementable and b.) the consequences of implementing it (this is more complex than it sounds, but we’ll leave it in its simple form for now). So, neoconservatism leads to the Iraq War out of its own principles. This leads to the valid judgment that neoconservatism is flawed, if not completely wrong.

        The relationship between neoconservatism, however, is in no way analogous to McAllister’s example, unless you think that opposition to gay marriage leads to gay sex, and that because gay sex, like the Iraq war, is a bad thing, this means that opposition to gay sex is problematic or wrong. (paradoxically? do you see at this point how incoherent the position is?).

        I agree that when someone says one thing and does another, it’s a good idea to examine what he or she says, but it alone should not lead us to conclude that what they say is false. To believe so is to, in the end, hold some untenable and ultimately abominable positions. Or to be a hypocrite oneself.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        You don’t think his own infidelity can be used to conclude that any claims he makes about his commitment to the institution of marriage are bogus?

        I can see concluding a lot of things from this. Perhaps he doesn’t really believe them. Perhaps he believes them but is not strong enough, personally, to live up to his convictions. Perhaps he’s changed his mind, but for various reasons (social status, e.g.) has not felt he could say so.

        I don’t think we can conclude anything about the position itself, other than that his relationship to it is in question.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Ah, for some reason I was thinking McCallister had gotten caught in a gay relationship. He got caught kissing a woman who is not his wife. Your argument is that he therefore doesn’t care about marriage? I guess very few people do, or ever have. That must be why it’s stuck around for so long as an institution: so few people actually care about it.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


        Although I have been repeatedly accused of it, I do not move my arguments about art into the realm of something like politics. I do tend to believe that the more hands off the better, but I believe that all people should emphasize remaining hands off. If Jason is to be married, who am I to object, in other words? But I feel that is a position that all people should take. All people though do not take that position. And when they crawl out from underneath the rocks where they reside, I see no reason not to mention their hypocrisy (if it exists, as it plainly does in McAllister’s case).

        As for discussions of war, citing Salam’s last disaster strikes me as the very first place to start with him. But presumably, that would be disallowed, as we’re only meant to discuss the immediate topic at hand allegedly. But why wouldn’t we mention personal histories which point to the weakness of a held position? Why would we do an opponent that favor?

        That said, the more I think about what Salam has written – despite its odious condescension – perhaps it falls beyond the boundaries of what the tu quoque purports forbids.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


        To my mind, actions outweigh allegedly held convictions. I could not care less about what a man claims to believe. I only care about what he does. Our actions tell the world what we believe, not our words. I frankly cannot fathom why we would ever believe the opposite.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Again, the Salam and McCallister cases rae completely unrelated. It is, technically, a form of ad hominem to say that Salam has been wrong in the past, therefore he is wrong now. And if that is the only argument you make, it is a fallacious one. However, that doesn’t have to be the form of the argument that references his past intellectual mistakes, nor does it have to be the only argument one makes against his current positions.

        With McCallister, you are engaging in a form of tu quque. You are saying, in essence, that because he has behaved badly with respect to marriage, he can’t say that you, or anyone else, is behaving badly with respect to marriage. This can only be fallacious. There is no way to turn it into a valid argument. One can question his motives, given his behavior, or question his commitment to his beliefs, given his behavior, but these are not arguments against the truth of his beliefs, nor do they support any valid arguments against the truth of his beliefs. If they did, then we’d all be in trouble, because all sorts of things we want to be true, we need to be true in order for society to function, would be false.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        “You don’t think his own infidelity can be used to conclude that any claims he makes about his commitment to the institution of marriage are bogus?”

        We can say that he is lying about thinking marriage is important.

        It does not tell us whether marriage actually is important or not.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        You don’t think his own infidelity can be used to conclude that any claims he makes about his commitment to the institution of marriage are bogus?

        Possibly, but that’s not the real issue. The real issue is whether his claims about traditional marriage are true or not. Their truth or falsity is logically independent of anything he might actually say. If he’s a devoted family man who’s never–unlike Jimmy Carter–even lusted in his heart after a woman other than his wife, that would have no bearing on whether his claim about traditional marriage was correct or not. If he was that faithful, you certainly wouldn’t accept that his claims about traditional v. same-sex marriage are true, would you?

        Likewise, his infidelity cannot have any bearing on the objective truth value of his claims. Yes, you can call him a hypocrite. You can even–although it’s more of a stretch, as Chris explains–question whether he really believes in traditional marriage.* But you cannot judge the truth value of his claims about the importance of traditional marriage. That last one, and only that last one, is a tu quoque.
        *I’m more in agreement with Chris here. I think people hold ideals, and can really believe in them even as their human weaknesses make them fall short of faithfully adhering to them.Report

      • Sam in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


        I am rethinking my take on the inclusion of Salam, but regarding McAllister, I am not only engaging in a tu quoque, but advocating it. I do not believe he should be allowed to ignore his own philandering when advocating for a stringent definition of marriage. He is owed no such kindness.

        And frankly, for a man to say, “Traditional marriage is important…” and not personally adhere to that is all the evidence we need of what is really motivating his opposition.Report

      • Kim in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Oh, and naturally, everyone’s got an ideal or two.
        There’s always another sucker, ain’t there?Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        And frankly, for a man to say, “Traditional marriage is important…” and not personally adhere to that is all the evidence we need of what is really motivating his opposition.

        You have a very narrow, shallow, and unrealistic view of human psychology. I know that I, personally, have failed my sincerely held values more often times than I can count. As a good friend of mine likes to say, “Being good is hard.” Failing at it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be good, and that our conception of the good is “bogus.” It just means that we’re less than perfect. Yet you’re demanding perfection in order to justify any belief. Life will render all beliefs “bogus,” then.Report

      • Whenever Vance McAllister says that “traditional marriage is important” or “Jason’s family should be excluded from this institution” the very first reply should be to observe that he is lying about his admiration for the institution, and in fact, that he clearly has no genuine commitment to the institution

        Okay, let’s make some edits:

        Whenever [Barney Frank] says that “[same-sex] marriage is important” or “Jason’s family should be [in]cluded from this institution” the very first reply should be to observe that he is lying about his admiration for the institution, and in fact, that he clearly has no genuine commitment to the institution.

        I submit that if you’re being consistent, you are left with no choice whatsoever but to renounce same-sex marriage. After all, we’ve found an adulterous hypocrite supporting it.

        [Note: I do not mean to implicate all swingers here, straight, gay, or whatever. Just the ones for whom it’s clear that this was not a part of the deal.]

        If you don’t like my example, or if you think it doesn’t disprove the good of same-sex marriage, then I submit to you that you are not dismissing McAllister’s arguments because of his personal behavior. You’re dismissing them for some other, so far unstated reasons. And you’re making a lazy, invalid inference from his behavior because it’s convenient.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


        I feel it necessary to clarify here, both for you, and for others: this is not about using a single individual’s hypocrisy against the larger argument. This is about using that individual’s hypocrisy against that individual, as evidence of a belief asserted as truth but not actually believed in by the individual. In other words, in a conversation about the alleged importance of marriage, there is no need to get to the actual issue with McAllister, because he clearly does not believe what he’s saying, as evidenced by his entirely voluntarily decision to cheat on his wife. I see no reason to give that individual the opportunity to make a disingenuous argument free from rightly observed personal hypocrisy.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        because he clearly does not believe what he’s saying, as evidenced by his entirely voluntarily decision to cheat on his wife.

        Except that “clearly” is not at all true here.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


        If I come to you and say, “Skydiving is a moral wrong,” you might believe me (and be confused, because weird). If you then discovered that I went skydiving every weekend, would you continue to believe in the claim that I made to you before you knew?

        Please note: I do not go skydiving.Report

      • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        I’ve known adrenaline junkies who did things that they knew were wrong, because they wanted the adrenaline high.

        I’ve known people who genuinely believed that not only was marriage, in general, sacred, but their own marriage as well, fail to live up to their own values and cheat on their spouses.

        I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to ask, “Does this person, who has just done X, really believe that X is wrong?” It is not clear, not clear at all, that because person does X they do not believe X is wrong. People do things that they believe are wrong all the time, for a variety of reasons, many of which boil down to “people are imperfect” and “being good is hard.”

        In fact, there are many values that virtually no one holds if not living up to them constantly for the entirety of one’s life means that one clearly does not hold them.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


        I responded at the bottom.Report

    • Murali in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      Dismissing Newt out of hand is not tu-quoque. Dismissing the idea that marriage is sacred just because adulterers like Newt say it is tu-quoque.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    As bad as this guy was, you know the democrat would have been getting a beej.

    I think that this is how the argument is supposed to go.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    In a certain way, Congressman McAllister is participating in uber traditional marriageReport

  6. Kolohe says:

    The question arises, does the staffer have self esteem and mental health issues?Report

    • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

      The question answers itself: she works in LA politics.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

        But only part time and only recently!

        (the news website that broke the original story details how the staffer is the wife of someone that has known the Congressman possibly since high school, and all of them have seen their lives intersect at several times through places of residence and employer. So this thing is potentially much more soap opera-y than the ‘powerful man bangs one of his employees’ initial gloss)Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Glyph says:

        But did he ever steal her a blue French horn?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

        Maybe, any discussion of Louisiana politics inevitably becomes a Long story.Report

  7. Kazzy says:


    Consider this:

    Suppose there were a man who made it his life’s mission to tell the world that 2 + 2 = 4. He makes commercials about it, writes books about it, and demeans anyone — even children! — who take any other stance on the matter, even accidentally.

    Then one day, while counting out some money, he accidentally counts out two dollar bills and then two dollar bills more and says, “I’ve got $5!”

    Now, it’d be fair to use this to question the tack the man has taken in spreading his message. “Maybe you shouldn’t admonish children for making a mistake that you yourself have made.”

    But nothing this man does will change the truth of the matter that 2 + 2 does equal 4.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

      2 + 2 = 4 is objectively true. Suppose that instead what he said was “You need to respect my sincere belief in X.” Why isn’t it a valid objection to say “You sure don’t act like someone who believes X”?Report

      • Chris in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I’m pretty sure that’s not what Sam’s arguing, and I’m quite certain that no one here is disagreeing with that in the abstract. If someone says they sincerely believe it is wrong to do something, and they consistently do it anyway, it makes perfect sense, in most cases, to ask whether they really believe that it’s wrong to do that thing. Then again, most of us do things that we consider wrong, and do them pretty regularly, because we’re not particularly good at doing the right thing all of the time, so you have to be careful in when and how you apply that objection.Report

      • Guy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        That’s a perfectly valid objection. The invalid conclusion is “…therefore X is false.” X may be true or false, but its truth value is independent of the man’s belief in it.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Now assume further that X can’t be assigned a truth value in the usual ways, e.g. Let X be

        A marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.

        That’s not amenable to being tested via scientific method. The usual assertion of the truth of that is that it’s what people believe. So if you can demonstrate that people who proclaim it the loudest are full of it, you’ve made a perfectly logical (if not dispositive) attack on its truth.Report

  8. j r says:

    But fortunately for McAllister, the rules of civilized argument demand that we complete ignore his outrageous hypocrisy. Why? Because it would be grossly unfair to mention McAllister’s indiscretions the next time he decides to denounce somebody else’s family, because the tu quoque necessitates that we pretend like a hypocrite’s not a hypocrite. Or something.

    Out of curiosity, is there someone somewhere actually making this argument?

    Pointing out the hypocrisy of certain individuals is always somewhat interesting and I would never say that we ought to stop doing, but philosophically, it can only do so much work. Highlighting the hypocrisy of the social conservative position doesn’t really do a whole lot to rebut that position.

    In fact, I might go so far as to say that hypocrisy of this sort is built into the social conservative world view. The idea of sinning on your knees Saturday night followed by getting on your knees again Sunday morning to ask for forgiveness is a well-worn evangelical trope. For a guy like McAllister, failing to live up to his commitment to traditional marriage is a sign of his own moral failing and not a sign that there’s anything wrong with He may be faking it, but that doesn’t change the fact that lots of people believe something similar. In this world view, it doesn’t matter so much what you did yesterday. You’ll be judged for it and you’ll have to pay a penalty, but if you sincerely repent today, yesterday’s transgressions will eventually be forgiven. This constant cycle of piety, temptation, giving into temptation, and redemption is exactly what appeals to so many people in the first place.

    Catching this guy with his pants… I can’t tell where his pants are in that photo, is certainly a bit of fun at his expense, but this sort of thing has always happened and will always happen. You’d be better off making an actual philosophical and ethical case for acceptance and inclusion.Report

    • j r in reply to j r says:

      Should read:

      For a guy like McAllister, failing to live up to his commitment to traditional marriage is a sign of his own moral failing and not a sign that there’s anything wrong with his commitment to traditional marriage defined as exclusively male-female. Report

    • zic in reply to j r says:

      This constant cycle of piety, temptation, giving into temptation, and redemption is exactly what appeals to so many people in the first place.

      +1 for this description. A lot of people (often liberals) fail to realize how large a role the ‘giving into temptation’ plays here as it reinforces the need for the rest of the cycle.Report

      • j r in reply to zic says:

        Yes. And I think that it also contributes to what some perceive as anti-intellectualism. The body is weak. The intellect is an enabler for rationalization. It is only faith that leads to salvation.

        Some see that as a warning against hubris and others see it as know-nothingism.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to zic says:

        Agreed. This is very insightful.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to zic says:

        Though it does seem curious that when gays give into temptation, it is often enough to reject them in their entirety.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to zic says:

        @kazzy — This is one of the classic double binds. People see their own sort as a collection of individuals, but they see marked people as examples of a type.

        Examples: “credit to your race” or this:

      • j r in reply to zic says:


        There is a whole evangelical cottage industry that revolves around gay redemption. Personally, that doesn’t make their position on gays all that much more palatable.

        They’re not wrong because they are hypocrites. They are wrong because they are wrong. The hypocrisy of it is interesting, but a bit besides the point.Report

      • Chris in reply to zic says:

        Two of the fundamental ways in which we think about in-groups and out-groups differently are: (1) treating bad behaving individuals, as representative of out-groups and not as representative of in-groups, and (2) treating bad behavior as resulting from internal factors for out-group members and external factors for in-group members (fundamental attribution error).

        The only way to counter these basic, built-in biases on a large scale (because it’s not like we’re going to make everyone more mindful of their basic cognitive biases) is to make people identify with out-group members, so that they are thought of in US terms rather than THEM terms. People will still think about them in a biased way, but at least it won’t be in a way that is biased against them.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        There is a whole evangelical cottage industry that revolves around gay redemption.

        Yesterday, I spent a good deal of the day reading about abstinence-only education, purity pledges, etc. with the notion of writing a post on the topic, combined with actual statistics on unplanned pregnancy, abortion, early marriage and out-of-wedlock births, divorce, etc. Sort of trying to connect the dots of the cycle @j-r aptly described above.

        And I came to the conclusion it wasn’t worth the effort, it’s been done repeatedly, and there’s not much new to say. Except for the cottage industry.

        Christian entrepreneurs abound. You can sign your kid up (for a price) for a gay cure. You can purchase your daughter a purity ring and pledge certificate, suitable for framing. You can buy a plethora of home-school material that won’t offend your religious views and make the case that Darwin was, indeed, daft. Christian radio owns an incredible chunk of the airwave spectrum, has a huge presence in the cable spectrum, and the book-publishing spectrum.

        This, the fact that Christian cottage industry is, in fact, big business, is the story, or so my reporter-sense told me based on my google searching.Report

      • Glyph in reply to zic says:

        @j-r – very insightful, and gets at something I have often wanted to talk about when these issues come up – some people resistant to gay acceptance for religious reasons are making an error not so much of hypocrisy, but of fundamentally classing homosexuality (to me) incorrectly.

        In the strain of Christianity I was raised in, it was accepted that we all have our ‘crosses to bear’; the ‘thorns in our side’. These are sufferings, afflictions and temptations (some physical, some mental/spiritual) that vary in type and magnitude/intensity from person to person (a tendency to pridefulness in one; a bum leg in another; a weakness for the bottle in a third; and a sinful same-sex or other “perverted” desire in a fourth. Etc.)

        These were in a sense inflicted upon us by God, who made all things; but with faith and His help, we are expected to resist (=piety) giving in/up to them, and repent (=redemption) whenever we do.

        For something like a bum leg, this means accepting everyday pain with grace, and not giving in to bitter despair or hopelessness over it.

        In the case of someone who desires homosexual sex, they would be expected to resist that temptation as well as, as best as, and as long as they could; ideally, for life. (And not giving in to despair over that either.)

        If someone has a weakness for the bottle (but only gets drunk once or twice a month, in the privacy of their home), or is suspected of being “a little light in the loafers” (but is basically mostly closeted), they will likely be generally accepted -fairly- well, by many believers of this type.

        But asking these same believers to accept same-sex marriage (or other open, repeated, unrepentant displays of what they see as proscribed or “immoral” behavior), is like asking them to look the other way from the drunk-in-public-every-day-guy. The drunk is making no effort (from their POV) to resist or overcome his affliction, and they cannot (from their POV again) approve of him publicly, unrepentantly shacking up with all those bottles of gin. He’s sinning, and he’s harming himself/others – and he risks leading others into temptation.

        They will accept someone who once stole something, but not someone who announces their intention to keep stealing, and in fact wants a license to allow them to do it. They might accept a pastor who sleeps with a parishoner once and makes a big public apology, but if there’s no remorse or it keeps happening, out he goes.

        If it wasn’t clear, these are not my views: the absurdity and/or cruelty of a God who would make one X, and then punish one for being X, was one of the things that alienated me from the faith I was raised in. And I definitely see being gay as more of a “who you are” than “what you do” question, and moreover whatever consenting adults do together to make their socks roll up and down is A-OK by me.

        But (some) religious people who believe the way I describe above, are not necessarily being inconsistent in the application of their principles; they simply start from a premise that I don’t accept (that same-sex desire is wrong/perverted or an “affliction” that one can, and should, attempt to resist or overcome and repent of), and they believe that their Holy Book tells them this (which, arguably, it can be interpreted to do).Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        @glyph that’s a mighty fine comment, too.

        Perhaps I’m wrong, but it also strikes me as a common social norm in the midwest, too; a willingness to forgive, forget, and give another chance. But not too many.Report

  9. North says:

    Wow, that Reihan Salam article was something else.
    Salam admits that Iraq was probably an unmitigated disaster but then says he can imagine alternative histories where neoconservative answers might have offered better outcomes than what actually happened therefore neoconservatism is still valid.

    And that’s coming from Reihan Salam who’s a relatively bright and well spoken neoconservative no less. Neoconservatism is in even more dire straits than I thought.Report

    • Chris in reply to North says:

      Here’s the gist of his argument:

      The first is that American strength is the linchpin of a peaceful, economically integrating world; and the second is that we know what it looks like when America embraces amoral realpolitik, and it’s not pretty.

      It’s not “I can imagine a world in which things didn’t go so bad,” it’s “First, ignore that they went so horribly bad; and second, the alternative is worse.”

      That the alternative is worse than Iraq and a bungled Afghanistan is something we’re meant to take on faith, I guess.Report

      • North in reply to Chris says:

        Hmm he says that previous events, like the Pakistan atrocities in Pakistan, would have gone better in his imagination if the US had intervened or threatened to intervene. As if, of course, there hadn’t been another power that might have taken notice if the US had gotten muscular on that subject. Sounds imaginary to me.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Yeah, I guess that’s his argument for “the alternative is worse.” “Look, if we ignore how things went in Iraq and Afghanistan, then we can imagine a world in which Pakistan would have gone much better than it did if we’d handled it the neocon way.”Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to North says:

      A right-wing columnist
      That we’ve all seen on TV
      Wrote a piece that up and said
      “Just ignore reality.
      Screw the fishing consequences.
      Find an enemy!”
      Then something like “Bomb Iran now, how about it?”

    • Saul DeGraw in reply to North says:


      What I find interesting is that America’s role is supposed to be to ensure global peace and posterity but we are also supposed to suffer from low wages and anemic employment markets.

      Interestingly he is not the only person to make that argument. A few months ago, Sullivan linked to a paper by some economists who basically argued that the rest of the world can have a welfare state as long as the United States has none. Basically we can’t have nice things like universal healthcare and unemployment insurance that lasts a while because our ultra-savage economic system allows Europe and other places to be welfare states.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        our ultra-savage economic system

        That’s why I keep all my money in The First Bank of Thunderdome. I find that merely “savage” doesn’t get me the ROI I have come to expect in this American dystopia.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        “our ultra-savage economic system”

        Otherwise known as RandianReport

      • Glyph in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Currency is denominated in Slim Jims.Report

      • North in reply to Saul DeGraw says:

        Wow, do you have a link to it? I read sully intermittantly and I must have missed it.

        Though I did see an article, on the Atlantic maybe? About how clothes manufacturers are starting to get jittery about China and the far east working markets because wages have risen high enough now that the economics of clothing manufacturing are starting to suggest departure for a new location. I think that’s very interesting too.Report

    • kenB in reply to North says:

      It seems to me that what he was really defending was just a well-funded and muscular military, not so much any specifically neo-con policies — he doesn’t advocate in the article for any particular bit of military intervention, just for not reducing the budget. It would’ve been helpful if he had been clearer about exactly what he was supporting, rather than just not renouncing the neocon label.

      And though I was opposed to and dismayed by the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, I think it’s useful for everyone to remember that we don’t know how the alternative would’ve worked out in either case — we shouldn’t leave off the scale the people who would’ve suffered under the then-existing regimes who are free of them now. As much as everyone wants to see Right vs Wrong, it really comes down to a cost-risk-benefit calculus.Report

  10. zic says:

    Sam, I think you’re delving into a divide in how people think, here, particularly when it comes to religious belief and behavior.

    Many Christians accept that we all sin; it is human nature. It’s not that we will or won’t sin that matters, we will sin. It’s that we understand our actions to be sinful when we commit them, that we beg forgiveness from god (and presumably community) for committing these sins, and that we at least make some effort to resist temptation to sin. This is the process of being religious.

    Douthat’s weekend column, “The Penumbra of Religion,” explores this, though I’m not comfortable with his framing which seems to stress the positive outcomes of his particular brand of Christianity then on others. I read a recent piece on how the FBI handled things with the Branch Davidians in Waco, and it suggested that that inability for agents to comprehend the biblical narratives of the Davidians led to the escalation of problems there.

    So it’s not that a Christian representative commits adultery that matters; it’s that he recognizes that committing adultery is a sin and seeks redemption for that adultery. Pre-marital sex is a sin, but the greater evil isn’t the pre-marital sex, it’s what you do if a pregnancy results. You can be forgiven the sin; the problem isn’t so much committing it — we are all sinners, it’s failure to seek forgiveness after committing it.

    From a liberal and non-religious perspective, there’s a presumption that if something is wrong, the greatest wrong is to do the wrong thing. So McAllister’s actions seem a complete violation of his stated values. So we rake him over the coals, and from our perspective, justly so.

    I actually think many conservatives understand this difference, which is why liberals are often teased for not living in yurts; it’s a conservative way of holding liberals to the standards we hold conservatives to when we discuss the foibles of the McAllisters of the world.Report

    • j r in reply to zic says:

      We seem to be on the same page here. I am wondering if you have any thoughts on how to bridge the divide. I’m not particularly religious myself, but I’ve never felt comfortable simply dismissing religious belief.

      The first step is respecting that people come at these issues from different perspectives. But then what?Report

      • zic in reply to j r says:

        Well, getting to that first step, respect, would be nice. And respect isn’t just respecting religious belief; it’s respecting non-belief and different beliefs.

        I’ll speak for myself here, because I think it’s good to be cautious of my voicing other’s sense of respect or lack thereof; but, assuming I’m immoral for my lack of belief isn’t respectful; and assuming my desire for policy that might conflict with religious doctrine isn’t disrespectful of the religious doctrine. Above, you described an evangelical cycle; I see an effort to have the piety part enshrined in policy and law despite the expectation that individuals will fail. I need better tools to reconcile that, just as Huckabee* needs better tools to grasp that non-belief doesn’t equate to immorality. When I push back on issues like SSM, contraception and abortion rights, etc., it isn’t disrespect of someone’s beliefs; but when it’s interpreted as an attack on Christianity and a war on Christmas, instead of genuine disagreement on basic civil rights, the conversation breaks down. I don’t object or try to limit the rights of the religious to live in accord with their beliefs, I object to their mission to impose those systems on others; that’s disrespectful.

        I would like to think that actual facts might matter here; but they don’t seem to. We still hear that high divorce rates are a sign of decaying society, for instance. Rarely is the case made that increases in divorce were a good thing, also, for they allowed people trapped in untenable marriages exit rights. So it seems to me that facts rarely enter the conversation, and when they do, they’re often unexamined — divorce is bad, without recognition of the exit rights that entrapped people (often women) in horrible and abusive situations.

        *I picked Huck because I’ve heard him say this very thing on his show, “Without belief, how can you be moral?” is a direct quote, with the ‘how’ implying the lack of morals.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        @zic — First, I come from a religious home, and in fact my father is a minister. So, fact is he is a minister who works specifically in LGBT outreach, so there is that. (And my “coming out to my parents” was pretty easy, to say the least. My mom was thrilled!) But anyway, I have much exposure to religious people whose attitudes are perfectly fine.

        But the evangelicals — oh my!

        Look, I know there is a danger in representing a thing by its worst example (which I allude to above in my response to Kazzy). But still, I think there are currents of thought in the evangelical space that are not the worst example, but central to their ideology. These are the messages they use to sell their garbage, the stuff that plays on radio. It’s in the water.

        You say we need to understand, but how much effort do I need to put into understanding “demons” and “spiritual warfare”?

        I mean, outside the know thine enemies angle?

        This stuff is deeply toxic, and honestly, as long as it remains the Kool Aid they drink, no harmony is possible.

        Short version: they need to change far more than we need to change.Report

      • zic in reply to j r says:


        Yup; we need to understand when evangelicals are speaking in tongues. And they need to understand that this is not necessarily the human norm. I hope my personal examples, which took up a lot more pixels, gives credence to this.

        And I’m really delighted to hear you have a supportive family and one actively doing outreach; from what I see, this makes a huge difference; the potential of being ostracized from you family is a closet in it’s own right.Report

  11. veronica dire says:

    My take on these general topics is essentially political, and I don’t believe that truly neutral, purely intellectual debate every actually happens, at least about any topic that actually matters. If nothing else, every debate includes as a premise that its topic is legitimate to argue about and that both sides get to have a say.

    This becomes particularly difficult as a marginalized person engaging with a largely privileged populous. Consider this: my identity, the things I need to flourish, are considered debatable by the majority. And sure, I can convince some, but they (as a group) have tremendous power and often little motive to change. So I am debating at a disadvantage, since I have to convince the very people who are hurting me.

    In short: they are judge, jury, prosecutor, and executioner all at once. Sucks for me.

    So regarding hypocrisy, I will use whatever tools I can to create a world where I can flourish. And when someone puts on the smug mantle of “debate,” I get suspicious fast. Why do they get a say? What preconceptions do they bring to the table? How can they hurt me?

    Examples: panels of men in suits discussion women’s reproductive health, transphobic radical feminists arguing if trans women have “residual male privilege,” dudebros discussing in somber tones whether it is prudent for women to wear sexy skirts on the subway, on and on.

    These are not debates. They are expressions of power.Report

    • j r in reply to veronica dire says:

      Why do you think that debate is always a “smug mantle” as opposed to a legitimate struggle to get things right? And by right, I don’t mean basic questions of whether to recognize other people’s humanity. I mean the debate over what claims other people’s humanity make on us and how best to recognize those claims.

      Once you eschew debate and decide to proceed only on pragmatic ground, then yes, it does become all about power. Here’s the thing, though, power struggles almost never resolve themselves in favor of the marginalized. Even successful revolutions usually just end in some new power rising to fill the ranks of the old power and that new power can be every bit as oppressive as the old power. You allude to this yourself when you talk about radical feminism’s unwillingness to fully embrace trans women.

      Positive change tends only to happen when action is paired to good ideas. And good ideas are the result of discourse.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        @j-r — I’m happy to engage in good faith debate, but my point is this: we sanctify the notion of debate and then forget how it can itself be used as a weapon. And there are times where there is no reasonable debate. For example, I won’t “debate” the TERFS, at least on their own ground. There is no point. Instead, what I do is point out their bigotry. I do this with the hope that decent people will see it for what it is.

        Furthermore, may “debates” come front-loaded with a set of assumptions, one of which that the topic is “debatable,” that we have to answer to whichever bigot has decided to attack us. These “debates” are essentially hostile acts.

        But what happens when we question that? How do I say, “No, I am not going to debate my womanhood with you. If you think that is a question, then we fight.” (And to be clear, I don’t mean with fists.)

        In my experience debate achieves some things, but basic human contact achieves quite a bit more. For example, I’m pretty sure the women who work on my floor at the office have a much more nuanced view on the “bathroom question,” since they share the bathroom with a trans woman every day. (Often we hang out in the bathroom and chat.)

        I suspect this: the fact that out gay couples have become commonplace, and that straight people have learned to become comfortable with them, has as much to do with the shifts in gay marriage as anything.

        Short version: I am not rejecting thought or reason. Instead, I am rejecting a certain type of hostile discourse.Report

      • Chris in reply to j r says:

        Of course, we see here how the ruling out of reasonable debate can be “front-loaded with a set of assumptions” as well. The reason I highlighted the residual male privilege example is because you poisoned it by implying that only TERFS refer to it and placing it in the midst of blatant examples of prejudice. This is not dishonest: it is used by a lot of non TERF feminists, and it is used by a lot of trans men. And it is used not in the service of maintaining power, but of questioning it. You’ve rejected it out of hand because it doesn’t fit with your assumptions, and you’ve used a rhetorical trick to convince others that they should do so as well. This is another example of why, as I said below, I see no reason to debate or discuss things with you. But I can point out your frequent rhetorical infelicities, and I have no problem referring to you in the process, regardless of whether you’d prefer that I do.

        Whether you believe it or not (and I suspect that you know it quite well, though you’d be loath to admit it), you have a pretty damn receptive audience here. Many of the regs are tolerant, open-minded individuals with a strong sense of personal freedom, but they are not familiar with many of the concepts and perspectives that you discuss, including, in all likelihood, “residual male privilege” and TERFs. It’s not that they’re not smart enough to get them — they clearly are — it’s just that they haven’t been hanging out in the sorts of circles where these things are discussed. I’m sure it serves your purposes quite well, then, to have one of the more vocal people around who happens to be familiar with them ignore you or not speak on anything that you say, so that your version of those things can remain relatively unchallenged.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        @chris — Please understand, my problem is with you, not the rest of the site. I find you toxic and really wish you would leave me entirely alone.Report

      • Chris in reply to j r says:

        I’m pretty sure I just said your problem is with me, but I said your problem is with me because I don’t just nod in agreement with whatever you say, and you find that “toxic.”Report

      • veronica dire in reply to j r says:

        @chris — I don’t care. My request is simple: leave me alone.Report

    • Chris in reply to veronica dire says:

      Examples: panels of men in suits discussion women’s reproductive health, transphobic radical feminists arguing if trans women have “residual male privilege,” dudebros discussing in somber tones whether it is prudent for women to wear sexy skirts on the subway, on and on.


      • veronica dire in reply to Chris says:

        I asked you nicely not to talk to me. Really, I’d rather you completely ignored my posts.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t particularly care what you asked, to be honest. Now, I’m not going to “debate” you, because that would be pointless, but whether you want me to talk to you has little effect on my decision to call out bullshit when I see it. Though I am tempted to do it entirely with Sesame Street videos because of your request, so you did pull that off.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Chris says:

        Please don’t talk to me.Report

      • kenB in reply to Chris says:

        Well, at least in his first comment, Chris wasn’t really talking to you, just responding to a comment in a public forum that happened to be posted by you. I don’t think it’s really up to you to tell him he can’t do that, though of course you’re free to ignore him.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        Hell, I ignore me half the time, and the other half I disagree with myself.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Chris says:

        @kenb — We can go round and round on this. He, of course, has license to do as he pleases. But then so do I.

        I am asking him to not engage with me at all, including with anything I say.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to veronica dire says:


      Would you connect this at all with the tendency to call everything that not everyone agrees on a “controversy”, thereby legitimizing both sides in a way that isn’t always right?

      For instance, vaccines are not controversial. Calling them such bestows legitimacy on their critics that is undeserved. But the conversation is often framed that way for a whole host of reasons.Report

      • Barry in reply to Kazzy says:

        Agreed. There’s a point where letting the whackos define something as ‘controversial’ or ‘in doubt’ or ‘open to discussion’ or ‘agreeing to disagree’ is equivalent to giving everybody the heckler’s veto.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        @kazzy — Well, it feels different to me, perhaps because of the power distribution. I mean, yeah, I can see a similarity, insofar as we have to say, “Why do I have to waste my time on this crap!” But I tend to see anti-vaxers (and so forth) as misguided outsiders, which is rather different from a senate hearing on reproductive health that includes only conservative men.

        But, anyway, I’m not sure. Maybe.Report

      • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        One of the big debates among biologists, at one time, was whether to engage creationists at all. On one side, you had people (like Gould) saying, “No, never debate them, never even acknowledge them, because doing so lends them all the credibility they need.” On the other, you had people (like Dawkins) who felt that the misinformation they were spouting had to be countered. At some point, I think it became impossible not to engage them, and it did lend them all the credibility they needed. Creationism probably got several more years of traction on backlash alone. But in the long run they will lose, and while they will likely never go away completely, they will lose any access to power they might currently have, because the world will leave them behind.

        The lesson I take from this is that it doesn’t really matter how you deal with the recalcitrantly wrong. All that matters is that you continually push for what’s right.Report

  12. Okay, here’s a good challenge for you:

    Assuming you support equal pay for women, I’ve just found you a hypocrite, and his name’s Barack Obama.

    I demand – by your standards of what counts as good reasoning – that you renounce the very idea of equal pay for women. Hypocrites advocate it!Report

  13. Barry says:


    “You haven’t been paying attention, have you?”

    Probably not.Report

    • Chris in reply to Barry says:

      What Jason was riffing off was Sam’s argument in the OP (you should read it), for which all Jason’s really done is substitute equal pay for traditional marriage.Report

  14. Sam Wilkinson says:

    I am very confused by the several people who are claiming that we can believe in something – let’s say, that marriage is very important – and can also cheat on their spouses. For very obvious reasons, I do not tend to believe in spoken platitudes. I believe only in the work of chosen action. What McAllister did via his action was communicate to us what was most important to him.

    Why is this man owed the benefit of the doubt? How can we possible square an absolute statement like “I am committed to traditional marriage” with an affair such as McAllister’s? In the most obvious and immediate way that he has to show his commitment to traditional marriage, he failed spectacularly. If Christianity gives him a subsequent out – “Oops, my bad about that God!” – that’s Christianity’s problem. It doesn’t undo what he did. Nor does it undermine what his action communicated about his own beliefs.Report

    • Sam, are you discussing revealed preference, honesty, the Tu Quoque fallacy or absolution? You seem to be going through all of these, and it makes the discussion difficult.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        The conversation seems to spiral. This is probably my fault. But the idea that it is unfair to raise an individual’s relevant hypocrisy against that individual during argument – that we are directed to ignore relevant evidence suggesting that there is more going on than what is being claimed – troubles me. I see no reason to voluntarily hamstring ourselves in this fashion.Report

      • I do think, though, the personal attacks hamstring the argument in a worse way. They can make the argument for ssm weaker and not stronger, because they expose that argument to the worst morals of whoever support ssm or the best morals of those who do. Take the Barney Frank reductio Jason offered above. Or consider that a lot of citizens who oppose ssm also never commit adultery. Consistency demands that those examples be raised too.Report

      • @sam-wilkinson

        Dude, I don’t think anyone (or very few people, at least) are saying that it’s out of bounds to talk about this man’s hypocrisy. Judging him and his proclamations (or even the greater movement of which he is part) in part on the man’s hypocrisy seems valid. We can have debates about forgiveness and all that, and we can have debates about the merits of SSM vs. “traditional” marriage, but during the debates there’s no need to try to validate the tu quoque fallacy.

        Tu quoque is a specific, narrow type of argument. Most of the things you’re talking about don’t actually fall into the definition. I think you’d get a lot more traction for your overall point (a point I find persuasive) if you just let that side-debate die.Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Jonathan McLeod says:

        But the idea that it is unfair to raise an individual’s relevant hypocrisy against that individual during argument

        How many times does it have to be pointed out that nobody’s saying this before you get it?

        At this point you seem to have decided to double down on both a misunderstanding of tu quoque and a misrepresentation of what your critics are saying. Everything you need for an accurate understanding of these two things is right here on this page.Report

    • j r in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      Where has anyone said that he ought to get the benefit of the doubt?

      It’s not at all unfair to raise his hypocrisy. It’s just not all that interesting.

      Also, and this is going to sound a bit harsh, but I don’t believe you when you say that you “only believe only in the work of chosen action.” In this particular instance, you happen to be on the right side of things, but dollars to donuts if we started talking about your various beliefs it would not be all that hard for me to find instances where your actions contradicted your stated beliefs. That is the way human beings work. We are complicated. We have all manner of psychological defense mechanisms and cognitive dissonances that stop us from being perfectly rational beings.

      Pointing out the personal failings of an individual is not the same things as offering an argument against that individual’s beliefs. They are two separate arguments.Report

    • I am very confused by the several people who are claiming that we can believe in something – let’s say, that marriage is very important – and can also cheat on their spouses. For very obvious reasons, I do not tend to believe in spoken platitudes. I believe only in the work of chosen action.

      I guess I can understand and believe you when you say you believe only in the work of chosen action. With @jr below, I’m skeptical about whether you do so in practice, but that alone would not in my opinion disprove whether you really believe it. So far, so good.

      But are you really “confused” by the position that someone can sincerely claim to “believe” something and yet sometimes act in violation of that belief? I can see that you disagree, but the position itself is not fantastic and many, many people hold it. In fact, I’d be surprised if you don’t hold your belief “only in the work of chosen action” in large part as a counterpoint to the position.Report

  15. Sam Wilkinson says:


    I am afraid here there is a divide that we cannot gulf. I do not believe a person who claims to have done a thing known to be wrong. I believe that person is telling us the story we want to hear, not the truth as it actually is. This is perhaps unfair but I can think of no other mechanism to understand human behavior. It makes far more sense to me to think that human beings do not want to reveal their internal decision calculus than that they do and then act in opposition to it.Report

    • Chris in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      I must be bordering on nihilism, then.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      Do I understand you correctly? Consider:

      A person steals a trinket they do not need. They know at the time that they do not need it, they just want it and think they can get away with taking it. They know they should not be stealing it, and even if they do not get caught, they feel guilty about it – possibly even to the point of confessing and returning the item, or attempting to otherwise make amends. They resolve never to steal again, and continue to believe stealing is wrong.

      But because they *did* steal, they *actually* believe unnecessary stealing is OK, and are lying to themselves and others when they say otherwise?Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Glyph says:

        Are you describing a lifetime? Because, I am obviously willing to grant a change-of-heart. But at the moment that the trinket was stolen, that person’s calculus didn’t arrive at, “This is wrong.” It arrived at something else altogether. Now think about McAllister’s timeline. Unless he’s had previous affairs (making him doubly duplicitous here), he lead with a commitment to traditional marriage, then got it on when the opportunity presented itself. What do we believe? His comments then or his actions now? I think the answer is obvious.Report

      • zic in reply to Glyph says:

        Sam, I think people do things that they know are wrong, and they don’t try to justify it as they are doing it.

        They lie, often for no reason. They stiff bartenders the bill or drive off without paying for their gas. There are studies that show some people go out of their way to hit animals with their cars. They assault people for no reason. They steal, and without need. They cover-up wrongs, which is often a bigger problem for politicians then the actual wrong.

        There is likely some scale of psychopathy here.Report

      • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        Underlying the psychology of motivation as it exists today, is in essence a 2000+ year old notion that goals are comprised of competing motivations, often many of them at once, which in combination (and in context) determine the direction of our behavior. Usually these motivations are couched in terms of approach and avoidance motivations — motivations toward an end state or away from it. Virtually everyone cites Kurt Lewin’s simple model of psychological forces as the most rigorous early scientific version of this view. Lewin often represented behavior in charts describing what he called, “hodological spaces,” which contain the relative positions of an actor, end-states, and vectors representing forces and the ultimate behavioral direction (you can see examples here, or read Lewin here). The basic idea is that various psychological forces — motivations, including values, impulses, emotions (fear, e.g.), preferences, etc. — within a particular psychological environment (the context) push and pull us in often competing directions, resulting ultimately in a specific behavioral direction. For any particular end state, we may have many approach and avoidance motivations at the same time, and which win out depends on their inherent and contextual strength. But no one in psychology would suggest that, because approach wins out, the avoidance motivations were any less real. Nor would they suggest that because we hold conflicting motivations at the same time, some of them must not be real.

        A perfect example is junk food. I want to be healthier. I value being healthier. But man, Reese’s Easter eggs are delicious! My impulses are basically all saying, “Eat Reese’s eggs until you throw up.” My more rational motivations are saying, “OK, you can have one today, but that’s it, and none tomorrow!” I rarely eat one: I usually eat none, or too many. And which behavior I undertake depends, in large part, on the psychological context. Stress, for example, decreases my cognitive resources, making it more difficult for me to reason my way into eating the healthy amount (no more than one every few days). So in high stress times, I’m likely to eat a bunch of the damned things. But each time I do, this doesn’t mean that I don’t value health. It just means that value didn’t win out in context, because my limbic system is screaming, “Give me that delicious sugar! Yuuuuuummm!” while my cognitive system is taxed by other things, like work or an angsty teenager or relationships or whathaveyou.

        Now, I have no idea in what context the dude in question cheated on his wife. Perhaps he really doesn’t value marriage, but knows that he can get votes by painting himself as a deeply religious family man who is committed to the sanctity of “traditional” marriage. Or maybe he really does value his marriage, and “traditional” marriage in the abstract, but in the war of competing motivations, that value lost out on this occasion, or even on multiple occasions. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t genuinely hold that value, it just means that other motivations, in context or perhaps inherently, were stronger in the moment or over time (one psychological force that is unavoidable for all of us is inertia: it is more difficult to stop an ongoing pattern of behavior than it is to not start it in the first place, which I suspect is why many affairs carry on even after they become too great of a psychological burden to justify continuing them).

        I don’t say any of this to excuse his behavior, or to say that pointing out hypocrisy is out of bounds. I’m merely pointing out, as I did before, that you are operating from a severely impoverished and un-empirical psychology, and one that lends itself all too easily to inconsistent application and a deeply dysfunctional “gotcha” form of social interaction and politics, a form that essentially demands that the people with whom we disagree be infallible. It doesn’t do anyone any good, except those who revel other people’s inability to maintain a spotless public image. It certainly doesn’t progress us any further on the path to truth, justice, fairness, or equality. It just leaves us wallowing in mud.

        I admit that, to me, it comes off as a sort of radical Puritanism, or deep-seeded prudishness, which I know from many other conversations you and I have had is simply not true in your case. I suppose that’s why I find it a bit baffling.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Glyph says:


        There is much here to reply to, but I want to clarify something: you suggest I demand infallibility on behalf opponents. I do no such thing. I demand infallibility relative to their own chosen, stated positions. I do not think it unreasonable to expect that the man who champion’s a traditional marriage would in fact honor his own (allegedly) traditional marriage. If the man was a drunk driver instead, I wouldn’t suggest that his drunk driving undermines his position on traditional marriage. I would make a dozen other points that I think undermine his position on traditional marriage. But when his stated position comes into obvious conflict with his behavior, then I think it is cite-able as evidence, at best, of a double-standard, and at worst, something far more sinister.

        What I embrace is citing relevant personal behavior, not all behavior. I do not demand perfection from anybody. There is no such thing. But I don’t think it unreasonable to for an individual to maintain personal consistency with stated positions, and perhaps doubly when those positions involve hurting unrelated third parties (as McAllister’s positions advocate doing). And frankly, I expect the same from any politician, whether it’s the ones who have used drugs and then prosecute the drug war (all of them, apparently), or benefited from birth control and then oppose it’s use (many of them, I’d wager). Is this an unreasonable expectation?Report

      • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        While I don’t see any practical difference between demanding infallibility period and demanding infallibility with regard to people’s stated positions (what else are we demanding infallibility with respect to?), I agree with you that when people wield power to promote values, particularly values that may hurt people, they should be held to a higher standard. Like I said, I see nothing wrong with bringing up his behavior, I just don’t think it says much about how seriously he holds his values. It says, instead, that he is not living up to them when he expects others to do so, and uses his position of power to at least attempt to ensure that they do.Report

  16. Tod Kelly says:

    At the risk of seeing like I’m trolling for site page hits, I’ll put a link here because I don’t have the time to reword this short post. But I think it relevant to all of this.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Okay guys, we have policies about dealing with trolling like this, and we’ll get through this together. Hopefully, if we ignore this “Tod Kelly” person long enough, he’ll slink away to another website where he can get the attention he so craves.

      But seriously: very well said.Report

  17. zic says:

    I think the world just shifted on it’s axis, because I loved Rod Dreher’s blogpost on McAlliste.

    Who’da thunk. And this is his rep, he’s taking it personally. The cuckolded husband’s on record, too, claiming the Christian mantle was political expediency. Read it.Report

  18. @sam-wilkinson

    I fear I’ve merely been piling on to what the others have been saying, but I’ll state three points where I think I can meet you part way.

    First, I find it hard to ignore the personal entirely. I do agree that that someone’s personal life does somehow and in some way not easily (to me) discernable affects the truth value of what they espouse. I’m 99 and 44/100 in agreement with Jason, Chris, and others here who argue against the tu quoque. But I’m just slightly less confident that truth is so easily contained in premises such as deductive logic deals with.

    Second, there’s a political game here, and all–or at least more than in other circumstances–is far in love and war. Somehow motivations and sincerity enter into the picture here.

    Third, in recent years, I have come a lot closer than I ever have to believing that belief is largely defined or represented or conveyed by chosen actions. I wouldn’t go as far as you seem to–to say that “only” chosen actions indicate belief–because I just can’t shake the feeling that we all operate at cross purposes to ourselves or that our consciousness is not so unitary or that we all are simply human and make mistakes. But I increasingly find that a lot of the excuses I’ve made for my past actions–including the quasi-excuses where I officially deplore what I’ve done and reflect on what a transgressor I’ve been–seem to fade when I consider that many (most) of my actions are choices. And on a level that I used to not appreciate as much, these choices are things I have a lot of control over.Report