In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control.
Vladimir: Like take racial profiling. Don’t writers at New York Times or big magazine notice that black guy more likely to commit crime than white guy or Chinese guy? Don’t they see this with own two eyes?
Me: Oh, I get it. No, they have two eyes in their head, same as you do. They see what you see. When you talk to a nice white liberal about his personal life, he’s far more realistic in what he tells you than in what he writes for public consumption. When you ask him why he lives in his beautiful crime-free suburb, or why he sends his kid to a private school, or why he fought so long to get his kid into a magnet school, or why he wants his kid to specialize in soccer rather than basketball, he’ll tell you exactly why. He’ll generally use code words so he won’t have to mention race specifically, but that’s precisely what he’s talking about.
Vladimir (audibly relieved): You mean, he’s hypocrite?
Me: Yeah, exactly. It would hurt his career to write for the public what he thinks in his private life.
Vladimir: Thank God!
Vladimir: Hypocrite I understand. I grow up in Soviet Union. Lying to save your job, that’s life. No, I was very worried smart people in America weren’t hypocrites. You know, this country is supposed to be land of free, home of brave. I was scared that smart Americans weren’t hypocrites, but instead were hallucinating. I am very happy to hear they’re just hypocrites. Hypocrisy much less scary than mass hallucination.
“Sure, I have racist thoughts. I’ve crossed the street to avoid a black man sometimes, but only at night. I mean, at least I’m honest about it, though, right?”
“I have had a lot of bad experiences with women, and yes, I’m resentful about it. It colors how I treat the women I meet. Even though I know in my head that it doesn’t make sense, in my gut I feel like every woman I date owes me sex on behalf of all those other bitches who teased me and left me high and dry. But hey, at least I’m honest!” …
I don’t think that any of us would say that statements like this represent important ethical achievements. Even in their own wording, they openly admit that they’re doing the very minimum — more honesty! Yet the “at least” may already be an overestimate: who would claim that unethical behavior suddenly becomes ethical when it is openly engaged in? …
In response to this radically self-serving post-ethical stance, all we can do is require people to stop being so damn honest and start being as hypocritical as possible — because say what you will of hypocrisy, at least it maintains the possibility of an ethos.