Friday, September 7, 2007

Hypocrisy and Just Plain Human

In addition to giving us good laugh, part of which I shared in my previous post, Mark Steyn, in "A Measure of Hypocrisy" (New York Sun, Sept. 4, 2007), also makes a serious point about the principled life. "A measure of hypocrisy is necessary to a functioning society." He does not quite identify why it is necessary, but I would agree that it is at least inevitable, being a function of our human, all too human, condition even under the best circumstances...indeed, I would say precisely under the best circumstances.

There are those on the left who would recognize no standards when it comes to this sort of personal behavior. "The left gives the impression that a Republican Senator caught in a whorehouse ought immediately to say, 'You're right. I should have supported earmarks for hookers in the 2005 appropriations bill.'" They forget (or suppress the fact for political expediency) that there is always a gap between principle and practice -- in a nation, in a political party, and in each one of us. "Your inability to live up to your own standards does not, in and of itself, nullify them." Anyone with with even marginally serious moral standards who isn't simply self-righteous can see this.

It is the nature of principles that they are never fully realizable because it is the nature of human beings, fallen as we are, to miss the mark which they establish, even by a soul crushing distance. But that does not necessarily either discredit our principles or identify us as hypocrites (and here I depart from Mr. Steyn). Samuel Huntington once described what he called the American IvI gap -- American ideals versus American institutions, or the distance that always exists, to some degree or another, between the principles we hold as a nation and our faithful practice of them. Huntington sums it up: "Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope."

Cynics like to seize upon these human failings to deny the validity of any such principles. Flags of our Fathers, a particularly cynical film, is an example of such debunking on a political level. It presents the Battle of Iwo Jima, the flag raising, the use of the memorable photo to promote war bonds, and various falsehoods and tragedies that underlay and surrounded the event. "There are no heroes" is the explicit moral of the story. Assuming the accuracy of everything the film reports, the film's conclusion does not necessarily follow. The world is not ideal. We know this. But that does not mean that there are not true ideals.

The particular circumstances of Senator Larry Craig's arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom -- the tapping foot, the baggage against the door -- seem inconclusive on their own as evidence of guilt. But judging by his "sad and pathetic" post-arrest interview as well as other reported incidents, Craig certainly appears to be guilty, though I have learned to reserve judgment even in seemingly obvious cases. Life is complicated. Nonetheless, Steyn is likely correct in saying that "he should disappear from public life as swiftly as possible and embrace full time the anonymity he cherishes in his sexual encounters."

As to how sincerely Larry Craig has held his moral principles in the course of his double life, I cannot say. I don't know what's lurking in the dark subterranean passageways of his soul. But I do know that many of the principles that he advocated are true, regardless of his or anyone's inability to honor them. Is this record of failure evidence that the standards which these principles set are inhumanly high? No. The problem is not the principles, but the humanity. The solution is not in defining evil away by removing the principles. The solution is partly political and ultimately spiritual: a political system such as the Founders gave us that takes into account both the nobility and the frailty of those involved, and, on a personal level, a divine administration of grace, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

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