I picked this up from a comment attributed to Michael Ignatieff on Cherniak’s blog.
"I've never regarded hypocrisy as the worst of all virtues, perhaps because I'm a bit of a hypocrite myself."
I believe the context of the above quote is Michael’s initial support for the Iraq war which he later regretted. If one were to peruse the political blogs and forums on the Internet, you wouldn’t have to look very far to find accusations of hypocrite or a “flip flopper” being hurled at people for simply changing their mind. Others, such as John Kerry in the 2004 US Presidential race have been accused of hypocrisy for seeing moral choices as shades of grey rather than black or white.
It is not hypocrisy for one’s views to evolve, change and/or mature over time. In fact I would argue that anyone whose views don’t change over time either lives in a very isolated environment, lacks self awareness or is comfortable with cognitive dissonance. Likewise, no one is completely internally consistent.
I’m 42 years old. In my youth, I would have described myself as a moderate conservative. I voted for Brian Mulroney (twice) and Kim Campbell. I then moved to the United States for 10 years. Even in California, it didn’t take long to appreciate the benefits of Canada’s “liberal” social reforms of the last 50 years. Even in a region as obviously wealthy as the Bay Area, disparities in education, healthcare, opportunity, employment, etc. are striking. What is also very apparent is the way in which opportunity and wealth are distributed along racial lines. Black and Hispanic communities are by and large poor, have poor schools and poor infrastructure in stark contrast to Caucasian and Asian communities.
In the 10 years I was in California however, my core values didn’t change all that much – I have always felt that just societies must work for all people. My political outlook and views on the ways to achieve social justice are what changed. I can no longer accept that minimal governments, free markets, the private sector and private charity alone are the best mechanisms to address the obvious disparities in the social well being of the poor and at risk members of society.
Part of my own gradual enlightenment was also due to my completing my undergraduate degree at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit School with a strong history of social responsibility. The mandatory “breadth” courses in history, philosophy, and political science that were missing from my earlier technical school education speak volumes on the value of a liberal arts education regardless of one’s major or field of study. I am now literally a few days away from completing my MBA at the University of British Columbia. A business school education has actually sharpened rather than dulled my social conscience.
So I am accepting of change in myself, most people are, but what about other people? I marched in and cheered the street demonstrations in San Francisco leading up to and immediately following the start of the war. This much to the consternation of a few of my friends who were San Francisco fire fighters. I can understand they had to deal with crowd control, blocked streets and public safety. At the time many of my friends did not appreciate that they were seeing democracy in action. Many of them have since come to the realization that the war was not just a mistake, but was an immoral initiative from the start.
Michael Ignatieff, an early supporter of the war, once he saw how the war was executed, that it was sold on a bunch of lies and that only token efforts were given to creating a workable society in the aftermath, has repented of his earlier position. Once he saw that his writings on the limits of torture were being construed as support for torture, he clarified his views. Unfortunately, like with Senator Kerry, the talking heads that dispense what passes for news to the public just don’t get nuance.
George Bush is not a nuance guy. The public likes that in a President. Black, white, Axis of Evil, Evil Empire, Patriots and Terrorists – what else is there? I can’t however accept this. I don’t mind leaders making mistakes; I will still criticize them when I feel they are making a mistake. But to stay with a failed policy or continue repeating a mistake is inexcusable. I would have at least some level of respect for George Bush if he came out and said – “Okay, Iraq was a big mistake, but we are there now and we have to make the best of it”.
I have previously called Stephen Harper a hypocrite because things he said as president of the National Citizens Coalition and during the 2004 election campaign were inconsistent with his public postures during the 2006 campaign. Harper supported the Iraq war, and has never really repudiated that stand. In the past, Harper has expressed his undying admiration for the US conservative movement, whose political agenda reads like a manifesto for jingoes, robber barons and oligarchs. He has criticized Canada’s social welfare system and mocked the unemployed. He now says all this was a joke. But Harper is not a hypocrite, he is far worse. He’s a conniving weasel who wants it both ways. He seeks to appeal to the Alberta wing of the CPC with all of the neo-conservative (neo-liberal really) themes, but at the same time, in order to get elected he couldn’t sound like the scary Stephen Harper of the NCC and Canadian Alliance. Given the choice, I think I’d take the hypocrite.