I don’t think admitting that I’m a hypocrite should come as groundbreaking news to anyone. I mean, we’re all hypocrites in some form or another, right? I get wound up about birth control and women in combat. You get wound up about whatever is important to you. But this week has kind of left me spinning and I’m going to try to get through the why and the hypocracy without driving you and myself crazy.
The week started like any other. I picked up my copy of The Economist, flipping through to read the article on the Facebook IPO and other stories. I love The Economist. It’s one of my favorite magazines because it seems to offer a somewhat pragmatic view on American politics, et all without some of the shrilling coming from the left and right mainstream media here. I may be wrong but hey, my perception and all that.
So I picked up Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The Status of White America 1960-2010 based on an article in The Economist. There are significant critiscms of the arguments Murray poses and honestly, these critics are well supported. Indeed, when you take the macro level generalizations Murray posits and push them down to the micro level of the individual, the argument loses most, if not all, of its weight. And I won’t tell you that I agree with his conclusions that marriage and religion are foundations for our society because, while they may have been a form of social stability in the past, they were also a form of social control, keeping everyone quote unquote in their place.
There are major, major problems with Murray’s argument and yet, he offers two conclusions that, in my opinion, remain valid: we must have a civic Great Awakening of the entire populace, the wealthy and the poor because without a sense of civic responsibility to our neighbor, we will cease to be. I do believe that. But that’s another post. The second conclusion is that education is valued differently among the wealthy and the poor and that if we want to make a difference in the lives of the poor, we must improve education. But we can do neither of these if we simply throw money at the problem.
The reason I’m a hypocrite is because while Murray’s book makes sweeping generalizations on the macro level that are irrelevant on the micro level, I’m okay with his generalizations (even though they are deeply deeply flawed, in some respects, they resonate with me because of my own upbringing).
Cue Rick Santorum, who generalizes in this post about the role of women in combat.
His generalizations at the macro level are that women are too emotional, men can’t handle the stress of seeing women bleeding in combat and that we women folk are more fulfilled in the home because “many women” have told him they find their fulfillment in the home and caring for their children.
Cue blood pressure explosion in Jess.
Also, cue the hypocrisy card.
At the micro level of the women in combat issue are the individuals. Some who can hack it easily in an intense, hyper aggressive type A male environment of the combat arms. Some who cannot. But generalizing that women in these units can’t cut it is flat out wrong because some can.
So for me to sit back and say that my own experience supports Murray’s generalizations and negates Santorum’s is the height of hypocrisy. It also sheds light on the dangers of generalizations and the results of generalizations: policy.
Murray posits that poor people are less educated and less civilized because all the smart people left. Really? How jacked up is that generalization? If we were to make a policy on that generalization is would look something like this “you’re too stupid to care for yourselves, so we’re going to make decisions for you, for your children and your overall wellbeing”. And if I’d been subject to that policy, I never would have been allowed to join the Army, go to college, and then go teach at West Point because my grades were middling at best in high school and we weren’t very well off.
A policy based on Santorum’s generalizations looks something like this: “Brigade commander: I need someone to be the S1 in this combined arms battalion. Subordinate: Sir, we have these two candidates. One is completely qualified and would do a great job. The other is a moron who can barely tie shoes. CDR: Well send the qualified one. Subordinate: We can’t sir. She’s a female and she might cry at work.”
So what I think I’ve concluded from these hyperbolic examples of rabid generalization is that we can talk about trends and macro level issues all day long. Policies will never be able to implement a solution that work for all people in all situations. Policies are dependent on the people implementing them and yet, we need policies because people have demonstrated time and time again that without policies to force changes in behavior, behavior won’t change.
That’s my rap up of my week of spinning in mental circles. If nothing else, I hope that my journey through this one episode of hypocrisy will make someone else think the next time they generalize or stereotype as I have been guilty of this week.