Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cynical

Imagine that your neighbourhood or your country or the world faces some problem. Odds are, people will fall into different camps. At the very least you will have those who want to take action to solve the problem, and those who don't think it is a problem at all. But within those two groups you will have subgroups. For me the most annoying group of people in any crowd is those who not only advocate doing nothing, but who then sit back from their comfortable doing-nothing perch and question the sincerity or goodwill of anyone who advocates action being taken but does not have perfect saintlike behavior.

For example, imagine that the local neighbourhood playground was blown down in a windstorm and local kids miss having monkey bars to play on. Some people in the neighbourhood want to raise money to build a new one, some think a playground is unnecessary or too expensive and don't want to spend the money. But chances are, there is some jerk who will say to one of the supporters of a new playground, 'if you want one, why don't you pay the whole cost yourself.' ignoring the fact that the whole neighbourhood will benefit from the playground, so by wanting to get the benefits without contributing, they just want to be a free-loader.

Or another example. The neighbourhood's water supply is running low so some of the neighbours suggest that everyone cut back their water usage. Some people are in favour and some opposed. But then your jerk will say to one of the supporters of cutbacks, "I saw you watering your rosebushes the other day. How can you say we should cut back our usage unless you stop using water altogether. Until you promise not to use another drop of water then you;re just a hypocrite.'

The point is, people who refuse to contribute to solving serious public problems are bad enough, the ones who do that and also snipe at those are trying to help because those people aren't perfect are really the bottom of the barrel.

Which brings me to Lorne Gunter's column in the national post. Now, the column is so ridiculous that if you didn't know that Gunter was writing it, you might think it was a satire of the type of childlike behavior I've been describing in this post (says Gunter of climate change concerts, "Do they all plan to play acoustical instruments on candle-lit stages?" Yes, in Gunter's world, only those who renounce environmentalism should be allowed to play electrical instruments. Later on he criticizes "the increasingly shrill and dogmatic geneticist-cum-environmental-inquisitor" David Suzuki for using a bus as part of his cross-country tour to talk about global warming.)

But while it's all too easy to mock the increasingly shrill and dogmatic editor-cum-columnist-inquisitor Lorne Gunter, this tactic of trying to discredit voices for change by holding up those advocating change to some impossible standard and calling them hypocrites when they don't meet that standard is all too common. How many right-wingers have spent time criticizing Bono for trying to do too much or for being wealthy vs. those who criticize, say, Prince*, for doing too little or for being wealthy? How often when someone wealthy suggests that we do more to help the poor (see Edwards, John) do we hear people say that unless that person is willing to become a pauper and beg on the streets, they shouldn't be listened to (and how often are the people saying that comfortably employed at some think tank set up by some old wealthy man, for the express purpose of protecting that wealth?)

Accidental Deliberations compares Gunter's column to a piece by Tom Barrett in the Tyee and asks, "Can it be anything but a sign of a messed-up marketplace of ideas that Gunter gets the more prominent writing space of the two?"

To which the easy answer is, no - regardless of Barrett, that Gunter has a regular column is sign enough. And part of the 'mess' in the marketplace of ideas, is the fact that this idea - the idea that advocates of taking the easy way out can be as slack as they want while simultaneously criticizing those who advocate taking the hard way for not being perfect - is given any currency at all.



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*Nothing against Prince, just trying to find someone as high profile as U2 who has done relatively little political activism.

9 Comments:

  • Just take a look at the scrutiny applied to Al Gore. Ever since An Inconvenient Truth hit it big he's been ripped to pieces on almost a daily basis for behaviour such as using private jets on occasion, for using electricity, for owning a big house, etc.

    Nevermind that many of the accusations are misplaced (for instance he actually calculates his carbon footprint [or whatever it is called], which he works hard to reduce as much as possible, and then buys offsets to make up any difference), it's just plain rude.

    Another example: there have been occasions where Noam Chomsky's thoughtful and thorough critiques about Western foreign policy, influence of corporations on government, etc have been dismissed under the 'argument' that because he and his wife own some investments and don't live in poverty in the deep woods, therefore he is hypocritical.

    It is very frustrating.

    By Blogger Simon, at 9:50 PM  

  • Yeah, you could list examples all day.

    Meanhwile, I looked over at the Blogging Tories site, and counted 5 posts all echoing Gunter's column. I guess the herd is really munching it's way across that piece of grass this week.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:18 PM  

  • On average I used to fly economy class once or twice per month on business trips when I worked for the government. That is about the limit of what I could stand in terms of the long line-ups, security hassles, etc. If I had to fly every week - or several times per week to attend speaking engagements as people like Al Gore, David Suzuki, etc. - I wouldn't want to fly economy class either. To suggest someone must be a "martyr" in order to be taken seriously while delivering a message of change is ludicrous.

    And if the musicians playing the Live Earth concerts had to fly economy class on tour, all the music would quickly start to sound like Nine Inch Nails. Not a great way to inspire people to change...

    By Blogger Kevin, at 5:03 PM  

  • I apply the same thinking to all these government limos and whatnot that people keep complaining aboutthe cost of. I have had to travel for my livelyhood and agree with Kevin's economy class comment above. I can also appreciate why someone might need a limo on call, especially someone who has security concerns.
    As far as pot kettle black, what about all the anti-gay pundits sleeping with their same sex partners(usualy protitutes or those of little power)? Why is the outrage so muted as compared to someone who may be consuming... gasp... too much electricity?

    By Blogger PeterC, at 9:58 AM  

  • Great post, as usual. The list of examples of this is long and it's particularly annoying.

    Still, there is another group which is equally annoying. They would be the ones who demand something is done to curb water usage before a crisis endangers their rose bushes but insist that their rose bushes need more water than typical gardens so, as much as they would like to help, they just can't.

    That the distinction is lost on the blogging tories is hardly a surprise.

    By Blogger KevinG, at 12:23 PM  

  • Good points Kevin, Peter. I never heard the theory that Trent Reznor flies coach for inspiration but it seems plausible.

    KevinG - Hah. It seems that some (many) Canadians are pretty delicate flowers. Wilting at the first hint of a reduction in their watering despite being one of the most watered plants on the lawn...

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:44 PM  

  • The "if you're not perfect yourself then shut up" argument seems to be a misuse of the Christian idea : Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone.
    (Even those of us who are not Christian can hardly have failed to absorb this one on at least a cultural level.)

    At any rate it seems obvious that the point of this principle is to promote self-reflection with regards to social justice issues, not to provide an excuse for weaseling out of both the self-reflection and the social justice.

    By Blogger Alison, at 4:05 PM  

  • There's also the question of who is throwing the stones!

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:47 PM  

  • Just look at all those gas guzzling limos during the oscars and you can bet AL GORE was riding in one and all this time while this jerk is urging us all to save energy he is using it in his rediclous campaign talk about a show off and hypotcrit AL GORE has a big big problem with hi rediclous ego and that chip on his shoulder namely the big block of wood on top of his neck

    By Anonymous MAD BLUEBIRD, at 5:06 PM  

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