I had not intended to post further on the Gal Gadot controversy, mentioned as item #5 in today’s Ethics Warm-Up, where she is being slammed as “ableist” for suggesting that Stephen Hawking might be relieved to shed the crippling limitations of his near lifetime battle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. (Knowing Hawking’s famed sense of humor, I assume he appreciated the best gag ever executed on “Friends,” when idiot Joey asked what Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig died of. “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” he was told. “Wow,” said Joey. “What are the odds of that!“) However, I realized that the argument against Gadot was yet another example of the increasing popularity of one of the most destructive and insidious of the rationalizations on the list, #64, Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is”:
Named after John Yoo, the Bush Justice Department lawyer who wrote the infamous memo declaring waterboarding an “enhanced interrogation technique,” and not technically torture, #64 is one of the most effective self-deceptions there is, a handy-dandy way to avoid logic, conscience, accountability and reality.
Examples of this are everywhere. Paul Krugman, the progressive economist and Times columnist, began a column like this:
“Remember all the news reports suggesting, without evidence, that the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising created conflicts of interest?”
The Clinton Foundation’s fundraising created a conflict of interest, by definition. For a non-profit organization, with family connections to either a current Secretary of State or a Presidential candidate, to accept money from any country, company or individual who has or might have interests that the Secretary or potential President can advance is a conflict. It’s indisputable. No further ‘evidence” is needed.”
How does Krugman deal with this problem? Simple: he convinces himself that screaming conflicts aren’t what they are without “evidence,” by which he means “proof of a quid pro quo.” But a quid pro quo is bribery, not a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest might lead to bribery, but a conflict is created as soon as there is a tangible reason for an official’s loyalties to be divided.
Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is” turns up everywhere, and has since time began. A mother swears that her serial killer son “is a good boy,” so she doesn’t have to face that fact that he’s not. It is denial, it is lying, but it is lying to convince oneself, because the truth is unbearable, or inconvenient. It is asserting that the obvious is the opposite of what it is, hoping that enough people will be deluded, confused or corrupted to follow a fraudulent argument while convincing yourself as well. The Rationalization includes euphemisms, lawyerisms, and the logic of the con artist. Illegal immigration is just immigration. Oral sex isn’t sex, and so it’s not adultery, either. I didn’t steal the money from the treasury! I was just borrowing it!
And waterboarding isn’t torture.
#64 also could be named after Orwell’s “1984,” and called “Big Brother’s Rationalization” in homage to “War is Peace,” etc. But John Yoo deserves it.
Rationalization #64 is also closely related to the Jumbo.
The Republican denial that torture was torture remains the worst example of “It isn’t what it is”, but the list is getting longer and becoming more of a burden to public discourse and problem-solving every day. In the case of advocates for the disabled, the rationalization actually holds that a physical handicap isn’t a disability at all, and one without certain abilities we would naturally regard as normal are just “differently abled.” No, that individual is disabled. The fact that Stephen Hawking, with an IQ estimated at 280, had a compensating superpower that allowed him to achieve amazing things does not make his disability imaginary. Maybe he would have liked to play softball. Maybe he would have liked to tap dance. Maybe he would have liked to hold his grandchildren. Denying his disability accomplishes nothing but distorting reality and making it less vivid and clear.
Politically, the use of Yoo’s Rationalization is becoming a cultural addiction. Perhaps flushed with Bill Clinton’s success in convincing the nation that having an intern perform fellatio on him did not constitute sex, we now have experienced decades of “It isn’t what it is” being a foundation of progressive policy logic. Racism against whites isn’t racism. Speech that is uncomfortable or unpopular isn’t speech. Abortion doesn’t involve ending a life. Telling women that they must vote for women isn’t bigotry. The minimum wage doesn’t eliminate jobs. The news media isn’t biased.
Punishing a citizen for choosing not to buy health insurance isn’t punishment. Paying money for the release of hostages isn’t paying ransom.Protesting during the National Anthem isn’t protesting against what the National Anthem signifies. Demanding measures that could not have prevented a school shooting isn’t an irrational response to a school shooting.
I hate to pile up so many progressive examples, but it is the nature of the ideology. Socialism, liberalism and progressiveness in their current form are driven by abstract concepts that have been discredited by history and experience: reality is not their friend. Conservatives get into the same rut when they focus on ideology and religion, as when they claim that forbidding gays from marrying isn’t a government intrusion on personal rights, which it is, or when they engage in obvious hypocrisy, avoiding reality by claiming, for example, that their explosion of the national debt is less irresponsible than Obama’s, or that the abundance of sexists, racists and far-right wackos that gravitate to the Republican Party aren’t exactly what they are. The climate change debate is another example of conservatives defaulting to Yoo’s Rationalization.
This is how bad it is getting: Professor Heather Heying, wife of professor Bret Weinstein, the teacher who left Evergreen State College after he was harassed for refusing to vacate the campus because he was white, was discussing physiological differences between men and women during a panel’
“Are men taller than women on average?” she asked rhetorically.“Does anyone take offense at that fact? So I would say you could be irritated by it,…You could be irritated by the fact that women have to be the ones that gestate and lactate. You could be irritated by a lot of truths but taking offense is a response that is a rejection of reality.”
Before she had finished her statement, however, a group of students walked out of the room in protest. A student demonstrator shouted, “Even the women in there have been brainwashed!” Another student says, “You should not listen to fascism. It should not be tolerated in civil society. Nazis are not welcome in civil society.”(There’s a video here.)
Simply declaring that reality fits a pre-constructed narrative to advance partisan or ideological agendas when it in truth does not is an unethical strategy. We all should call it out for what it is whenever it appears, whoever employs it.