Addendum: The “Ableist” Accusation And The Insidious Spread Of Rationalization #64

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.

21 thoughts on “Addendum: The “Ableist” Accusation And The Insidious Spread Of Rationalization #64

  1. Then there’s one Donald Trump, who declared that a trade surplus is really a trade deficit, that experts and the lying lies they tell can’t possibly be correct, because he just KNOWS that we can’t run a surplus with Canada.

    The only thing that separates him from the other examples you cite is that he is the duly elected President of the United States: arguably a lot more harmful than Gal Gadot, Paul Krugman, or the idiots protesting Heather Heying.

    • To qualify for #64, you have to hold on to the denial for more than 24 hours, which is usually longer than the shelf life of his spontaneous exclamations. I’d say Trumps best 64 was when he said that he was against the Iraq War from the start, even though he was on tape saying he supported the war.

      • Ha ha, the 24-hour shelf life rule is a good amendment to #64.
        In that vein, I’d add as qualifying examples:
        – his birtherism claim
        – his later claim that birtherism was started by Hillary
        – having seen thousands of Muslims cheering on TV at 9/11
        – his claim of the Central Park Five being guilty after being found not
        – his denial of his self-evident phone calls posing as a PR guy
        – his claim of the ‘biggest ever’ crowds at the inauguration

        …Ah what’s the point, it’s a pretty long list…

  2. I’ve had this question for a long time. Eye gouging and pliers to the testicles are torture. I’ve never heard of a journalist volunteering to report on what they feel like. Numerous people have undergone water boarding voluntarily. So aren’t they on different moral planes?

  3. I wonder if jealousy is at play here as well as the usual SJW indignation. This is the second pot-shot at Gadot in a few months. Neither attempt has done the damage hoped for, though.

    • I think Ms. Gadot is a target of progressive ire not because of jealousy, but because she is squarely on the Israeli side in the Israel vs. Palestine conflict. That is not a position that is considered acceptable in left-leaning circles, especially being unapologetically pro-IDF, as she is.

      • I think you’re missing a lot of qualifiers there, Jeff. Gal Gadot is beloved by many on the left. Wonder Woman is a feminist icon and her portrayal went over well in most feminist circles. I’ve seen plenty of leftists defend her service in the IDF. The anti-Gadot crowd is, in my experience, a tiny minority of the left.

  4. You say, and I agree your assertion that accepting money from anyone who has or might have interests you or your family might be able to advance sets up a conflict of interest by definition, but why did you limit this to ‘for a non – profit organisation’ …? To my mind the continuing solicitation by the Trump organisation and family, of funds from various shady sources, together with failures to disclose, false denials and obfuscations, swamps anything ever seen from any other family or administration.

    • I don’t see the “shady deals.” The hotel empire was set up as business, and operates as a business. The theory that doing business with a Trump hotel is some kind of bribe is a biased fantasy…a President is not required to beggar himself to do accept the job. Trump is unique: no other President has had large business holdings, and the issue was not raised in time for an orderly solution. Non-profits, on the other hand, are fraudulent when they are really set up for profit and to provide a means of influence peddling an money laundering. The Clinton Foundation and its acceptance of foreign “contributions” while Hillary was SOS was pretty brazen.

  5. As a general matter, the left does this weird thing for me where they’ll say something and I can see that they sort of have a point, and maybe this is something we should con– And before I can finish the thought they’re running around with sledgehammers trying to bash the problem out of existence.

    Which is to say that I understand where they’re coming from on the Gadot tweet, but it was a ridiculous overreaction at the wrong time directed at the wrong person.

    But I think it’s worth talking about here because it illustrates where this particular rationalization can go from ethical to unethical.

    So, when you’re dealing with a disability that has a major impact on your life, it’s really, really easy for everyone involved to get stuck focusing on the disability and all of the ways it makes your life harder. As I mentioned in another recent comment, you have to; that’s the “dis” in disabilitiy and the entire nature of “special needs.” And depending on the nature of the disability it can consume your life, all with the very best of intentions in terms of trying to make the persons life comfortable, trying to minimize the problem, and trying to organize a life that the person can live.

    That’s the point behind the anti-ablism movement and the whole “differently abled” thing; to remind people to not let that consume their idea of a person with a disability. To remind them to stop thinking “can she do that?” “is she going to be okay?” “Is there more we can do to fix this?” because while it’s vital to think those things, that part comes naturally, and it’s just as necessary and a lot harder to remember to sometimes think “how about if we go get ice cream?”

    Stephen Hawking might have been disappointed that he could never tap dance, but it’s probably a good thing for his mental health that he didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that loss.

    So, that’s where the line blurs on the rationalization. While it’s stupid and/or rude to pretend that someone isn’t disabled or that it’s a totally neutral thing, as a general matter there really does tend to be a need to remind people of the ways they’re not disabled and to not allow the disadvantage to become the focus of their life. There’s a line between claiming that a disability isn’t a disability and trying to pull people’s focus away from the disability.

    …But like I said, to the left that seems to mean it’s time to pull out the sledgehammers. Nitpicking someone’s eulogy for political correctness is pretty universally inexcusable, and especially ridiculous here because it’s not like anyone who knows who Stephen Hawking was is particularly distracted by his disability. And on top of that, if Gadot was distracted by his disability, it would have absolutely zero effect on him or his quality of life on account of her not actually having interacted with him that I know of, and also him being dead. The situation this movement was intended to address had nothing at all to do with the situation they were attacking, and they deserve all the eye rolling and finger-pointing people can muster for this one.

  6. I hope I made it clear—I thought I had—that this is not about mere lies. It’s about insisting on an alternate reality, Trump’s crowing that everything is the best it’s ever been is close, with the resistance’s statements that Trump has been a failure in the same category: both are simply fantasies. The Obama narrative that his 8 years were “scandal free,’ or even the claim that he was more than a mediocre leader at best, on the record, are #64s.

  7. I find the Manhattan Contrarian’s discussions on global warming, or climate change, very elucidating and persuasive. I think his position could very well be boiled down to “it isn’t what it appears to be.”

      • His is a tremendous site, Charles. In a league with Jack’s. Like Jack’s, vastly superior to Althouse, who gets a little silly on a regular basis.

        • Thomas Menton is a now retired Wilkie Farr partner who swims against the tide of east coast orthodoxy. Very bright. Former commercial litigator. Thomas Menton.

        • OB thanks for this. Part the reason I hang out on this site, despite disagreeing with it 80% of the time, is that I get exposed to frequently literate and well-argued positions.

          I had not heard of Menton, and now I have, thanks to you. His site does indeed look interesting.

          Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.