Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi
Alexander Cheezem weighed in with a wonderful expansion on The Gruber Variation (and its parent, Rationalization #29, The Altruistic Switcheroo). It speaks for itself: the gist involves the situations when deception really does have beneficial results for the deceived, intended by the deceiver—in which case, the claim that an otherwise unethical act was “for his own good” mean that the act not have been unethical, and thus the claim is not rationalization, but truth.
One immediate result of Alexander’s comment is that I’m editing the text in #29. I wrote:
It is true that misfortune carries many life lessons, that what doesn’t kill us often makes us stronger, and that what hurts today may be the source of valuable wisdom and perspective later, but it really takes a lot of gall to cheat, lie to, steal from or otherwise harm someone and claim it will be a good thing in the long term. Yet an amazingly large number of people possess this much gall, because the Altruistic Switcheroo is very common, especially among parents who want to convince themselves that bad parenting is really the opposite. A marker for this rationalization is the statement, “You’ll thank me some day”—the specious theory of the sadistic parent who named his son “Sue” in the famous Shel Silverstein song made famous by Johnny Cash. No, he won’t.
“A Boy Named Sue” is a lousy example. It is true that the singer ends the song by saying he isn’t thankful, and I don’t blame him, but the father’s theory was borne out: the name did make his son tougher. There’s nothing in the lyrics to suggest that he name choice was sadistic, and if the only rationale for the song was what the father claimed it was, it’s no rationalization. Oh, it was cruel, irresponsible and unfair—and stupid— but the father did name the boy “Sue” for his own good. (The fact that his cruel tactic worked still doesn’t make it right: that would be 3. Consequentialism, or “It Worked Out for the Best.”
I’ll end the passage before the dash.
Here is Alexander’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense'”:
Interesting additions, but I think that the Gruber Variation needs a bit of a caveat in nuance regarding its description: it needs to be distinguished from both legitimate teaching techniques which involve parallels and certain grey areas.
To handle the last first, I’ll just give a few examples, starting with Project Alpha ( ) and the Sokal Hoax ( ). Both involved presenting people who were supposed to safeguard against deception with a hoax in order to expose the holes in said safeguards. Both involved rationales which closely paralleled the Gruber Variation in several respects, and were criticized for actually following that sort of logic (I disagree, although I do think that both were ethically “grey”). Continue reading →