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Jack Kerwick / April 21, 2011

Intellectual Dishonesty and Republican Pundits

Intellectual dishonesty isn’t a vice peculiar to any one group of people or another; it is a human problem. But nowhere is it more salient than in the field of politics.

Intellectual dishonesty isn’t identical with dishonesty proper. It is not altogether accurate, then, to characterize the intellectually dishonest person as a liar. Liars set out to deceive others. In contrast, it is doubtful that the intellectually dishonest person sets out in advance to deceive anyone, save perhaps himself, and even then, this act of sabotaging truth is not likely to be inspired by any conscious strivings.

The intellectually dishonest individual refuses to pursue, not those lines of inquiry that appear intellectually unpromising, but those that have the potential to make his life more difficult. He is constrained by extra-rational considerations, whether of a psychological, emotional, or social character. Neither the tension between the ideas he holds nor the cogency of the arguments that exist for positions that he rejects move him to consider new possibilities, for he is unaware of both the tensions and the considerations that militate against his vantage point. Yet this obliviousness is the product of his own choice, a choice that, in turn, is the offspring of his desire to preserve the benefits that he’s reaped from the worldview that these new candidates for belief threaten to unravel.

Another difference between the intellectually dishonest person and the liar is that the former is a more sympathetic figure than the latter. This, I think, is because the more we think about him the harder it is to escape the impression that, at bottom, he is afraid. In no small measure, intellectual dishonesty is a function of fear. The fear that the world may be more unpleasant than he would like for it to be lurks in the heart of every intellectually dishonest individual. Indeed, it isn’t hard to understand why: who cares to think of himself as cowardly or, for that matter, driven by fear to any extent? If the world isn’t free of the uncomfortable truths that he heretofore resolved to ignore, then, conceiving himself, as he does, as being a champion of truth, the intellectually dishonest person knows that he will now have no option but to address these truths.

This, however, is no option at all, as far as the intellectually dishonest is concerned. So, the intellectually dishonest person simply follows the lead of the proverbial ostrich and buries his head in the sand.

There is no topic with respect to which intellectual dishonesty runs more rampant than that of race. That leftist thought epitomizes this dishonesty goes without saying; at any rate, it goes without saying as far as readers of this column are concerned. For this reason, it is “conservative” dishonesty on this matter to which I would like to draw the reader’s attention.

Establishment Republican or “conservative” voices routinely – invariably – affirm “personal” or “individual responsibility.” To this even the most casual of observers of, say, FOX News and talk radio can readily attest. When these Republican personalities invoke personal responsibility it is in order to resist the leftist dogma that, whether for good or ill, government is responsible for peoples’ fates.

Now, personal responsibility is a wonderful thing, to be sure, and those who never tire of proclaiming its virtues deserve praise for so doing. Yet at the very same time that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and, well, virtually all of their colleagues in the so-called “alternative media” are singing hosannas to personal responsibility, they are blaming the pathological dysfunction that is the essence of the black underclass, not on the persons that constitute that class, but on the government. More specifically, it is at the feet of Democratic politicians and their policies that these champions of personal responsibility lay the blame for the barbarous conduct that has rendered black communities across the nation uninhabitable.

Of course, government policies are far from irrelevant to human conduct. But the apostles of personal responsibility in “the alternative media” are saying more than this. At the very least, their refusal to treat the members of the black underclass as agents by refusing to hold them personally responsible for their actions can only be read as an endorsement of the deterministic or fatalistic view of government that, in other contexts, they claim to abhor.

Notice, these same Republican pundits not only refuse to attribute Islamic terrorism of the sort with which America has had to contend to government policy, whether the governments in question are located in the Middle East or right here at home; they adamantly reject any such notion that Muslim terrorists could be driven by anything other than their own irrational hatred of all things other than themselves, especially American freedoms. And just the suggestion that 9/11 may have had something to do with our policy in the Arabic world promises to be met by a mixture of disdain and ridicule by Republican commentators.

So from whence springs this inconsistency between, on the one hand, the reaction of the prophet of personal responsibility to black pathology and, on the other, his reaction to Islamic pathology?

At present, the costs of being overtly critical of blacks, whether poor or not, are dramatically higher than the costs of being comparably critical of Middle Eastern Muslims. In other words, it is a fear of suffering penalties that accounts for the Republican pundit’s intellectual dishonesty on this issue.

Intellectual dishonesty is obvious to spot in our opponents. It is those professing to be our friends, and who may very well be our friends – self-proclaimed “conservatives” – in whom we must look hard to recognize it. But the reward for our efforts promises to be handsome, for in searching out this dishonesty among us, we strengthen ourselves against it.

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