Last week I wrote about how it has become the new American pastime to claim victimization to avoid responsibility of one’s actions and to avoid any criticism.
Another tactic that is widely used is the hypocrite defense: “You have no right to criticize because you do the same.” There are any many examples. Right now, there are allegations against Governor Cuomo for inappropriate conduct against women. At first, the biggest critics have been those on the right who do not like Democrats. The response by Cuomo supporters was to point out the hypocrisy since these individuals defended Justice Kavanaugh, former President Trump, and are now ignoring allegations against House of Representatives members Ronny Jackson and Madison Cawthorn for claims of sexual harassment. Those on the right then point out how some of Cuomo’s defenders believed the women when it related to Justice Kavanaugh and Trump.
Other current examples were the reaction to the president’s comment about those who are eliminating mask requirements and Neera Tanden’s obnoxious tweets about those who she did not agree with. Republicans were upset with both. Tanden’s tweets led to her withdrawing her nomination for the head of the Office of Management and Budget. The response by many Democrats was to point out the hypocrisy, since these same Republicans had and still have no problem with Trump’s legacy of obnoxious, hateful tweets and comments directed against Democrats or fellow Republicans whom he did not like.
There is an easy solution. First, we all must admit that everyone is a hypocrite at some level. A simple example is a religious Jew intentionally committing a sin. By committing a sin, we are being hypocritical because we are acting contrary to our beliefs. Then, we should not use the hypocrisy of others as a defense for our actions or those we support. Instead, we should look at the actions on their own merits. One good example was Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who said he could not support Neera Tanden for the position because of her tweets. He did not use the hypocrisy defense but instead considered Tanden’s comments on their own merits.
Right now, one of the biggest stories is that the owners of the rights to publish Dr. Seuss books decided to stop publishing having six books because they contain language or pictures deemed offensive. There has been a backlash by conservatives who point out the hypocrisy, since historically it has been those on the left who have been the greatest supporters of free speech. For example, it was those on the left who defended comedian Lenny Bruce and others who were charged with violating obscenity laws. Of course, those on the left can point to the right’s hypocrisy because they have been in the forefront in trying to have standards in regulating who can be shown on television, especially during primetime.
Before proposing a possible solution, I find it somewhat curious that the owners of the Dr. Seuss copyright felt the need to make a public announcement that they were going to stop publishing the books and give the reason that the books were offensive. If they were really interested in taking the books out of circulation, the best way to have done it would do it quietly. Few people would have known the difference. If anyone asked, they could’ve said it was a business decision due to slow sales.
Instead, they made a big deal about why they did it. I cannot imagine they had no clue what the reaction would be if they made this public announcement. It will not shock me if we find out that this was a publicity stunt to help fuel sales of Dr. Seuss books and other items. They are receiving so much free publicity.
There are plenty of others of books, including some classics, that contain passages and themes that some may find offensive. One that comes to mind is Charles Dickins’ “Oliver Twist,” which contains anti-Semitic tropes.
There is a simple solution to deal with these books and others. Instead of banning them, they should do what is done with movies: Have a warning on the cover that some may find the book offensive because of language, racial stereotypes, etc. This way, there is no censorship, but a reader who may become upset with the book is warned about its content. This may be a lot harder to implement that it sounds. It requires both sides to get away from using this as another issue in the culture wars and stop calling each other hypocrites. It is easier to accept when the book involves another group. As Jews, it means that we must allow the publication of books that we would consider containing anti-Semitic depictions. It might not be easy to stomach, but if we believe in the first amendment and freedom of speech, then this is the approach that I believe we need to take.