Doesn’t anyone read this stuff before they print it?

For half a second–OK, a couple paragraphs–I thought Jonah Goldberg might have an interesting argument for an interesting distinction. Goldberg is tired of hearing about moral hypocrisy, understandably perhaps, given the exposure of the pecadillos of so many of his party's stalwarts. But, this just fuels his desire to accuse those pointy headed liberals of some form of hypocrisy. Since, he can't seem to wait patiently until Geithner is caught shacking up with a Bolivian movie-star, he tries to invent a charge of hypocrisy.

Regardless, what I don't think we hear enough about is intellectual hypocrisy. What do I mean? Well, if moral hypocrisy is saying what values people should live by while failing to follow them yourself, intellectual hypocrisy is believing you are smart enough to run other peoples' lives when you can barely run your own.

I'm not entirely sure that this is a coherent idea (see my comment below), but let's play along for the time being. If someone is "barely able to run their own lives" and yet believes that she or he is able to "run other peoples' lives" then lets call this "intellectual hypocrisy."

The chairman of a small college's English department thinks it's obvious intellectuals should take over healthcare, but he can't manage the class schedule of three professors or run a meeting without it coming to blows or tears; a pundit defends government intervention in almost every sphere of economic life, but he can't figure out how to manage the interns or his own checking account.

Goldberg seems to have forgotten his definition just two paragraphs earlier. Our chairman does not seem to be "barely able to run his own life" nor does believing that "intellectuals" should take over health care meet his own definition. The same can be said for the pundit. So maybe we can revise his definition in the light of his actual examples:

I.H. occurs when a person believes that intellectuals (does he just mean "experts" here?)  should manage parts of our society while being unable to manage every problem in their lives (run an obstreperous department or manage interns). But, what's wrong with this? Does it make any less sense than saying that I am unable to diagnose my own health perfectly, while believing that others are smart enough to diagnose other peoples' health. I'm not sure that this is an analogous, but the general point seems right to me–there is nothing intellectually dishonest occuring in either of these examples.

But, Goldberg has some more loaded examples to try to make fit his definition.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) offers a more timely example. Rangel heads the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax code, and he recently backed the imposition of an income tax surcharge on high earners to pay for healthcare, calling it "the moral thing to do." Yet he can't seem to figure out how to file his own taxes properly or, perhaps, legally. The lapses are the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation.

Is the problem here really intellectual hypocrisy, or perhaps the moral hypocrisy that Goldberg is tired of? Perhaps, Goldberg didn't have time to revise his op-ed to free it of this self-contradiction, but this example does not seem to bolster his case for intellectual hypocrisy.

Now I also know lots of conservatives who are basket cases at everything other than reading and writing books and articles, giving speeches and thinking Big Thoughts (just as I know lots of liberals who despise conservative moralizing about sex and religion who nonetheless live chaste and pious lives themselves). The point is that conservatives don't presume to be smart enough to run everything, because conservative dogma takes it as an article of faith that no one can be that smart.

So, even when conservatives think that they're smart enough to re-write tax code, and have the same difficulties paying their taxes on time, they aren't being intellectually dishonest, because they hold an ideology that takes it as an article of faith that no one can be smart enough to re-write the tax code!?

Moral hypocrisy is still worth exposing, I guess. But we are living in a moment when revealing intellectual hypocrisy should take precedence. The American Enterprise Institute's "Enterprise Blog" recently ran a chart from a J.P. Morgan report showing that less than 10% of President Obama's Cabinet has private-sector experience, the least of any Cabinet in a century. From the stimulus to healthcare reform and cap-and-trade, Washington is now run by people who think they know how to run everything, when in reality they can barely run anything.

Hmmmm. Somehow Goldberg seems to infer from a claim about people not having run a business to a conclusion that they can barely run anything.

If I follow the implicit argument here it seems to be: 90% of Obama's cabinet are intellectual hypocrites. By hypocrites I mean people who haven't worked in the private sector (but who now work in government). Intellectual hypocrites should not be in power. Therefore 90% of Obama's cabinet should not be in power ((All liberals are Nazis, by Nazis I mean people who vote democratic. Nazi's support genocide, Therefore all liberals support genocide.)

Subjunctive tu quoque

I'm looking for examples of this in the media, but I wanted to distinguish a form of tu quoque I've come across in conversations, the subjunctive tu quoque. I haven't checked any literature to see whether this is a well known variant.

In the subjunctive tu quoque, someone argues that a criticism of a policy or practice is unreasonable, because the critic would do the same in similar circumstances. So, for example:

"You say that it is wrong to detain without warrant suspected terrorists, but you would do the same if you had to confront the problem of terrorism that we confront."

"You say that it is wrong to ban minarets on mosques, but if you had the immigration problem we have, you would do the same."

Neither of these are actual arguments, but composites from conversations. They seem interesting to me for a number of reasons:  they're often entangled with a claim of epistemic privilege and an explanatory claim.

First, the epistemic privilege. Unlike a standard tu quoque, they involve an interesting dismissal of the critique that claims that the critic is not really in a position to judge because they haven't dealt with the reality of the difficult situation. This carries the strong whiff of the "ivory tower fallacy" (a version of the circumstantial ad hominem, though in some newspapers its really a abusive ad hominem).

Second, the explanatory claim. The subjunctive tu quoque seems to develop naturally from the reasonable attempt to explain some phenomena to a critic. The line between explanation and justification is often difficult to mark and in trying to explain e.g., how it came to pass that the swiss population would vote to ban minarets on mosques, it is easy to move from a causal explanation or an attempt to show how such a vote would appear rational to the population, to a justification of it, at least from the critique of its rationality.