DANIEL VAUGHAN: The unseen hypocrisy of American culture

Hypocrisy can be a tricky thing to sort out or spot in a nation like ours, which now revolves around everyone continually presenting the most desirable versions of themselves online.

Every person is a brand now; the individual is what they project to the world. We’re all the car salesmen of “Me” and “I,” slapping our own shoulders, hawking all the right perks of us.

It’s not that we don’t see hypocrisy. Every day, hypocrisy gets sold to us in viral memes and videos. It’s that we don’t see it ourselves or society.

We’ve gotten to the point where we believe the things we project to the world and not a hard look in the mirror at ourselves. We cannot question core beliefs even in a calamity. This state is, on some level, self-rationalization. But I can’t shake the feeling our social media creations and projections of our internal id have grown this out of proportion.

The novelist Tom Wolfe once quipped, “A liberal is a conservative who has been arrested.” Irving Kristol, the great conservative political philosopher, said, “A neoconservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. A neoliberal is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality but has refused to press charges.”

Between the novel coronavirus, protests over racism and policing, impeachment, murder hornets, and whatever else 2020 decides to throw at us, there’s been a lot of arresting and mugging this year. Things have happened, whether people admit it or not, which should force us to acknowledge blind spots and why people don’t take anything we say seriously. 

Take, for example, the entire mess that has descended on the NBA over the last year. This week, the players have opted to strike because of the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That is their right, and I don’t begrudge them for taking action. I’m sympathetic to the idea of getting various police reforms through, like reducing the power of public sector police unions, ending qualified immunity, body cameras, and exploring things like malpractice insurance for police officers.

But it should be obvious why no one takes the NBA seriously on standing up for any injustice. Many of the most prominent leaders in the NBA, like LeBron James, Steve Kerr, and Marc Cuban, have all expressed strong political stances against racism in the United States. They’ve also directed very pointed criticism at President Trump.

Again, that’s their right, and it’s fine they do so. But their point is entirely undercut by the NBA’s protection and coddling of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). And by that, I don’t mean the NBA refusing to speak up for Hong Kong when cornered over it. I mean the NBA’s complicity in running basketball camps for the CCP. 

The NBA’s role in opening and running “one of the academies in Xinjiang, a police state in western China where more than a million Uighur Muslims are now held in barbed-wire camps.”

The ESPN report on the matter dropped this bombshell line: “A former league employee compared the atmosphere when he worked in Xinjiang to ‘World War II Germany.'”

No one in the NBA speaks out against these actions. Because we’ve since learned, China has gone ahead and expanded and built “massive new prison and internment camps in the past three years, dramatically escalating its campaign against Muslim minorities.” The CCP has more in common with Nazi Germany than anyone wants to admit these days. If you can’t speak out about that, what’s wrong with you?

The flip side to this topic is people on the right calling for NBA players to get fired over their political speech. That kind of hypocrisy is the same cancel culture attitude the right so often — correctly — decries on the left. People should not lose their jobs over political comments. We should consider it revolting for any person to go around, hunting for people to “cancel” or harm career-wise over public statements or social media posts.

But that’s the world we occupy. We can’t see our hypocrisies, even as we’re arrested or mugged by reality. We cannot see who we are or what we’ve become because we’re so thoroughly committed to the fictions we’ve sold the world about ourselves. It’s more than self-rationalization. We drink heavily in the waters of our own Kool-Aid.

We not only drink those waters, but we double down on them in the face of any challenge. When pointed out, our hypocrisy becomes the reason we dive ever deeper into the car-salesmen pitch we’ve sold ourselves.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” In our perfected social media world, we’re silent about things that matter. The only thing that matters is the self.

Our hypocrisy is that we claim to stand for things that matter when in reality, we’ve sold them for likes, shares, and an impenetrable shield of moral assuredness and self-righteousness of our own making.

This is the log in our culture’s eye, and we can’t remove it because our hypocrisy only sees our brothers’ specks. It’s a path that can’t continue forever. Pride goes before the fall. But our blindness causes us to become like the now-disgraced former head of Liberty University Jerry Falwell, who, after being caught in morally debased behavior and called to account for it, and forced to resign, told a reporter: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I am free at last!”

He’s not free. He’s just free to openly live the hypocritical Kool-Aid he’s imbibed. He’s no different than the NBA he’s attacked in the past. But the sad truth is that his attitude is more representative of our culture than we’d like to admit. That is our astounding hypocrisy.