First, a fable.
A tale of Freedonia
There was once in the land of Freedonia a man by the name of Ike
Douglas List, called simply “I.D.” by his friends. Ike was the dreamy
sort, always daydreaming about how to create a better world.
Now at this time in the history of Freedonia, policy debates were
decided by pistol duel. Representatives of both opposing viewpoints
would square off on a field of combat at the center of the Supreme
Court building. When the Chief Justice gave the word, both champions
would take ten paces, turn, and blast away at each other until only
one was left standing. The victor’s point of view would then become
Freedonian law until another challenger came forth.
Ike found this system unnecessarily bloody, and dreamed of a better
way. He set about campaigning to change the rules of national debate
so that policy arguments would be settled by boxing match instead of
pistol duel. Eventually, his argument gained enough backing to be
heard by the Freedonian Supreme Court.
Ike was appalled that he would have to participate in the very
tournament that he was campaigning against. But he reasoned that he
wouldn’t do much good for Freedonia if he were dead, and the only way
to change the rules to a more humane system was to win his day on the
field. So he set about training every day, practicing his quick draw
and accuracy until he was a first-rate shot.
Eventually the fateful day arrived. Ike met his opponent, the chief
advocate of the pistol duel system and a victor of many duels, on the
field of combat. At the signal, both combatants took the legislated
ten steps, turned, and fired. Ike’s time on the shooting range stood
him in good stead: when the smoke cleared, he was the only one still
standing. Ike walked off the field, sad at having taken a life, but
overjoyed that by prevailing he had ended the bloody practice once and
But a funny thing happened over the next weeks and months. The
Freedonian press vilified Mr. List, calling him a hypocrite. How could
he truly stand for changing the duel system, when he himself was
willing to stand and deliver when it suited his purpose? Clearly he
held himself to a different standard. I.D. List was hounded out of
Freedonia by the mockery of press and public opinion, and for many
years was used as a textbook example of hypocrisy in the public
sphere. He died bitter and alone
That was fun, wasn’t it? Now let’s introduce some modern American
Sandy Socialist hates capitalism and dreams of a day when workers
collectives control the means of production. She’s made something of a
name for herself campaigning for workers rights.
Since she lives in the U.S., a decidedly un-socialist nation, she is
finds it unavoidable to participate in the capitalist system. Her
popular books are published through one of the major US publishing
houses, through which they reach bookstores nationwide. Her series of
eye-opening documentaries are promoted by a major media company. She
sometimes purchases billboard space from ClearChannel, and goes on
corporate-sponsored talk shows in order to get her message out and
promote her books. As a successful media personality, she makes a tidy
profit from her various ventures, some of which she uses to pay for a
house in LA (the better to be closer to the media movers and shakers),
some of which she plows back into her media company, and some of which
she donates to various co-ops. Occasionally, against her better
inclinations, she shops at Wal-Mart for cheap housewares.
Her ideological opponents love to call her out for her “hypocrisy”
in profiting from the very system that she claims to despise.
Clark Capitalist reads Ayn Rand to his kids at bedtime, and dreams of
a day when all public services are replaced by private agencies.
Since he lives in the U.S., a country far from the Capitalist ideal,
he makes use of a number of public services every day. He drives his
car on public highways, to get to his pro-business speaking
engagements. He gets his libertarian magazines via the US Postal
Service. He called the police when someone stole his car last Spring.
He relies on FDA standards to keep his grocery-store-bought food safe
for eating. He takes advantage of partly government-sponsored
breakthroughs in science to treat a congenital illness his wife
suffers from. On weekends he goes hiking in state or federal parks.
Clark’s progressive-minded acquaintances like to mock him for what
they see as his hypocrisy. He claims to stand for strictly private
property and private services; but he takes advantage of government
services every day of his life!
Percy Parasite’s ideology boils down to a simple phrase: fuck the man.
Percy sees “The Man” in any number of institutions: banks, big-box
stores, local, state, and federal agencies, the list goes on and on.
The Man is everywhere, and Percy is dedicated to sticking it to Him
any and every way he can.
Percy is proud of the fact that he’s never paid a penny for any of the
hundreds of music albums he owns, thereby sticking it to the corrupt
music companies. He collects disability checks for a disability that
doesn’t, technically, disable him – because if the government’s
willing and gullible enough to give him the money, why should he
argue? Besides, the government is The Man, and deserves to be taken
advantage of. Percy shoplifts from Wal-Mart, justifying it as a
righteous strike back against an evil mega-corporation.
Percy spends an inordinate amount of his copious free time surfing the
internet, leaving outraged comments on political forums. When his
conscience pricks him, he soothes it by writing public comments
claiming that everyone is as cynical and self-serving at heart as he
himself is. He particularly enjoys calling Sally Socialist, Clark
Capitalist, and people like them “hypocrites” for compromising on
their beliefs, and uses this as proof that everyone else is no
different from him.
Getting to the point
The point is simple: everyone who works for change has to do it within
the framework of the existing system. The businessman who wants less
government interference must still take advantage of government
programs in order to stay competitive. The humanitarian who fights for
social justice and wealth redistribution still must take advantage of
corporate media channels in order to make her voice heard.
Real parasites exist – people who have no compunction about taking
advantage of systems they claim to despise. But identifying one
parasite – or one area in which your ideological opponent appears to
fall short of his or her ideals – does not invalidate their
In public policy debate, crying hypocrite is almost always a douche
move. Don’t do it.