Topic: Science & Technology

The Ethics of Paranoia: Condi's Evil Eyes
(11/1/2005)

U.S.A. today recently published an unflattering photo of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that made her look like she was possessed by the demon Pazuzu. Immediately the bloggers of the Righteous Right rode to the rescue, led by conservative commentator and author Michelle Malkin. Here it was: more evidence of the mainstream print media's intractable hatred of Bush and his administration, and the outrageous measures they would take to make Republicans look bad…and this time, look evil.

A somewhat cooler conservative head, a computer technician who also blogs on the quirky site Steel City Cowboy, explained in excruciating detail why Condi's funky eyes were almost certainly the result of sloppy IT work, and not an attempt to literally demonize her. He also added common sense to his technical explanation:

While this may have been malicious, think about it for a second. That sort of thing would have to be done subtly. If you paint big horns (or big scary eyes) on someone whose visage everyone is already fairly familiar with, you'll get caught, and look stupid. The picture looks so unnatural that if someone did do it at the behest of their scheming leftist masters, they should be fired forthwith for blatantly overplaying their hand and exposing the conspiracy.

In my experience, faulty systems, and personal inattention and laziness will easily account for almost 90% of the badness we experience on a day-to-day basis.

Of course, the offended Right would have nothing of it, and SCC was subjected to a stream of invective-filled e-mail and blog attacks that declared him a lefty Bush-hating, naïve fool. Condi's image was manipulated, that's all, because the agents of Godless Liberalism will stop at nothing…nothing, you hear?...to triumph.

Paranoia is often the product of faulty ethics. Abandoning all respect and sense of fairness for one's opponents inevitably leads to the unshakable conviction that one's opponents will similarly hold none for you. Nobody receives the benefit of the doubt; every slight is intentional, and all parties are hyper-alert to sinister slurs, slander, schemes and conspiracies, no matter how unlikely, subtle or complex. This is also convenient, because an opponent who stops at nothing and plays by no rules can then be fought without mercy or decency. The reverse Golden Rule takes over: do unto them what you know they will do to you. Lie. Cheat. Injure.

Win.

The flap over Condi's eyes would be exquisitely silly if it didn't reveal something so dangerous in American political culture: the distrust of everyone and everything. Sometimes it leads to nonsense, like the suspicion that U.S.A. Today is trying to convince America that Condi is from the Village of the Damned. Other times it leads to catastrophes, like the C.I.A. leak scandal. The conservatives thought the liberals made Condi look evil because they actually have convinced themselves that their adversaries are evil. That is no basis for an ethical debate, an ethical community, or an ethical country. Steel City Cowboy is right: most supposed slights are the result of bad luck, error or incompetence, not maliciousness. Give your adversaries a break; you'll want them to do the same sooner than you think.

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