The Inadequacy of Honesty

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A world without hypocrites and frauds isn’t a world at all.

BY DAN VALENZUELA

For some reason whenever I set out to write this column, I feel as though I have a moral duty to present an authentic self with honest arguments that come from my heart and mind. This admission, however, seems to do little to convince you that I am in fact honest in my arguments, given all you have to go on is my word. So I’ll offer this: I am desperately trying to be honest about my honesty.

Yet this second admission, like the first admission, is me trying to make up for any possibility of dishonesty that might be present in saying . . . well, you get the point. You can see the rabbit hole from which I’ll never emerge trying to be honest and authentic to the nth degree.

Sometimes I do get myself into such rabbit holes as I write. I often type out sentences that don’t exactly capture the truth, and I try to add more to flesh out the entirety of my thoughts. It’s all in vain, however. Despite any number of sentences I write, the truth about me or some thought that I have seems eternally compromised.

I see that others are getting into trouble by being wholly committed to honesty, too. This is exactly the hole that people have gotten themselves into by focusing on accusing people like Trump of hypocrisy.

Take, for example, the focus on the comparison between Trump’s numerous golf outings and his criticisms of Obama’s trips to the green. The comparison begs a question: does Trump honestly believe that golfing as president is wrong if he does it himself? In other words, is Trump a hypocrite?

To answer the question, you could amass all of Trump’s tweets on the topic and calculate the average number of days between each of his and Obama’s golf trips. You could then conclude that Trump is dishonest if Trump has said many times that Obama should not be golfing, and if Trump takes more golf breaks than Obama.

Even better, you could invent some serum that forces Trump to say the truth, convince Trump to take the serum, and ask him if he believes that golfing while president is wrong. If he answers in the affirmative, given all of his golf course visits then you can definitively say he is a hypocrite.

What’s the point in gathering all this evidence to show that Trump is a hypocrite? I suppose it would show that Trump doesn’t entirely act according to what he believes. There is another word for this, though. It’s called compromise.

If I were to condemn Trump for his inconsistencies in his actions and beliefs, then I would also have to condemn myself for inconsistencies in my written words and beliefs. Whatever I write is going to be as unfaithful to what I believe as a politician’s actions are to their principles and promises.

But there is an important difference between us. Trump seems to compromise everything and anything in service of his image and ego. I, on the other hand, am trying to remind people that compromise is an essential part of life, even when we reach for things better than image and ego.

Let me put it this way: If we hold honesty, authenticity, or any other ideal that tracks some notion of individual “realness” as good in themselves, there is no possibility achieving them. Whatever our honest, authentic, or real selves, they’ll be compromised in service of something else. The important task is figuring out what that something else is.

I recently listened to an interview with author Elif Batuman and was struck by a description of the protagonist of her new book: “Not everything that everyone says is a 100 percent pure manifestation of something in their soul. In fact, very few of the things that people say are a 100 percent pure manifestation of what’s in their soul, which is how Selin really wants it to be and how she aspires to be.”

Like Selin, I aspire to speak from my soul 100 percent of the time in this column. Although, in this op-ed, I have already committed a sort of lie. I don’t care to write about anything related to Trump anymore. I’d rather point to something valuable in this column, outside of whatever mess he has made. But if I’m going to get my point across I have to start from some common ground, even if that ground compromises what I want.

There’s another way in which I’m not speaking entirely from my soul. I got the idea to write this op-ed after reading an article on hypocrisy by B.D. McClay and David Foster Wallace’s short story on what it means to be a fraud, “Good Old Neon”. So you could say that my soul isn’t speaking here. It might be McClay’s or Wallace’s.

What can you conclude about this op-ed given these little lies? Personally, I think that these lies are not sins. In fact, if these lies convince you that compromising yourself is necessary for anything worthwhile, they will have done some good.

Dan Valenzuela ([email protected]) is an unabashed fraud and hypocrite. Feel free to call him out on it.