I recently came across a quote attributed to Jon Stewart. Essentially, the quote said that it’s not mutually exclusive to support law enforcement officers and hold them to a high standard. This is similar to a principle that I find very compelling; namely, applying the same standard to people you support as you apply to people you don’t support. I think most people would agree to this in principle, but most would fail to actually adhere to it. In other words, this principle becomes very, very attenuated in reality, thanks to a well established subjective bias.
Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of this comes about from political ideology. Find me a person who identifies as a Republican or Democrat and I will show you a person who fails to adhere to this principle.1 As a more concrete example, almost all of us know at least one person who will attack our political ideology by pointing out some reasoning error while completely ignoring or dismissing the same reasoning error when applied to their own political ideology (see: idiotic uses of statistics; judicial activism vs. restraint; general results-oriented philosophies).
If you feel like being a manipulative asshole and trapping someone, I suggest the following experiment: find someone liberal that frequently reads and/or shares stories from one of the many sources of idiotic liberal propaganda, such as ThinkProgress, the Being Liberal Facebook page, or RawStory. When they share or like something from the chosen source that’s blatantly wrong (e.g., misconstrues facts, leaves out information that doesn’t support their bias, etc.), point it out. Bide your time, and wait for them to share or like something else from that same source that is, once again, blatantly wrong. Ask them how they feel about Fox News and, when they say they hate it, ask them why. Almost inevitably, they’ll say something about it being biased. All you have to do is remind them that you pointed out the bias in the source they’re relying on previously, yet they continue to support that source, and ask them why they don’t apply the same standard across the board. You can adjust this for those with a conservative bias as well (there are plenty of sources out there but, for some reason, I don’t come across them often enough to remember them).2
I think it’s clear that we should, at the very least, apply the same standard to everyone, whether we support them or not. I’d suggest, however, that it’s more important to apply a high standard to those we support than those we do not. When those we support are subject to attack for not meeting a particular standard that we hold others to, it brings the entire group down. It calls into question the integrity of the entire group and makes it much more likely that others will completely dismiss our ideas or arguments without consideration. In other words, the group’s positions are weakened and, thanks to guilt by association, your own personal position is weakened.
It’s this principle that led me to ultimately stop identifying with any political party and just label myself as Independent. In the end, I found that when I held any group I identified with to the same (or higher) standards that I held others to, they almost invariably failed to meet that standard. Not all the time, mind you, but often enough that I felt that identifying with the group would hamper my ability to engage others in discussion. I also go out of my way to try to ensure no one imputes the views of a group onto me prior to me actually explicitly establishing that view. In other words, I try my best to make sure no one pigeon holes me. This typically arises when I make it clear I hold a position that is shared with a particular group and others assume that I hold other positions that the same group holds.
Keep in mind that, at some point, you have to stake out a particular position on a subject, so you can’t avoid being associated with some group of people. This principle mostly applies to general philosophies (such as a liberal/Democratic or conservative/Republican philosophy; i.e., philosophies that tend to dictate your views on a variety of diverse subjects). I firmly believe that if most people actually applied this principle consistently to their life, they’d not only end up identifying as politically independent, they’d change their views on most subjects.
1. This is clearly an exaggeration…kind of. Given human nature, everyone has some degree of subjective bias. While all people will thus deviate from this principle to some degree, many (probably most) will deviate to a degree that is completely unacceptable.
2. To clarify, I think this is because the volume of conservative sources that comes across my social media is much smaller, not because what comes across is generally higher quality. Why the volume might be lower is not clear, but interesting to think about.