When I was a young child, my brother and I liked to climb trees. One morning, we were chasing each other around the house and wrestling. Our mother heard us giggling and came in the room to scold us, saying “How many times have I told you not to climb on the furniture?”
My younger brother held up two fingers and said, “so far today, that is the second time.” However, he was just saying that out of anxiety. It was really the first time she had told us that today. The time before that was yesterday afternoon, so it was actually just once so far today.
I whined, “but we LOVE to climb things! Like we love to climb that one tree in grandpa’s yard that has the big round fruit on it.”
“No, we do NOT,” my younger brother protested, pointing his finger at me. “the tree that I love to climb is the one that is next to the back door and does not have any leaves on it. THAT is my favorite one, not the other one.”
Mom said “you both are talking about the same tree. the one next to the back door is the one that has big round fruit, plus the dark leaves and little white flowers, remember?”
“NO,” my little brother said, stomping the ground as he spoke. “My favorite one does NOT have any leaves. Trees that have leaves can be too hard to climb and make me itch. I like climbing trees with no leaves and no flowers and no fruit. How many times do I have to TELL you this?”
I took that opportunity to hold up two fingers and say, “so far today, that is the second time.” As I said that, I was already expecting my mom to respond with this: “oh, don’t be like your grandfather.”
However, I did not expect this: my brother punched me in the shoulder and said, “no, that was the first time today. The other time was yesterday. You are such a liar!”
Ignoring my brother, my mom then said, in exactly the way that I expected to her to say it, “oh, don’t be like your grandfather.” Then after a moment she did turn to my brother and say, “if you hit your brother again, I will spank you. Is that what what you want?”
He whispered, “no, mommy,” and then made a really stupid face that he seemed to think would help his cause. Then she turned away and he immediately punched me again.
I said to her, “wait, isn’t it kind of stereo critical of you to threaten him with violence for being violent? After all, you don’t want me to punch him in retaliation for punching me, right?”
“RIGHT,” my little brother agreed. “You better not punch me back or else I will BITE you!”
Mother suddenly turned back toward us, grabbed my little brother’s shoulder, and harshly said to him “here is what you WILL do.” Then her voice suddenly got soothing as she continued: “You will go find a pair of your CLEAN socks and bring them to me right now.”
He made a fist, then launched his arm straight up in the air and said “YES!” Then her turned to her and said, “Where are we going?”
“I will tell you after you bring me two clean socks,” our mother said. “Oh, and remember they need to match, okay? As for you, Mr. Stereocritical….”
Then she sat down and faced me. She gave me that look. You know the one I mean.
“First of all, the word stereocritical is your own creation. You were combining stereotypical with hypocritical,” she said.
My little brother ran in to the room holding two socks and said “do these match?”
Mom said “no, and I specifically said CLEAN socks.”
Mom focused on me again and continued: “so, the word Stereotypical means fitting some kind of presumption, though the presumption may or may not be accurate. Stereotypes are often based on something real but which has then been stretched far past reality.”
“The word hypocritical can be very tricky. It means making a criticism while being unaware that the same criticism applies to you. It would be like saying that no people should wear socks while wearing socks. If you are person wearing socks, then it is hypocritical to say that no person should wear socks, right?”
“Uh huh,” I said. In fact, I was mostly waiting for a break to ask her where we were going.
Apparently, She totally ignored the question that I had not asked and just kept going on about the sock thing: “But if your brother tells you that you cannot wear his socks, that is just a fact. He can wear them and you can not. Why not?”
“They’re too small for my feet. I get it. Anyway, where are we going?”
She continued ignoring my question even after I had said it out loud. “So it is just a fact that he can wear those socks and you cannot. That is a contrast. So, if I threaten your brother with violence, that is just a threat, right?”
If she can ignore my question, I can ignore hers. See if you can slide THAT sock on your foot!
“If your brother punches you,” she said while punching me to demonstrate, “of course you are ABLE to punch him back. But that is about all you can do. Your main advantage over him is you are bigger. I am also bigger, but it is not just my size that makes my threat powerful.”
“Right, because you are the mother. Like I said, I get it,” I said. “So, where are we going?”
“And when I ask you a question, you will answer it,” she said. “When you ask me a question to interrupt what I was saying, I might ignore it, right?”
I said nothing. She asked me a question and I intentionally said NOTHING. Ha!
“So when I told your brother that I would punish him with violence if he was violent, that was ironic. But it was actually not hypocritical. Why not?”
Now right here I should tell you that when she gives me that particular look, I know that the conversation is not going to be easily avoided. As a child, I did not have the influence to escape from it. I could get up and walk out of the room, but she would just follow me. Yes, this is what I was thinking about at the time. So, to hide the fact that I had forgotten her question, I said, “Could you rephrase the question, please?”
She said, “sure. I will make it even simpler for you. If I say that people should not be violent, but then threaten to be violent against anyone who is violent, would that be hypocritical or merely ironic?”
“Hypocritical,” I said. “You are a person, so the standard that you presented also applies to you.”
“Right,” she said. “But if a ruler named Moses says to his slaves that slaves are not allowed to carry a gun or else his soldiers will shoot the slaves, is that ironic or hypocritical?”
“Well, that would just be ironic,” I said, “because Moses is not one of the unarmed slaves who are being regulated by the armed troops. Plus, it is also ironic to use that example of Moses because he is the one who was against slavery and led slaves to freedom.”
“What did he do after that,” mom asked?
“After what,” I responded?
“What did Moses do after he led the slaves to freedom,” she said?
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“And did you say that he was against slavery,” she asked?
“Of course,” I said. “Everyone knows that!”
“Does your brother know that,” she asked?
“Do I know what? And what about these socks,” my brother said?
“Yes, those are clean and they match. Now sit down and put those socks on,” she said.
“Are you saying that Moses was not against slavery,” I asked my mom?
“Are you saying that he was,” she replied?
“Wasn’t he,” I said?
“Was he,” she said?
“Just tell him the answer, mom. I don’t think she knows,” said my little brother.
“Long after Moses led the slaves out of Egypt, those former slaves were sent by Moses to invade another Semitic tribe called the Midianites. The army that Moses commanded massacred all of the midianites except for 24,000 that were captured and enslaved,” she said.
“For real,” I asked?
“Well, at least that is what it says in the bible and other ancient documents,” she answered.
“So when Moses says not to kill, that is ironic but not hypocrisy, right,” I asked?
“He did not say not to kill,” mom said. “The command was not to murder. What’s the difference,” she asked me?
“So, murder is to kill without legal justification,” I said, “like killing in self-defense is legal.”
“Maybe or maybe not,” she said. “A slave cannot legally kill their master in self defense. So, the basic idea is to respect the issue of legal authorization of an act of killing. Or, there can be a legal ritual to criminalize a particular act of killing, like the killing of an endangered species or poaching. Do you know what poaching means,” she asked?
“Isn’t that hunting without a government permit,” I replied?
“Close enough,” she said. “So, governments have been performing public rituals of human sacrifice for thousands of years, plus engaging in assassinations and wars.”
“Killing is their business,” I said.
“And business is going good,” said my little brother! He had no idea at all what he was talking about.
“Also, criminalizing certain actions by the general public is the business of governments,” she added. “They criminalize things and then maybe sell licenses to do that thing. So they regulate killing and lots of other things. They regulate the activities of their own employees and of the occupied populations.”
“I have both socks on,” my little brother announced. “Where are we going?”
Mom said “Let’s go to grandpa’s and find out if your favorite tree is there or if it has been replaced by that other tree that has leaves.”
“Actually, didn’t grandpa recently say that he was going to cut down that tree,” I asked?
She squeezed my hand, then winked at me and said “I don’t remember him saying anything about that, but we can find out when we get there, right?”
“RIGHT,” said my little brother with enthusiasm.
That was when I realized that my mom was just using my brother’s interest in climbing that tree to get him in to the car. We were probably going to go shopping for groceries for an hour and then pop in at grandpa’s for a few minutes. I was impressed.
Anyway, about two hours later, we arrived at grandpa’s. That one tree was gone. My brother and I climbed some other trees instead.
Mom said, “isn’t it odd that you two were arguing about that tree earlier?”
“What tree,” said my brother?
Mom said,” the tree that has no leaves and yet also has leaves. Is it two different trees or the same tree, first without leaves and later with leaves, then without leaves again.”
“You’re weird. Anyway, there is no tree,” said my little brother. “It’s gone.”
“We probably just wanted to argue over something. Most Anything would do,” I suggested.
“NO,” said my little brother. “You’re such a big liar!”
Grandpa had been quietly listening to all of this and finally spoke up and asked, “so, what do you folks think of the presidential candidates?”
“Trump is an ass,” said my little brother.
Mom said, “do NOT use that word.”
“Trump or ass,” asked grandpa?
I said, “so some people argue about a tree as if that tree fundamentally has no leaves or fundamentally has leaves. But the nature of some trees is to grow leaves and then drop them.”
Grandpa said, “and some people argue about a political candidate like that person is fundamentally only one certain way (like however they presented themselves during their campaign). Their fans focus in on some issue that really triggers them with admiration. Their opponents focus on some issue that triggers repulsion in them. Everyone completely ignores all the issues except the ones that they fixate on.”
I said, “so, it’s kind of like they just want to argue over something and most anything will do, right?”
“Did you know that Moses was against killing and also against slavery,” my little brother asked Grandpa?
Grandpa said, “I heard that he was so against slavery that he once punished people who were not against slavery by arresting them, imprisoning them, putting them in chains and forcing them to work at whatever task he assigned, but he only allowed them to keep 50% of what they earned. Isn’t that fascinating?”
“See, I knew that grandpa agrees with me,” said my little brother with delusional pride.
“I heard that Trump wants to increase the minimum wage to $50 an hour,” I said.
“Are you sure that was not fifteen an hour,” mom said?
“Are you sure that was trump,” grandpa said?
“I think the minimum age should be fifty hundred dollars per hour,” said my little brother.
“You said minimum AGE. We were talking about the minimum WAGE,” said mom.
“I like this idea. Maybe we could just redefine a week to be seven consecutive Sundays,” said grandpa.
“speaking of Sunday,,” my little brother asked, “which religion is the most religious?”
“Now that is a very good question,” said Grandpa.
“Also, I really like to climb trees,” said my little brother.
“So, where are we going,” mom asked grandpa?
“When we get there, then I will show you, okay,” he replied?
“YESSSS,” said my little brother.