A recent statement from a spokesperson for House Lannister:

House Lannister has heard of the recent events at The Twins, and are shocked by the brutality rumoured to have occurred there. Suggestions that the Lannister family had any connection with these horrendous events are a slander on our good name, and anyone repeating them is obviously subscribing to the craziest and most preposterous of conspiracy theories. What is said to have happened at The Twins is abhorrent and inconsistent with the moral principles by which all Westerosians live, and there is no way that the Lannister family would have any connection with such cruel and un-Westerosian behaviour.

At this point, an enterprising journalist should ask, “if this behavior is ‘un-Westerosian’, how come we have a song called The Rains of Castermere?” Or, “If this brutality is so inconsistent with Westerosian ethics, what do you say to claims that your own son was forced to kill the mad king to prevent him burning down all of King’s Landing?” But they never do ask, do they? They take these glib denials as fact, when in fact the very essence of the claim that the behavior being decried is “un-Westerosian” is completely false.

The above statement follows the lines of standard dismissals of bad behavior that are issued by politicians all the time, and a common element of those dismissals is a call to a common ideal of the ethics of the country in question that is, in general, a historical fallacy. Opposition figures also use the same call to fantasies of goodness when they decry acts that they were either complicit in during the previous government, or will continue when in government. For example, after today’s revelations that the NSA is spying on our communications[1],  one of the authors of the Patriot Act, Jim Sensenbrenner, said:

I do not believe the broadly drafted Fisa order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.

Really? UnAmerican? What about Cointelpro? What about the House un-American Affairs Committee? What about the Patriot Act that you wrote? It seems to me that the USA has a long history of this kind of thing, and it’s not “un-American” at all to get up to this sort of mischief. The scope might be greater but so what? It’s a matter of degrees, and it doesn’t seem unlikely to me that if he could have, McCarthy would have spied on emails.

The same thing applies with the recent expression of regret (and pathetic compensation) to Mau Mau rebels by the British government, which refuses to directly apologize because it might set a legal precedent, but which also somehow manages to claim that

It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history.

Really? The Mau Mau tortures occurred in the 1950s, but the UK was still operating secret torture camps in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. Is that how the British government “learn from our history”? Is burying the documents in a secret location (“if we are going to sin, we should sin quietly”) and fighting compensation in the courts how the government “learn from our history”? I don’t think so. Meanwhile the Guardian refer in an editorial to Britain’s “battered moral authority.” Really? You think your country has moral authority? Does that perhaps derive from your willingness to send people you don’t like to Libya to be tortured by Ghadaffi? Your cooperation with secret rendition and torture programs run by the USA? Or your long history of torturing and murdering political opponents in the colonies? Where, exactly, does Britain’s “moral authority” derive from – having sinned quietly rather than publicly?

For the same reason I am expected to believe that when the two major parties in Australia try to find ways to “stop the boats” they are doing so out of genuine concern for human welfare – not because they are the same two parties that oversaw the White Australia Policy and a long term policy of racially-based child abduction. I am supposed to believe them when they assure me that racism has no place in modern Australian politics, and really they’re just trying to solve a problem.

It seems to me that when politicians make these claims, drawing on long traditions of moral authority, they’re either:

  1. setting themselves up to deny something they’re actively involved in, or
  2. trying to gain false moral ground so they can use a bipartisan policy for partisan political gain

So the best thing to do, as soon as a politician calls on a long-standing “principle” of their own society as defense or source of moral outrage, is to assume they’re lying, they will do that very thing if they get a chance, and they’re already up to their neck in it. And for final proof, I present this perfect quote from Jack Straw when he denied – in parliament, I think – the initial rumours of British involvement in rendition and torture:

Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States… there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition.

All those claims about complicity with rendition were subsequently shown to be true. Perhaps Jack Straw should apply for a job at King’s Landing …

fn1: note to my secret NSA readers: don’t bother using PRISM to catch this subversive document, I upload them to a public site.