Social media are a wonderful new laboratory for studying the human animal. Yesterday, I saw that a conservative friend had posted a picture of Obama dressed like a clown. It reminded me of that human quirk that thinks if we draw a mustache on the face of our enemy we have refuted his or her best ideas as well.

Unsurprisingly, some of the liberal responders were offended by the picture of their candidate in a clown suit. “Why do you need to be so mean? Why can’t we keep the conversation civil?” one of them implored. On a hunch, I went to her website and was not surprised to see a picture of Romney photo shopped onto a picture of the tin man, apparently implying that Romney has no heart. In other words, to this women, Obama in a clown suit felt like vicious ridicule, Romney’s face on a picture of the tin man felt like an intellectual satire.

The conservative who had posted the Obama/clown picture also responded very predictably. “You liberals laughed at George Bush unmercifully, now you are getting some of your own medicine.” In other words, “If I can find an example of anyone from your group doing something wrong to anyone from my group, it is fair for me to do that to you.”

Lesson: Hypocrisy is a universal human foible which we see in our enemy, but not in ourselves. Every time we “pass like ships in the night” in conversations like this, both sides leave more convinced of their group’s superiority, and more oblivious to their own role  in the problem.