On Hypocrisy…

Some sins are so dramatically evil that context does not redeem them in the slightest: mass murder, say, or child abuse. The nature of other sins depends on scale and intent: lying, say, or greed, or hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is one of the most common allegations in our societal discourse. “How can you say X is bad, when you do X?” “How can you support or oppose X at some times and yet not others?” I suspect that in an age where values are uncertain, and in conflict, it easier to tell someone that they are inconsistent that they are wrong. Well, it is never good to be hypocritical, but it can be far less of a sin than many seem to think.

First, being hypocritical need not mean one is wrong. If I say that X is bad yet do it that does not mean X is good. If I support or oppose X at some times yet not others that need not mean my support or opposition is worthless. A hypocrite can, in fact, be better than someone is not hypocritical. If someone says true things at times and falsehoods at others they are better than a proud, consistent, pig-headed bullshitter.

Second, the scale of hypocrisy is important. If one advocates traditional sexual morality yet makes a habit of snorting cocaine off prostitutes’ backsides that makes one a stonking, tremendous, unpardonable hypocrite. If one advocates traditional sexual morality yet keeps a dog-eared copy of Playboy in one’s belongings that is a far less serious lapse in one’s consistency.

We are all hypocrites, but to greater and lesser extents, and while that is not good there are worse things to be.

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4 Responses to On Hypocrisy…

  1. Whyaxye says:

    Good post. In addition, there is an issue to do with the intentions of the person making the claims which lead to the accusation of hypocrisy. If someone merely pays lip service to an ideal but has no real intention of sticking to it, then they are a hypocrite. Blair seems to be a good example of this type of hypocrite, and indeed most professional politicians are guilty of this all the time. They have to make statements about ideals, but often don’t give their realisation any further thought.

    But a person who has high standards, and genuinely tries to keep to them, yet fails: I don’t feel comfortable calling them a hypocrite. In fact, there is something quite noble about them.

    There is also the point that something like hypocrisy underlies much of our attempts to be good mannered and get along with people. Nobody wants me to reveal too much of my inner enraged chimp, so I smile and pass the cucumber sandwiches.

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    • bsixsmith says:

      Thank you.

      Yes, I think hypocrisy undergirds our civilisation. There must be few parents and teachers who have not felt uncomfortable telling their kids to do or not do things that they indulge in or avoid themselves yet it has to be done. We can all be better but none of us can be perfect.

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  2. Simon says:

    One of the most important revelations I’ve had in the last few years is that extremely few people have really thought out the logical and practical consequences of their own declared principles, be they moral or political or religious, let alone follow them consistently in their own lives. This has the double effect of both making me more admiring of people who actually can do that because there’s not very many of those, but also being more probably forgiving of those because I know it’d be really difficult for myself as well.

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