On Why Hypocrisy Is Easy

One of the many subjects I ponder that could be seen as somewhat troubling is the rampant nature of hypocrisy in our world [1].  It is easy to point fingers at other people for being hypocrites.  There are so many we can choose from, depending on our own ideological and partisan commitments.  Those who read my writing are well aware that regardless of what level of politics we are talking about, from the area of personal conflicts to that of church organizations and the partisan politics of nations and geopolitics, I certainly have my own very strong and fiercely defended positions and I do not think it would do justice to this topic to pretend otherwise.  After all, we can do little about the fact that other people are hypocrites.  Our ability to influence others, especially those whose disagreement with us is ferocious and openly and mutually acknowledged, is very limited.  However easy it is to see that other people are hypocrites, our awareness of their hypocrisy does not lead to any benefit, as they deny it and our awareness of it only leads us to feel a sense of unearned contempt for them for so being without the possibility of amelioration of their condition.

What we can help, though, is in working on our own hypocrisy.  After all, if we look and see hypocrisy as being nearly universal in those around us, we can be sure that other people see the same things in ourselves.  If you want a painful conversation–and I do not recommend this for the faint of heart–it is worth discussing with someone who you can trust to give you the painful truth (if you know any such people) on areas where you fall short of the standard you hold others to.  For example, if you are a #metoo activist who is vociferous about male sexual abusers, are you as harsh against female sexual abusers?  If you complain when shootings are politicized to support anti-gun laws, do you politicize other acts of violence to support the passage of other laws? As Romans 2:21-24 tells us:  “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?  You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?  You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?  For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.”  This could be said about any group.  It is easy to point out that other groups have double standards–and they do–but it is harder and more important to wrestle with our own double standards, because if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we fall short in at least some area of our lives in this fashion.

Like the father labeled as a hypocrite who told his kids not to smoke but smokes multiple packs in a day in the Beastie Boys song [2], there are many areas where others may accuse of hypocrisy that we would not consider to be legitimate.  It is often the case that we wish to support standards of godliness and righteousness and morality but may imperfectly obey those standards ourselves.  We may value moderation and sobriety even if we do not serve as a perfect example of the standards we desire to see in ourselves and in others.  We may struggle manfully (or womanfully) in various areas of our lives but still wish to encourage high standards of behavior, while painfully aware of our own struggles and imperfections and shortcomings.  To the extent that we are genuinely struggling with evil, and simultaneously lamenting its hold over others in our fallen world, I would agree that we are not hypocritical to support virtue even as imperfect human beings.  To believe otherwise would be to abandon any hope that virtue could be defended on account of the fact that everyone is flawed, often very obviously and very deeply so.  Yet often we feel it necessary to hide our struggle because of our (not unjustified) belief that to admit struggling would be to sacrifice our ability to do any good in the institutions that we are loyal to.  And it is here, in our hiding of the struggle, even if we are honest about it with ourselves, where the charge of hypocrisy has some justice.

After all, to the extent that we are aware of the fact that we need mercy, we are merciful to others in turn, so long as we see them as beings like ourselves.  One of the aspects of youth that is so intolerable to others is the fact that so often the young are intolerant of the shortcomings and flaws of those who are older, and whose decades-long struggle with their own human nature and the injustices of the world remove a lot of that certainty and lack of compassion that are so often evident in youthful activists.  Those among the old who are charitable can see that a great deal of the confidence of the young comes from not having had to struggle decades against human frailty.  It is hard to be optimistic when one has struggled ceaselessly and without a great deal of benefit for decade after decade, only to be attacked as a hypocrite for one’s efforts.  One could at least have fun with a sinner who reveled in their sin, because sinners are always looking for fun with like-minded sinners.  It is only those who struggle against weakness and failure that are not particularly fun, because they go against the grain and in their efforts shame others who are unwilling to share in the load of that struggle.

Ultimately, there are many reasons why hypocrisy is so easy for us.  We know our own struggles much more than we know that of others, and judge others by their actions (and our interpretations of those actions) and ourselves by our feelings and intentions, which we ascribe to be good.  We seek mercy and understanding for ourselves and our allies and pitiless and harsh justice for those we deem as enemies.  We do not judge our opinions and thoughts on matters by a consistent standard of justice, but we view it by expediency or what supports our ideologies, which we view in a state of conflict that reduces our tendency to judge justly and increases the odds that we will judge in a partisan fashion.  Indeed, we often pervert justice to such an extent that we see no reason to have a consistent standard by which we judge our own behavior and that of others at all.  Indeed, we may see such consistency as downright fatal to our ability to serve on behalf of the causes to which we devote our passion and attention and talents.  In such a situation as this, could we be anything but hypocrites?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/08/22/help-wanted-ninjas/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/08/04/category-error-a-case-study-in-bad-logic/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/07/09/the-heart-of-the-matter-2/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/06/01/on-the-high-cost-of-civility/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/04/27/something-to-ponder/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/11/25/book-review-killing-rage-ending-racism/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/10/29/distorting-reality-by-despising-others/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/12/27/that-hypocrite-smokes-two-packs-a-day/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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