On Hypocrisy

1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.

There are two measurable forms of hypocrisy. It is important that we separate them as the word – the accusation – is so stinging that we often forget that there are significant degrees. These two persuasions can be summed as Man and SuperMan.

1. Man: you have opinions and state them from time to time. These can be zealous statements or inoffensive observations. Not exactly Jesus at the Mount stuff. A friend comes up to you one day – could be an old acquaintance for all you know – and, pointing out an incongruity between something you once said and something you’ve done, calls you a hypocrite.

2. SuperMan: your role, or at least the one you’ve staked for yourself, is one of “paragon of society”. You mean what you say, you say what you mean, and you’ve claimed your tract of ideological real estate on your beliefs. And then one day the New York Times prints an article about how you spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes and in doing so, you are exposed as – you guessed it – a hypocrite.

The question is: are these two accusations of hypocrisy equally condemnable? I say: no.

Most of us who’ve read a few books, shared deep conversations with friends, and watched a couple of debates, have developed opinions. Although the zealotry of said beliefs is certainly a factor, the individual generally has every right to voice them. The thing is this: beliefs, for the most part, should not be static. We should always be investigating our beliefs and allowing them to be challenged – in being challenged, our beliefs are honed and shaped into finer (though sometimes less easily-communicable) instruments. As a result, something you may have thought/said last year – though your overall position may not have turned 180-degrees – has probably changed (whether that means “hardened”, “softened” or some other adjective, it doesn’t matter). So, when that certain someone approaches you and accuses you of being a hypocrite, is it true? Not strictly, no. Again, as long as you aren’t preaching, as long as you aren’t being duplicitous and are simply guilty of being human (although this defence can be specious at times), then no, you aren’t being a hypocrite as far as the definition above implies. Which isn’t to say that you still won’t piss people off or that we can behave with impunity. We should all have to answer for our beliefs – it helps us to justify them or find fault.

This is my problem with the whole “flip-flop” accusation used in political debate over the last half-decade. Look: I don’t want a politician who’s views never change, and if they do (as in “grow” or “adapt to reality”) and have the temerity to voice an evolved opinion which differs, why should they then be castigated (or perhaps the question should be: why does the castigation stick)? Of course, there are some politicians who are out-and-out liars and conniving, half-reptile bastards who will use babies to shield themselves from bullets. But most politicians aren’t like that and it irks me whenever I hear the term “flip-flop” when it’s someone trying to adapt to a complex issue. When that accusation is levied it is implied that they are hypocrites when in fact they aren’t.


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