We're hyper-vigilant for detecting hypocrisy

One thing I hate is the assertion that people in some group are hypocrites. It usually takes the form of the following statement: “Those people do (or profess) X, but they also do (or profess) Y, and of course we all know X and Y are incompatible. Therefore they are hypocrites, not like us…we're always perfectly consistent in our beliefs.”

The earliest example I remember from my own life is my grandfather talking about hippies, how they supposedly only wanted to put natural things in their bodies, but those same people also took drugs. The implication was, of course, that drugs are unnatural, and thus the hippies were hypocrites.

Rush Limbaugh does this a lot. He identifies people who hold some opinion as liberals, and then says that liberals also hold some other opinion, and that the opinions are incompatible, and thus liberals are hypocrites. There are two things wrong with that line of thinking:

  1. It could be that some liberals believe X and others believe Y. So there may be very few examples of individual people who hold the incompatible views, even though it might be true that lots of folks in the “liberal” category hold one or the other. So he should cite examples from individual people.
  2. The fact that some people really are hypocrites has nothing to do with their politics. We're all hypocrites sometimes.

Hypocrisy is not the worst thing in the world

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler

(relates to: progress vs equality)


  • Here's my incredible blog about (among other things) hypocrisy: Wrong and Happy
  • So there's this guy named Robin Hanson. I think he's one of the smartest people around (although he often drives me crazy, too). Anyway, one of his big ideas is homo hypocritus ("man the sly rule bender"). The idea is that we profess grand principles about our motivations, and even believe them most of the time, but they're demonstrably false. Here's his blog: Overcoming Bias

Misc, to do

My favorite explanation at the moment is that we always do what our hearts tell us, but explain it in terms of abstract fabrications when our hearts’ interests do not align with those we are explaining to. Rationalization is only necessary for bad news. Have you ever said to someone, ‘I really would love to go with you, but I must submit to sensibility and work on this coursework tonight, and in fact every night for the foreseeable future’? We dearly want to do whatever our listener would have, but are often forced by sensible considerations to do something else. It never happens the other way around. ‘I’m going to stay in tonight because I would just love to, though I appreciate in sensibleness I should socialize more’. Any option that needs reasons is to be avoided.

- Katja Grace, Why you should listen to your heart | Meteuphoric

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