Monday, January 2, 2012

Modern misconceptions of hypocrisy

In my post on the scandal of wisdom I use the term hypocrisy in an incorrect manner.  It is a common misconception and even being aware of it I yet fall into the hole (giving evidence once again that we are products of our culture to some degree despite our best efforts).

An attitude of superiority among those considered "educated" within the top tier universities.  That they are somehow "better" than the "average Joe."
This attitude has always had the whiff of hypocrisy to it.  The posturing of intellectuals telling us that all men are equal and reminding us that they are superior for telling us so.

   The problem with this is that there are actually three different levels of inconsistencies.  Only one of these can properly be called hypocrisy.  But all three have in common the basic notion of human frailty.

The first is the unknowing person whose actions do not meet with espoused principles.  This is a position of ignorance.  A person might espouse a principle but does not realize that some actions they perform are inconsistent with said principle.  This oftentimes is simply a matter of lack of thought on the matter (an affliction we all suffer from).

The second is the knowing inconsistency of actions with espoused principles.  A person who espouses a principle yet fails to uphold it is not a hypocrite.  The person is simply weak.  The person may believe in the principle sincerely yet fail to live out the principle in his life.

The third is the true sense of hypocrisy, the espousal of a principle by a person that the person espousing the principle does not believe in.  It is a form of deception.  Strictly speaking a person can be a hypocrite even if they live out the principle they don't believe in (although that would be a feat).  The important thing is the intent to deceive.  True hypocrisy requires the intent to deceive others.

So why is the second form often mislabeled as hypocrisy?  Simple.  It is a cheap debate tactic.  It allows us to dismiss the proposed principle because the proposer is a "bad person" who doesn't live out their own principles.  It is a form of slander.

I point this out because I committed the same slander in the post I linked at the top.  I accused the "they" of the intellectual culture of hypocrisy, yet really without having a specific example I am simply slandering the "they."  The inconsistency is there to be sure, but one must see person to person which of the three types of such inconsistency is present.  For that I offer a mea culpa for my part in creating confusion.

Hypocrisy is a strong charge.  It requires a great deal of proof that hypocrisy is taking place. Absent that the accusation is little more than slander.

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