In Defense of a Little Hypocrisy

Now that Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has resigned as a consequence of the the charge of soliciting gay sex in a public restroom at the Minneapolis Airport, perhaps we have reason to consider the more general question of what constitutes hypocrisy. Craig had been an vocal advocate of “family values,” so his legal and moral predicament obviously lends itself to the charge of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy rests on pretense; the pretense of advocating one thing and in one’s private affairs acting a different way. Unfortunately, such a strong and inflexible standard makes hypocrites of us all. All of us profess standards we aspire to but that natural human imperfections make impossible to always achieve. If we are all hypocrites, then the term looses meaning. Hypocrisy is consequently a continuum ranging from conventional human frailty to presumptuous pretense.

In the area of public policy, what is often characterized as hypocrisy is an unfair charge. Someone can genuinely advocate one public policy, while arranging one’s own private affairs differently in the context of given law. For example, one could earnestly believe that the tax deductibility of homoe mortgages should be eliminated, while at the same time taking advantage of the existing provisions of the law in one’s own finances and not be a hypocrite. It is possible to be in favor busing of students to achieve racial ntegration and send one’s own kids to private schools and not be a hypocrite. It is possible to be gay, and oppose the agenda of the most vocal gay lobby and not be a hypocrite.

As long as people advocate their positions out of humility they are generally safe from charges of hypocrisy. True hypocrisy enters with when finger-wagging pretension. If one vocally chastises others for any behavior and then gets caught red-handed violating their own strictures, the charge of hypocrisy is appropriate. This why those preachers who self-righteously extort their flocks to good moral behavior and then repeatedly engage in immoral behavior are so easily labeled as hypocrites. That is why those environmentalists who direct people to live their lives frugally yet wallow in conspicuous consumption themselves remain striking hypocrites.

Hypocrisy is a real vice and there are two ways to avoid it: (1) Combine high aspirations for behavior with a humble recognition of personal limitations, or (2) Have to no high moral aspirations one can fail to meet. The former is preferred.

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