Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In Praise of Hypocrisy: 2

            The Virtue of Hypocrisy

            Hypocrisy is a virtue because it is convenient. Hypocrisy liberates word from bondage to deed. It socializes costs, privatizes profit, afflicts the afflicted, and comforts the comfortable. By virtue of hypocrisy, your actions can be judged on the basis of your reputation, rather than the other way around. It’s a double-win; it yields all the benefits of actual virtue, for none of the sacrifice.

            Its opposite, sincerity, yields opposite results; all of the sacrifice, none of the benefit. No wonder, then, that hypocrisy prevails. Both masses and elites prefer it to sincerity. The rich, the poor, the young, the old, men, women, parents, teenagers and children; all play double games. Hypocrisy is universally praised - by deeds, if not by words.

            And why not? Hypocrisy has a kind of integrity; it’s loyal to the principle of self-interest. Mind you, it’s a moment-by-moment illusion of self-interest; it’s doomed to fail, of course; but when it does, why even that can be repackaged as apparent success, and so serve much the same function as actual success. Here we see the self-validating nature of hypocrisy; it simply dismisses refutation. It’s disproof-proof.

            Hypocrisy is a lie, and there are three kinds of lies; white, gray, and black. White lies are harmless, indeed benevolent; they avoid embarrassment and spare hurt feelings. Gray lies are the half-truths that people stoop to in self-defense. They are regrettable but inevitable. Black lies are the brazen lies of a career criminal. They are crimes in and of themselves. Similarly, there are three kinds of hypocrisy; everyday hypocrisy, relative hypocrisy, and absolute hypocrisy.

            Relative Hypocrisy

            Others have written ironic praises of hypocrisy; but most focus on the defensive type. Apologetics for hypocrisy follow a familiar line; it’s the lesser of two evils, everybody does it, don’t rock the boat, and so on. Note the de Rochefoucauld aphorism quoted above.

            Even critics of hypocrisy admit its power. Take Disraeli, who said that a conservative society is an organized hypocrisy. Well, at least it’s organized!

            It would be hypocritical indeed to begrudge to others the defensive duplicity that comes naturally to all, including oneself. So let the begrudging begin!

            Relative hypocrisy has one plausible defense; maybe the virtues it undermines aren’t really virtues. Consider Huckleberry Finn, who refused to betray his escaped slave friend, even though that was against everything he’d been taught was right. Huck thought he was in the wrong; but instead it was his whole world that was wrong.

            Commitment to a false virtue is another false virtue. When false virtue rules, then relative hypocrisy is a false vice.

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