Hypocrisy

One of Tim Worstall’s regular commenters “MyBurningEars” recently had this to say on the subject of hypocrisy:

I reckon hypocrisy is overrated as a modern “sin” – people of all stripes seem to round on hypocrites as if they’ve done something uniquely terrible

I agree with this.  I have long thought that adult life requires being hypocritical at times and if you’re a parent hypocrisy is a way of life.  I often tease my friends when they admonish their offspring for displaying characteristics that they themselves are practically defined by.  I have noticed that most mothers’ worst nightmare is having a daughter who is just like them.

Dads don’t have it any easier.  They are required to tell their sons and daughters not to drink, smoke, do drugs, or shag around – which they do with extreme sheepishness if I happen to be in the room and I knew them at university.  Being hypocritical in this manner doesn’t make them a bad parent – quite the opposite, in fact.

For my part, I often encourage people to do things which I myself don’t do and vice versa.  Some decisions and actions might make sense considering my own set of circumstances, but ought not to be done by others whose life may be different.  Drinking with Russians, for instance.

I suppose provided people engage in hypocrisy for practical reasons rather than for moral posturing or from a desire to simply tell other people what to do, then it’s okay.  For me, there are far worse sins that hypocrisy.  Confusing it with inconsistency is one of them.

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17 thoughts on “Hypocrisy

  1. Completely agree.

    I find that those that levy this criticism are ‘first person perspective’ people; i.e. they see everything from their own point of view. Critical thinkers (such as most libertarians) are often ‘third person perspective’, i.e. look at things in a detached manner.

    Furthermore, the criticism only really has relevance if what you are advising is different from what you would do yourself today, if you were in the shoes of the person you are advising.

  2. The problem with hypocrisy isn’t on the personal level — we all do it as you say — but on the political. Of course we cannot expect politicians to be constant or even fair-minded: they are moderately-able people merely seeking the next rent payment if not power itself. Understood, and often underlines the old adage that politics is show-business for ugly people.. But to gain votes, or try to gain votes, by being nakedly hypocritical is just another reason to put politics where it belongs, which is in a rubbish bag.

    Further to PeterT’s comment, advice is the easiest thing to give and the hardest thing to take. Or if you prefer, wise people don’t need it and fools don’t heed it. Which neatly brings me back to politicians and hypocrisy…

  3. Sorry off topic but does anybody else get redirected when they try to go to Samizdata, to some blog called ‘dropsafe’

  4. Peter T re. Samizdata
    Yes that happened to me earlier today and right now I am not even getting to that, just a “connection refused, can’t be reached” message.

    However, there was a post on there a day or two ago that said they were going to do some sort of major transfer/ upgrade in the next couple of days.

  5. My approach was different; I simply told our two that there was nothing they could do, nowhere they could go where they would not find my footprints in the dust from thirty years before. Seems to have worked. They’re getting on with their lives instead of wasting energy rebelling. They still behave ‘badly’ at times, but no-one gets hung up about it.

  6. That’s an admirable approach Bill and far more courageous than mine, but do any of us really get the fatherhood thing right.

    My colleagues and I are definitely hypocritical in our professional areas. Just this weekend we were criticizing an ex employee now competitor for having the hide to march into one of our clients offices with a better offer when he got wind that we were preferred tenderer. On reflection we have done far worse.

  7. Bill,

    My approach was different; I simply told our two that there was nothing they could do, nowhere they could go where they would not find my footprints in the dust from thirty years before.

    Heh! I like that.

  8. “They are required to tell their sons and daughters not to drink, smoke, do drugs, or shag around…”

    Coming from me, it’s a safety warning, not a morals lecture.

  9. Agreed: a key difference is timing but a bigger difference is the combination of phrasing and timing:

    I say “don’t do x” then go and do x: hypocrisy
    (c.f. Labour MPs sending children to private schools. They are doing this right now. do as I say, not as I do. Not good.)
    I say “don’t do x” when I used to do x but do not any more: not hypocrisy.
    (Most parent’s advice – not hypocrisy but loses some of its power)

    I say “don’t do x, because I indeed used to do x and know fine well that it’s not a good idea which is why I don’t do it any more”: powerful advice.
    (see above – parental advice given this way has more force by removing the obvious children’s objection)

    One interesting counter-example though:
    I say “don’t do x, because I indeed used to do x and know fine well that it’s not a good idea which is why I don’t do it any more”: would be powerful advice except for the fact that it patently didn’t do you any harm and you turned out absolutely fine, but some peculiar external pressure is forcing you to have to take a tough line.
    (c.f. Tory politicians trying to ban pot)

  10. P-G,

    I say “don’t do x” then go and do x: hypocrisy

    But that can sometimes be okay: smokers telling their kids not to smoke, for example. Hypocritical yes, but not unreasonably so.

  11. @pg

    Excellent example above of the effective use of the negotiating technique called Feel, Felt, Found. A modification of the standard formulation to address the parent child relationship of overcoming objection goes like this:

    Tell the child “I understand how you feel”. This is intended to tell the child that you have heard them, and can empathise.

    Tell the child about someone else (close to them and you) or you who felt the same way as them initially. You’re telling the child that they are not alone, and that things can change.

    Then tell the child how that person found that when they did what you now were asking of them and lets say refrained from something or got something different, they got what they wanted.

  12. I only check this blog every month or two so missed this.

    Hypocrisy seems like a soft target to me – often comes with overtones of “I won’t address the substantive content of your arguments or beliefs, because you’re hypocritical in holding them”. Yet absolute consistency is a silly standard to hold people to. And it’s far from obvious to me that “being hypocritical” actually means “doing wrong”, in most circumstances.

    “Feel, Felt, Found” – going to have to remember that.

  13. Is it just my perception or have you stepped up the production rate? You’re putting up a lot of good stuff and generating some interesting discussion threads. The writing is slightly, but noticeably, improved too, which I guess might come from the extra practice.

    I was going to say it reminds me a lot of Timmy’s place circa 2010, albeit not quite so prolific. But looking back in his archives, I don’t think he was getting such strong comment responses as you do until 2012ish. And like over there, your comment threads are worth reading in their own right – knowledgeable, diverse, sometimes very funny. I view the comparison to Tim as high praise, suspect you do too!

  14. ““Feel, Felt, Found” – going to have to remember that.”

    It’s an excellent strategy for overcoming objections. It was a lawyer that taught me this as a vital part of successful business negotiating and it’s proven to be a very effective tool for me both personally and professionally.

  15. Is it just my perception or have you stepped up the production rate?

    I have. Something clicked in me in August and I decided to start writing in earnest.

    You’re putting up a lot of good stuff and generating some interesting discussion threads. The writing is slightly, but noticeably, improved too, which I guess might come from the extra practice.

    Thank you! Yes, practice is everything.

    And like over there, your comment threads are worth reading in their own right – knowledgeable, diverse, sometimes very funny. I view the comparison to Tim as high praise, suspect you do too!

    I do indeed! Thanks!

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