Hypocrisy is Easy

two-ways_vaisamuelyooCan you believe what the other side said this week? They’re such hypocrites—they say one thing when it applies to everyone else, and another thing entirely when it applies to them. It makes me so mad when people don’t hold to their own fundamental principals—I think the best response would be to create a snarky meme showing that and share it widely, divorced from the original context.

Well, sometimes I think that. Sometimes I just see the snarky meme from someone else and get that little rush of agreement. You know the one: the one that makes you feel good about being right, and just, and having enemies. And not just any enemies—the best enemies. They go out of their way to be spineless fools whose simpering evilness is so clear in their fundamental lack of a coherent worldview that it would be foolish to even listen to them.


So bear with me for a minute here.

After all, what about those people who complained about Clinton lying, and breaking laws, and only having interest in helping herself and her powerful friends—how could those people who hated that elect a man who embodies those things more fully than she could ever aspire to?

And what about those slimy republican lawmakers, like Mitch McConnell, who say they’re proud of stonewalling a supreme court pick by Obama, but say it would be a travesty for democrats to do the same?

And what about those libertarians who talk about free markets and all but raise merry hell if you talk about making a market more free by regulating a monopoly?

And what about those liberals who talk about tolerance all the time but then call you a racist whenever you try to disagree with them?

If you made it through, at least one of those probably made you think “hey, wait a second, it’s not that simple, there’s a reason…”

You’re not wrong. There is. The thing about hypocrisy is that it’s a little too easy to spot, and so we all think we’re great at spotting it. We think because the contradictions are so obvious, the only possibility is that the person on the other side doesn’t care about having integrity. We ignore two other possibilities. First, that the hypocrisy is only apparent to us. And second, that it isn’t real at all.

Let’s take my last example. Espousing tolerance while refusing to condone racism isn’t hypocrisy, and its actually an internally consistent position. The overall goal is collective and equal justice. Tolerance for different views is a tool for achieving justice. Refusing to condone views that actively harm others and poison debate is also a tool for achieving justice. The fact that liberals advocate tolerating opinions in most cases does not exclude the possibility of there being cases where it is not appropriate to do that, and it doesn’t make it hypocritical when those cases arise. It only looks like hypocrisy to people who are themselves blind to the details.

How about another one? Surely Mitch McConnell is a hypocrite. After all, he said it was his proudest moment when he denied Merrick Garland a hearing and prevented him being seated on the Supreme Court. And he now says the exact same behavior would be unreasonable partisanship. But hold on—what does he actually mean? In his view, regardless of whether I agree with it, it was illegitimate for Obama to appoint a justice during his last year in office. I may think that view is wrong, but it doesn’t change that for Mitch, stonewalling that choice was the kind of checking of executive power that Congress is supposed to provide. And now, in his view, a fairly-elected President has the legitimate right to appoint someone, and stonewalling that now would be Congress overstepping its bounds.

I think that argument is stupid. But its not hypocritical—its an internally consistent view of the world.

I could go on to the other two examples, and probably most (though not all) of those snarky memes, but my point here isn’t to debunk hypocrisy. I just want to highlight that hypocrisy is in the eye of the beholder. It’s easy to spot, because it’s mostly not in the world so much as it is in our worldview.

We disagree with people, and so we look to poke holes in their ideas, and of course we find those holes. But we’re lazy. We don’t look any further, because hypocrisy, in the end, isn’t about them—it’s about us, and about reminding ourselves that we’re right.

Next time I see one of those snarky memes, I’m going to try not to hit “like,” and I definitely won’t hit “share.”

Facebook doesn’t have the button I really need: “why?”


Image Credit: Samuel Yoo

2 comments on “Hypocrisy is Easy

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    You can’t really imagine McConnell would be applying that principle if it were the last year of 45’s reign — which, let us hope, it is.


    • JD says:

      True, I doubt he would be. He’d come up with some reason why it was valid. But he would still think he had a good reason, I think, and would still treat accusations of hypocrisy as annoying or irrelevant rather than changing his view.

      What I didn’t say above but should have is that we treat uncovering hypocrisy as scoring points on the other team–but the other team doesn’t see it that way, so all it really does is rile up people we agree with. Anyone accused of hypocrisy will always have a reason why it isn’t, and then they’ll just move on and do the same thing they would have. Or, do it harder (if the backfire effect applies here).


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