Is hypocrisy worse than out-and-out evil?

Maybe this should be in the opinion section, but I was hoping for either consensus or reasoned debate. My question is, does it make a difference in guilt, for lack of a better word, what views someone claims to hold when compared to their actions? Are double-talking politicions better, worse, or the exact same as people who hold the same unpopular opinions and do not hide them? Wow, this is getting convoluted. Example: two people are racist. Is the one who admits to racism better, worse, or the same as someone who makes a fuss about racial equality and other somesuches? If anyone’s curious, this thread was endengered by an episode of Red Dwarf, where Rimmer caught Lister reading his diary. When Lister pointed out that Rimmer had previously read Lister’s diary, Rimmer replied, “Well, at least I had the common decency to do it sneakily, behind your back!”

I prefer the honest politicians, so that I know not to vote for them. With dishonest ones you have to guess.

That said, I’d rather be friends with someone who pretends not to be racist while secretly burning with hatred, than with someone who’s openly racist and hateful. The key difference there, though, is that the hypocrite in my example doesn’t act on his feelings, while the honest person does. In that case, I’d rather have hypocracy.

But, if the evil guy is doing his evil either way, I’d rather that he didn’t hide it so that righteous vengeance can descend upon him. All other things being equal.

I too think a hypocrite is worse.

Hitler, most everyone’s favorite example of pure naked evil, would have been locked in a looney bin (or shot/imprisoned for life) had their not been a vast number of hypocrites sustaining sustaining his delusions. Ditto Stalin.

A hypocrite is a coward. Unfortunately, we are all hypocrites upon occasion. :frowning:

In some contexts, hypocrisy can have the advantage of upholding societal standards.

For example, condemning infidelity, even as one practices infidelity, at least encourages discretion.

Better, of course, would be to have one’s words match one actions. But the flesh can be weak…

On a related point, I suspect that a society’s appreciation of virtue is directly correlated with its level of hypocrisy.

Since the 1960s, we’ve lived in an age of greater openness and lower hypocrisy. Alas, we also live in an age where celebrity holds more coin than virtue.

Hypocrisy is worse, by basic math.

Let’s take a given evil act that happens to equal n on the Evil Scale–can be anything, serial murder’s n is greater than shoplifting candy’s n.

So, committing Evil Act N yields n evil, regardless of whether one’s honest or hypocritical about it.

On that Scale of Evil, hypocrisy rates an…oh, about an h, give or take. The math is surely more complex than this, but addition does get the point across:

Committing N = n evil.
Committing N and being Hypocritical = n + h evil.
Ergo, n+h > n.

There’s probably logarithms and functions and limits and irrational numbers and such involved in this somewhere, but that’ll be up to some Evil Ph.D. to quantify.

Sometimes we don’t recognize our own hypocrisy. :eek:

Ed Foreman, a renowned inspirational speaker, on his tape, How to Have a Goooood Day stated: (approx quote) “I would much rather be around someone who is acting happy, than a sincere sorehead anyday.”
(following Taran’s thought…)

At least, a hypocrite will pretend not to be evil, while Pure Evil would not care. But at least, with someone who declares themselves to be Pure Evil (or acts that way without regret), you know who your enemy is and can put up your guard better. With a hypocrite, you don’t know they are your enemy until they stab you in the back.

I like this actuarial formulation. ISTM that for serious evils, n is very much larger than h. In that sense, I would argue that hypocrisy makes only a negligible difference in guilt. Sort of, adding insult to injury.

When I was young (in the middle of the last century), hypocrisy wasn’t as big a deal as it is today. I suspect that hypocrisy is taken more seriously, because absolute morality is taken less seriously. When you remove the no-nos in the Ten Commandments from immorality, hypocrisy is what’s left.

Also, as Gertrude Himmelfarb pointed out, accusations of hypocrisy may be unfairly made against those who espouse certain principles and fail to fully meet their own standards. See The De-Moralization of Society : From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values. In that sense, taking hypocrisy ultra-seriously can be a way of attacking absolute moral principles.

“Hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virute”

Hypocrisy can be galling, no question about it. But tell the truth- the times it REALLY galls you are the times when people who espouse principles you don’t believe in are caught doing the things they preach against.

To those who think “family values” are a crock, it must be awfully gratifying to see a Jimmy Swaggart caught with a hooker. And for those who think environmentalism is a lot of nonsense, it’s delightful when a John Denver is caught despoiling the wilderness for his own convenience. It’s always fun when people who stand for ideas we hate (or mock) turn out to be hypocrites.

But lest we gloat when our enemies exhibit hypocrisy, let’s remember something: ANY moral principle or ideal worth espousing is going to be difficult to follow, at times. If moral behavior came easily or naturally, it wouldn’t be all that praiseworthy, would it?

Fidelity in marriage doesn’t become a bad thing just because some who preach it don’t practice it. And environmentalism isn’t invalidated just because some who preach it are phonies.

A FEW hypocrites are just flat-out frauds, and genuinely evil people. In those cases, their hypocrisy makes their crimes all the more disgusting. But in most cases, hypocrities are merely flawed people, like the rest of us. Very few of us live up to our ideals at all times. Most of us believe in the virtues of charity, but aren’t really as generous as we should be. That makes us somewhat hypocritical. But are we WORSE than people who are completely selfish and don’t care about helping the less fortunate at all?

When we accuse someone of hypocrisy, our aim should not be to mock the ideals that person always claimed to believe in. Our aimn SHOULD be to shame or goad the person into living up to those ideals.

Disclaimer: This post assumes that my psycho-lefty beliefs are “right”. Its just simpler like that.

Back during the election, I was wondering about the lesser-of two-evils aspect of Gore vs. Bush (or any other Democrat vs. Republican, for that matter). Which is worse, I wondered: pretending to want to help the environment while pandering to corporations, or just loudly, blatently pandering to corporations. I eventually figured that (using the above math) Al’s n wasn’t as large as Dubya’s, and Al’s h didn’t cover the difference. Of course I didn’t vote for either of them, but it was an interesting thing to wonder.

I think there are two types of ‘hypocrisy’ being discussed here, one of which is more serious than the first.

The first kind is someone who espouses a set of beliefs but has been found to have slipped from them. A man who talks about honesty but lied about his used car, a woman who condemns adultry but once slept around, and so on. This, IMO, is not a big deal on the scale of things - certainly, people can make mistakes, and the fact that the person in question slipped up doesn’t invalidate what they say.

OTOH, you have people who say one thing but consistently do something else. For example, gun control proponents who routinely use guns to protect themselves, preachers who routinely visit prostitutes, the ‘honest abe’ politician who commonly takes bribes, etc. This, IMO, is a very bad thing because it shows a fundamental dishonesty and not just a minor imperfection. If the outspoken environmentalist talks about turning all unused housing into low-income housing, but fights having laws passed that would apply them to his own unused buildings, then it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying, which means that you should not put him into a position to do what he says he’ll do (say, electing him to office) since it’s clear that he won’t actully do it. It’s also quite reasonable to quesition whatever arguments this type of hypocrite makes; if he really believed what he was saying, he would at least attempt to live by those principles, and if he doesn’t believe his own argument, you should be skeptical.

Comradegonzo, I’d go with the opposite position in your post. If both people in question are going to do bad things (by your assumptions), but one of them is honest about it and the other claims that he’ll do good things but is going to be nearly as bad as the other, I would chose the one who honestly is going to do bad things. At least I know what his motivations are, and what I can expect from him - while all I can expect from the other guy is a good cover story followed by whatever appeals to him at the moment. (I didn’t vote for either of them in actuality either, so…) This is one of the things I always liked about retiring senator Jesse Helms; while I can’t stand a number of his political positions, he does actually believe them and consistently votes based on them.

I would argue that all ‘evil’ stems from hypocrisy. I mean how hypocritical is it to kill people for a cause when the cause itself is not logically consistent? The examples used here have been about logically ‘consistent’ thoughts matched against an opposing behavior. The root of observed hypocracy is clearly in the behavior; all of this traces back to the thoughts such a being holds.

Instead of schizophrenics being ‘witches’, they have a determinism of chemical origin which can be altered in the brain to change the internal reality of that person. Understanding of those in the future redeems the evils of those in the past. I seriously am of the opinion that to intentionally kill a human being under any circumstance; is cognitive dementia. To go over to the White House and yell at GW does about as good as yelling at someone with downs syndrome for not doing discreet calculus. The guy cannot process complex abstract logical forms and symbols fast enough to comprehend his hypocrisy in real time. There is a critical mass with processing speed which basically creates two types of human beings… the latter being those who reach that critical mass. They represent approx. 1/1,000,000 of the population. This is not about straight IQ, which is basically a memory recall/memory retention test - but about processing speed, bandwidth, nerve density and the like. Many have short term memory that is so phenomenal that they haven’t developed long-term memory well at all; and basically operate wholly from short-term memory - carrying all their stacks in primary memory at the same time; and modifying the entire logical consistency of those stacks in real-time. It’s a lot different than those who use large portions of long term memory to operate in the world.
Those who rely on long-term memory are not going to be processing all their stacks simultaneously; and upgrading them simultaneously with their input – basically, they don’t have much access to the data that shows an inconsistency. They will by nature be hypocritical. It’s one thing to rant in here about hypocrites; but a more realistic approach IMO is to let them be. Non-hypocrites are a vast minority in the population sector… education can help; but even so, you cannot wave a magic wand and increase the processing speeds of the population majority to critical mass. To walk in a room and tell a bunch of people who think that they are adults, that your one mind renders all of theirs irrelevant; does not go over very well. Once a person can frame personality strutures and simulate them without ever needing to ‘log’ them off, individual and meta-personalities become integrated in such a way as to make almost anyone appear like a robot. Unfortunately, that is the last idea most individuals want to be confronted with. People like to think that they are important more than anything; unfortunately those with slow processing speeds require hypocrisy to achieve these means. In this sense, truth can get someone in quite a bit of trouble socially.


But the problem with hypocracy is that it is rather like an intent-based lie. Whereas a normal lie simply obscures one’s immediate feeling or previous action, hypocracy takes the more general form of hiding an unwanted (social or contextual) tendency behind a pretence of normalcy, or something approaching normalcy.

In this, an open society which reinforces approval literally begs people to be hypocrites, for they obviously have something to gain by their deciet: approval, promotion, election, etc.; and yet also get the gain of being evil: kickbacks, property, prosperity, a sense of belonging without the actual effort it takes to belong. A meritocracy with a deeply social element clearly promotes the hypocrite (undetected) above all others.

As such, I must ask myself: if this is the social construct I like, and it so well promotes hypocracy, am I a hypocrite for condeming hypocracy? The very essence of the style of interaction I desire and support lends itself better to hypocrites than to honest folk with differing opinions!

Well, enough with paradox. Hypocrites undermine open discourse by bringing in an element of subtle paranoia at best, and rampant distrust at worst. As such, they affect more than evil because a fear of suspecting hypocrites brings even honest men under suspicion.

Of course, the same conclusion as the n+h method, but hopefully more concise. :smiley:

Witholding a certain opinion or action based on covert benefit, where trust is being violated against the ‘implied’ will of another being…

It takes a hypocritical person to engage in this activity. You idealize this charachter as if they have some sort of intelligence. It requires ‘zero’ intelligence to violate trust. The fact that you are going to ‘win’ is so self-explanitory as to seem rediculous… it’s astonishing that some people are so deficient that even when they do violate trust and stack the deck in their favor; they still lose.

You still need to be cognitively deficient to excecute hypocrisy. Just because you can layer that perspective with a: “I’m doing it for a ‘smart’ reason.” , does not make that person non-hypocritical. This person still does not possess the intelligence to process non-hypocrisy. Much of this is in regards to knowledge as well…

A person who wants to save the animals by making everyone vegitarian seems to be logically consistent! When you open up the system one layer further, you realize that 30% of the human population can only metabolize fat and protien for efficient nutrient and energy metabolism. Without a constant stream of meats, they will die a most horrible death from hyper-alkalinity. A person who champions vegetarianism for all people ‘fanatically’; ironically, is most likely suffering from hyper-alkilinity, and is deluded under the psychosis and magical thinking which accompanies this state in it’s middle stage. How many times have you heard the joke about the workers in the health food store that looked like the walking dead? It is more than mere coincidence… some body types will gorge on the food they are most allergic too; to maintain euphoric states from adrenochrome…

Hypocrisy is a luxury of raw processing speed and power; the rest of the population needs to be educated for their long term memories… somehow they need to be convinced of what non-hypocracy is (sometimes just by faith - which basically nobody has); since many times they can’t hold enough mental stacks to process it all at once. This is a serious problem in regards to morality… not many people are smart enough to be moral.


I meant “non-hypocracy” at the beginning of the last paragraph.


I don’t see why it takes zero intelligence to violate trust.

In game theory; the person violating trust is using a different set of rules and often times a different objecvtive. Let’s take “pin-the-tail-on -the-donkey” … you have a blindfold secured over your eye to play the game. Now, if I raised an objection that I cannot see to defend myself against a potential attacker with a blindfold on… the observation will most likely be mocked and teased. So I put it on and people start to hit me and call me stupid for allowing the blindfold to be put on.

It’s a kinda corny analogy, but the first that came to mind… the general idea pertains to all situations of trust. Violating trust relies on non-transparency, deciet, lying, role-playing… for a benefit that could not have been aquired using a transparent means. It’s akin to having 2 saved games in an Zelda and one friend has a game-shark while the other is just playing it regularly… or putting monopoly money up your sleeve, or killing your best friend of 50 years out of the blue. It requires ‘zero’ intelligence and ‘zero’ skill. The amount of intelligence required to potentially defend against trust violation is exponential, and at certain thresholds unrealistic.


I think pointing out hypocrisy is too often used as an excuse to dismiss an argument out of hand that would otherwise be worth discussing or thinking about. It’s a kind of ad hominem in that respect.

I often ran into this debating tactic when I used to be more involved in animal rights. Instead of debating any actual ethics, many people just asked me a barrage of questions about my personal habits until they found an inconsistency and then equated this with “winning the debate” when actually no real discussion had taken place at all.

This example isn’t meant to suggest that the hypocrisy tactic is favored by people on a particular side of the political spectrum, it’s just where I encountered it. I try to avoid bringing hypocrisy up in (serious) discussions because I think it’s usually just an excuse to avoid a close examination of your own beliefs and behavior by focusing totally on somebody else. Particularly as everybody is a hypocrite at one time or another.

So yes, although it’s a pretty bad thing, I think spending too much time looking for it can be a form of blinders, protecting you from points of view too far from your own.


It seems to me that to mantain existence itself requires intelligence. Add to that the facade that the hypocrite mantains and it seems to me that a hypocrite, uncaught, uses more intelligence than just being “evil”, “good”, or “normal”. Of course, an ousted hypocrite couldn’t keep up the farce, but that, to me, doesn’t require that we say the person was acting unintelligently.