September 25th, 2007


Aspire to Hypocrisy

A brief conversation in Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age has been on my mind recently:

"You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices," Finkle-McGraw said. "It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, you are not allowed to criticise others -- after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?"

"Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others' shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever of his behaviour -- you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception -- he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."

"That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code," Major Napier said, working it through, "does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code."

This is in the context of listening to people who criticize others for "hypocrisy" but who ought to, in my own estimation aspire to hypocrisy -- at least then they would espouse a moral code worth having, even if they don't live up to it, instead of having a poisonous moral code that isn't worth having, but is easy to live up to. There are inferior moral codes. Many of them arise from simply taking ONE principle of morality, declaring it to be all of morality, (you should HEAR those who insist that honesty and authenticity are the whole of moral behavior talk!), and then condemning those with a broader spectrum of moral intuitions as hypocrites because they don't live up to their own moral codes, while simultaneously acting like a pig elsewhere.
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Link of Interest

A List Called "Things I Know"


37. The first time someone asks you a question and then interrupts during the answer — from that point onward, you are best off smiling, nodding, and suddenly remembering you have something you need to go away and do.

65. Against all expectations, one of my most reliable ways for picking out “independent thinkers” in a world where so many desire that distinction, is this: They blaze their own trail only when it makes sense to do so. Others seem to want to build a better mousetrap whenever they’re being watched.

78. If someone is constantly criticizing you and seems to want to cut you down, you should allow for the possibility that they love you and have a large vision for you. If the criticism is dealt before an audience, you can safely exclude that as a possibility because the sonofabitch is out to burn you after all.

Worth a look.