April 29, 2011
The idea of denouncing hypocrites seems to be that we are all scumbags and should get on with the business of marinating in squalor without ever feeling guilty about it. This is the mental trapeze act modern people use to feel superior to, say, Victorians or Mormons. But Victorian culture was morally, intellectually, and sartorially superior to our own decadent civilization. Moderns comfort themselves with the fact that the Victorians were unarguably hypocrites. I’d rather people hypocritically try to behave like non-scumbags like the Victorians did. Yes, this involves committing other adolescent sins such as “being judgmental,” “not being cool,” and hypocrisy. Is it worth attempting the impossible feat of living a hypocrisy-free life for fear that some superannuated teenager will call you on it?
Being comfortable with hypocrisy is a sign of adulthood rather than bad character. The grownup world is complicated. Actions are contextual. People make mistakes and differ in their ability to handle difficult situations just as they differ in their ability to handle strong drink. I used to make it a habit to run around with tattooed strippers with plastic boobs, among numerous other inadvisable things of which I’m considerably less proud. The only lasting ill effects I suffered were a few scars and some mild psychological trauma. Am I a hypocrite if I tell my younger, more innocent friends to stay away from women like that, or am I a man who knows why it might be a bad idea? Grownups know that everyone has the hypocrisy cooties and that spraying yourself with hypocrisy repellent doesn’t help matters. What helps is passing on expert advice to the inexperienced. Trust me on the tattooed-stripper thing: It isn’t worth the trouble. Mostly.
Morality and the social cohesion that goes along with it are measurably rotting in America and the rest of the West, but hot damn, we’re less hypocritical about our failings now! How is this an improvement on being a hypocrite? Call me a hypocritical idealist, but it seems to me if people were more worried about being denounced as villainous wastrels with bad habits rather than hypocrites, they might behave a little better.
I’m a hypocrite in countless obvious ways. So are most people reading this. Anyone who isn’t a hypocrite is either a saint or a degenerate; either way, non-hypocrites should probably be shot on sight. Hypocrite-haters need a new vacuous argument to ease their juvenile feelings of inadequacy. I’d suggest taking up the Shakespearean insult generator and a Roget’s Thesaurus, but the effort required would likely only confuse them. The whole Holden Caulfield act was weak sauce when it got started, and it’s even more watery soup now.