The Mathematical Case for Hypocrisy

John Allen Paulos in Slate: present political and cultural climate seems to have led to an intensifying of the natural human tendency to hurl charges of hypocrisy at one another. Rather than partaking in this pleasant activity and pointing to the many current instances of political or personal hypocrisy, I’d like here to offer a partial defense of the notion.

Hypocrisy thrives on black-or-white, either-or thinking. Once we accept such dichotomies, we naturally look for the apostasies and hypocrisies of benighted people on the wrong side of the ethical or cognitive tracks but rarely for real understanding.

I have received my share of emails, for example, from people who have written (actually screeched in capital letters) that I’m a hypocrite because of some article, book, or column of mine that, let’s say, recommended a cost-benefit analysis of something they, and they thought I, held sacrosanct.

Conventional understandings would suggest that I hold liberal positions on most issues, but I’ve known many “liberals,” myself included, as well as many “conservatives” whose private actions and beliefs on some issues were on the opposite end of a spectrum (assuming that there is such a thing as a spectrum) from their public ones. As such, they are often judged to be hypocritical. Examples might be environmentalists who don’t recycle, libertines who rail against porn, gun-control advocates who have an arsenal of high-powered weapons in their basements, “pro-family” people with several marriages under their belts, etc. Are these people necessarily hypocritical, as commentators and biographers might be strongly tempted to say, or is it just easier to note their apparent conflicts than it is with other less “well-defined” people?

More here.