Avast, Ye Hypocrite! (Pt. 1)

One of my favorite sources of amusement is observing the way certain “fancy” words and concepts become widely misapplied by people with intellectual pretensions. For instance, I track misuses of “begging the question” for fun and profit.

Ok, not actually for profit. No one pays me for this shit.

Anyway, I’ve noticed another frequently misapplied term that, beyond being a little amusing, seems to actively interfere with a lot of people’s cognition and therefore with their ability to navigate the political landscape, even when applied accurately: hypocrite.

I grew up hearing endless hounding on the hypocrisy of the left from conservative talk radio. I read dozens of books documenting the many ways in which the Democrats are the real [insert bad thing here]. And yeah, ok, fair enough.

But at some point, after hypocrisy has gone on for so long, don’t you start to wonder if maybe you’re just missing something?

I suspect that the nature of cognition all but compels humans to act according to some set of basic beliefs. Sure, there’s some fuzziness around the edges, but in general we have guiding principles. Not pie-in-the-sky abstract conceptions of ultimate virtue that we articulate but largely implicit conceptualizations of how we ought to behave that govern our actual actions.

The danger, then, of harping on hypocrisy is that it tends to make us stop. When we notice a disconnect between words and action, we for some reason think we’re done. Case closed! QED.

That blinds us to the implicit principle being applied and eliminates our ability to predict the behavior of those we dismiss as hypocrites. That puts us in an extremely weak position, sometimes even a dangerous one.

Most people can’t articulate why they do what they do. But that does not imply that there is no principle underlying their actions. It only means that analyzing speech is not the best way to derive the principle.

Maybe that’s why no one on the left seems to care that Conservatism Inc. has spent half a century and millions of dollars screeching “Hypocrites! Hypocrites all!” at them. Or maybe it’s deeper than that. Maybe the hypocrisy is the principle.

When your model isn’t predictive, you throw it out and make a new one. When you can’t make heads or tails of why women are the special darlings of the left one week and then thrown under the bus (literally) for Muslims the next week, your method for understanding the left patently sucks. Find a new one.

The hypocrisy model isn’t predictive for the left, and the tactic isn’t effective for the right. Which explains why Conservatism Inc. keeps on and on and on with this approach. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide what possible benefit might accrue to politicians and think tanks that continue to lose the culture war year after year after year.

Happy modeling,

S. Misanthrope