Several Republican politicians and supporters who have been vocal advocates of ‘family values’ with its condemnation of homosexuality have recently been found to engage in homosexual acts. For this, they have been charged with hypocrisy.
Time Magazine had an article, " The Psychology of Hypocrisy" this morning explaining why ‘hypocrisy’ might not be the appropriate charge to make in this case This article argued that it would be more accurate to accuse these people with ‘moral weakness’.
The difference is that hypocrisy itself is a moral crime – something to be condemned. Moral weakness, on the other hand, is something that all of us suffer from to some extent. If we were to condemn the morally weak the way we condemn the hypocritical, then we would all have to condemn ourselves. So, we tend to forgive the morally weak. They, at least, understand the wrongness of their actions, even though they have a hard time living up to their ideals.
This does not imply that moral condemnation is not warranted in case of moral weakness. The difference is that moral weakness is not a separate moral crime. The person who lies when placed in an uncomfortable situation, or who pockets the money he finds in a lost wallet, is not condemned once for the lie and once for the moral weakness. However, the person who excuses his own lies while condemning the lies of others under similar circumstances deserves not only condemnation for the lie, but separate condemnation for the hypocrisy with which he lies.
The idea that everybody is morally weak to some extent is not the claim that none of us deserve condemnation as a result, but a claim that all of us will deserve some moral condemnation throughout our lives. Some will deserve significantly more than others.
Of course, in the case of these Republicans, we introduce another complication, homosexual acts are not necessarily immoral. They can be – just the way that driving a car can be immoral when one drives recklessly or with an intent to do harm. However, there is nothing in their nature that makes them necessarily acts that a person with good desires would not perform.
In this case, the agents believed (wrongly) that homosexual acts are immoral. When speaking, they stated their beliefs. However, this belief that homosexuality is wrong did not change their desires, and their desires still motivated them to engage in homosexual acts.
Desire utilitarianism allows for an easy accounting of moral weakness. A right act is an act that a person with good desires will perform. However, the act that any given agent would perform at any instant is that act that would best fulfill his desires, given his beliefs. Unless the agent actually has good desires, and has each desire at its best strength, we are going to find difference between the way an agent acts and the way an agent should act. I think it is safe to say that no person will have all of the right desires in all of the right strengths, so we are all going to morally fail to some extent. Only, some will fail more than others.
Many drunk drivers, drug addicts, child abusers, thieves, shoplifters, and the like are people who know that their actions are wrong – that a good person would not do these things. They need not (in fact, they almost certainly have not) expressed that wrongness in desire utilitarian terms. Yet, they still know that the actions are wrong. Yet, they perform the action anyway, because their desire not to do that which is wrong is weaker than whatever desire is motivating the action they know to be wrong.
The drunk driver who campaigns against drunk driving may well be somebody who knows that drunk driving is wrong and know that it is important for society to take steps to condemn it. In fact, as he campaigns for tougher laws against drunk driving, he may well think, “I must make the laws strong enough so that they will cause even me to think twice about violating them, so that I can end this destructive and contemptible behavior I engage in.” This is not a hypocrite. This is someone who finds himself with desires that motivate him to perform actions that he knows a good person would not perform.
I have often used the charge of ‘hypocrisy’ against others. However, I have not used the term to mean merely that a person performs an act that he condemns. Rather, I have used the term to refer to those who hold a double standard. A hypocrite not only does things he condemns, but he hold an act to be acceptable when he does it that he condemns when he catches somebody else doing it.
One of my best examples of hypocrisy these days comes from liberals who insist that America withdraw from Iraq. Many of them condemn Bush for intellectual recklessness in supporting the war in Iraq. Some call him an outright liar, but others are willing to assert that he told the truth, but recklessly determined what to believe. At the very least, they recklessly believed that the Iraq invasion would be over quickly and have a very low cost.
These anti-war liberals think that the policy of withdrawing troops from Iraq will also have a very low cost. They speak about withdraw as if it could not possibly have any adverse affects. There is one affect that I am relatively certain it will have. It will allow al-Queida recruiters to claim, “God is with us. We have defeated the infidels,” which will substantially increase their recruiting and funding efforts. The most important factor in any conflict has never been the size of the army, or the sophistication of their equipment, but the morale of the soldiers. Military leaders will tell you that to win a war you do not need to destroy the enemy, you simply need to destroy their will to fight.
Anti-war liberals are conveniently ignoring these facts because it does not support their policy. They are engaging in the same type of intellectual recklessness that the Bush Administration engaged in at the start of the war. These people assert that the Bush Administration is morally culpable for not checking its assumptions, while these people express no moral objection to check their own assumptions.
This would be hypocrisy.
Why is this distinction important?
Well, if a machine is broken, and you have false beliefs about what is wrong with it, chances are this will make it more difficult (if not impossible) to fix the machine. On the other hand, if you know what is wrong with it, you will be more likely to find a solution that addresses the actual problem.
Condemning these incidents as hypocrisy simply means that agents should put more effort into making sure that their behavior conforms to their own moral standards. As I suggested above, one of the things some of these agents might have been trying to do is to strengthen society’s condemnation of homosexuality so that it might have a stronger affect on their own behavior, and they would commit fewer sins – simply because the opportunity to do so would be lessened.
This does not actually fix the problem. In fact, since homosexual acts are not wrong in themselves, this makes the problem worse.
On the other hand, if we get the moral diagnosis correct, we will say that to these Republicans that they have been twice harmed. First, because of the deception that was fed to them when they were children and too young to think for themselves, they have grown up to be people devoted to activities that are harmful to others. Their chance to be good people who have made a positive contribution to society is greatly diminished. Second, because the list of people whose lives are being turned upside down by these false moral claims are their own.
You are not a bad person just because you want to have sex with somebody of the same gender. You are a bad person because you want to do things that are harmful to others. Now, take a good look at your life. Of all of the things that you have done with your life, where were you and what were you doing when you were making the lives of others worse than those lives could have been?
Those people who have been dead for 2000 years were as much in the dark about the moral universe as they were about the scientific universe, and holding them up as the model of moral perfection is not only insane, it is harmful – it turns otherwise good people such as yourself into people who harm not only others, but people who harm even themselves.
So, quit devoting your energies to policies that harm people who you know are not hurting anybody, and start going after the people who are doing real harm. If you do that, you might actually accomplish the good that you want to accomplish.
I do not epect this type of claim to convince the person it is aimed at. That person will probably continue along his or her chosen path out of inertia alone. However, if this is said loud enough and often enough, somebody would hear it who will actually ask himself, "Do I really have good reason to make others merable by supporting this type of legislation? Is this, perhaps, really another ancient moral mistake?"
As the cultural attitude shifts, then perhaps fewer politicians will feel the need to pursue these types of policies, or think that they are electable when their campaign promise is to do harm to others in the name of God.