The Hypocrisy Fallacy

You have probably heard it violated many times but never thought about it. It sounds so convincing that an attempt to refute the charge of “hypocrite” is just a waste of time. However, this charge gets used so much that now there it has been accepted to misuse it.  Allow me to explain.

Jeb Bush is against the use of marijuana. Jeb also admitted to having smoked marijuana. For this example it doesn’t matter if he inhaled or not, how many pounds he smoked, lets just assume he was a marijuana fanatic.

First, calling someone a “hypocrite” is a pretty safe bet. As fallible human beings we engage in hypocrisy more regularly than we think. In our day to day lives we regularly live inconsistently with our personal ideals. On this alone the charge of hypocrisy isn’t as scathing as many want to believe.

In a different example what if a person does something that they are opposed to later in their lives? Does that make them a hypocrite? An example, Jeb Bush says he’s against marijuana. Jeb then admits to using marijuana as a youth. Does this make him a hypocrite?  Rand Paul says yes. Paul explains, “I think that’s the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people, who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that,”

I’m afraid I don’t follow. It sounds like Paul is saying hypocrisy is a person changing their mind. According to Paul people who see their pot smoking during adolescence as a mistake are not allowed to take a stand against it or they become hypocritical. Does this mean that I am to hold to my system of ethics that I held as a teenager or become a hypocrite? I did many rotten things as a teen that I don’t want me kids to do. Does that make me a hypocrite?

The answer is no. We can’t throw that term around any time we want and hope that it sticks. Hypocrisy can only take place when a persons actions are inconsistent with their present beliefs. In Jeb’s case he subscribed to one set of beliefs and found them to be detrimental so he adopted a new set of beliefs.  Now if Jeb came out against marijuana then later went out and smoked the duchi that would be hypocrisy.

Now here is a case where we can call Jeb a hypocrite. If Jeb held to the belief that marijuana was bad but opted not to respond consistently with that message that would be grounds for us to call him a hypocrite.   In this case he would believe one thing but his behavior would show us something else. That is a classic case of hypocrisy.

In closing, we all have our bouts with hypocrisy. However, in order to call someone out their current belief must be inconsistent with their current behavior. It isn’t enough to call out their hypocrisy when their belief negates their behavior in the past when their beliefs were different.

But maybe not. Tell me what you think.


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