Sunday, April 25, 2010

We're all hypocrites.

"Homo hypocritus" is a model of human behavior proposed by Robin Hanson (on his blog, Overcoming Bias, which often has thought-provoking observations about the quirks of human thought and behavior).

As Hanson puts it, a "large fraction of modern behavior is explained by our evolved capacities and tendencies to pretend to do X while really doing Y."

He gives this example: "Forager norms cut overt Y of dominance, bragging, sub-coalitions." This would explain why political candidates habitually declare, "This is not about me!" By definition, a political campaign is about the candidate, and they surely know this. But they also know that admitting this would be against their interests.

Hypocrisy is so fundamental to human nature that I would suggest it's not very productive to try to seek out, expose, and shame those who are guilty of it. The taboo against hypocrisy leads people to come up with convoluted and unconvincing rationales for why, for instance, there's no inconsistency in being a vegetarian without being a vegan. The more useful approach would be to admit that there is an inconsistency but explain why it's preferable to other ways of eating/living that are also inconsistent. I imagine that a lot of benefits would result if it were more socially acceptable to admit that we're all hypocrites.

UPDATE: This post was "featured" on Brazen Careerist. In the comments section over there, Jamie Nacht Farell makes an ironic confession:

[H]ypocrisy is probably the one constant in my personality as I've changed through the years.


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