Michael Brendan Dougherty: The book is called In Defense of Hypocrisy. Why does hypocrisy need a defense from you?
Jeremy Lott: Hypocrisy needs to be defended because no one seems willing to do it. I’d been defending it for years and it was one of those put up or shut up moments. The publisher came to me and said ‘So you’ve been defending it for years. Why not a book about it?’ And I said laughingly, “You get me a contract and I will write that book for you.” And he did.
MBD: If you are defending hypocrisy, why does your first chapter seem to attack liberals for their denunciation of Bill Bennett’s gambling?
JL: It came to light a few years ago that Bill Bennett spent millions of dollars on video poker in the high roller rooms. The media cried that he was a hypocrite because this was ‘Mr. Virtue’ and here was evidence of his hypocrisy — even though he had never said: ‘Don’t gamble.’ He had been pretty open about his gambling in the past. So the Washington Monthly broke the story jointly with Newsweek about this. And the frame they used for it was “hypocrisy” which is very common in journalism. If you are morally high minded and you want to talk about an issue then you use hypocrisy as a way of framing it, even when it is not there. Even though I defend hypocrisy, I don’t think Bell Bennett was being hypocritical. It’s such a good example of how our obsession with hypocrisy works in exactly the wrong ways. They wanted to silence this guy, and they thought that if they could prove he was hypocritical he would have to shut up and never hold forth on moral issues again. If they could have made it stick with enough force, shame takes hold at some point and people tend to shut up. The problem is, you see that process replicating itself over and over again in American culture. It produces a bare-bones, lowest common denominator morality that isn’t sustainable.
MBD: What were some of the example of hypocrisy in pop culture that you discussed?
JL: Obviously, Britney Spears was charged with hypocrisy quite often, because she went from being a young, fairly wholesome, mouseketeer, Baptist girl whose first video had her in regulation Catholic school girl uniform dancing with a bunch of people, to you know, Britney Spears. There was a lot of anger about that. I’m not defending all she did. But again, it’s an inhuman charge that doesn’t make allowances for the fact that people change. Britney was offered over a million dollars to pose for Playboy nude and she turned them down. Maybe there was just some line she didn’t feel comfortable crossing anymore. One little bit of that morality took hold. It’s not great. but it’s something.
MBD: Isn’t that the whole thesis of your book? That we’re not great, but . . .
JL: We are not great. We are horribly flawed — just as a rule. You can either be flawed and exult in that flawedness. Or you can try and do better. One of the ways is to act like you are virtuous even if you are not always virtuous and that is hypocrisy.
MBD: How does hypocrisy interact with religion in our culture?
JL: That’s interesting. The person who made hypocrisy into what it is today is Jesus. The word for hypocrite in his time was the word for ‘actor.’ Jesus when he started railing against religious leaders he didn’t like, he called them ‘actors’ and talked about how they needed to live these things as well as say them. He did this with such force and vehemence that it is really hard to think about hypocrisy positively since. Religious people tend to be on the receiving end of many accusations of hypocrisy. The thing is, Jesus said some interesting things that today’s anti-hypocrites wouldn’t know what to do with. He talked about the teachers of the law. ‘They’re fakes. They’re phonies. They’re actors. But listen to them carefully. Listen to what they say, but don’t act how they privately act.’ And that is so different from the people who are aligned against hypocrisy today.
If you are hypocrite in today’s culture you have no standing to speak about any of these things. Jesus would say “You’re nuts, of course they have standing to talk about these things. They just have to do them as well.”
MBD: By defending hypocrisy do you expose it to further attacks and undermine the very reason you wrote the book?
JL: (Laughing) We’ll see. I was shocked this book hadn’t been written. I looked in vain to find this book and decided that it needed to be written. You have essays in defense of hypocrisy but they don’t really do what I wanted to do with this book — which is lay out to as large an audience as possible in as presentable a form as possible, why hypocrisy is a force for good.
MBD: Would you say that hypocrisy is a force personal good or just a social good in maintaining public standards?
JL: It is definitely a force for social good. It does help create and maintain certain standards. Parents have to practice a good deal of hypocrisy around their children at certain times in order to model things to them. The social and the personal collide there. There is a great line from Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle. One of the characters says “We are what we pretend to be, so we must take care what we pretend to be.” If you are pretending to be a virtuous person, you don’t want to be found out so you will limit a lot of those private behaviors and it will constrain you over time and hopefully put you in the right direction.
MBD: What is the most tendentious response you have gotten when someone found out you were writing a book defending hypocrisy?
JL: There was a lot of shock and disbelief when I was in the writing stages. Now, I don’t know. One of the problems I have had that could be a real killer of sales is that almost everybody who has read it has loved it. And in order to generate some controversy I’m going to need a few haters. Hopefully I’ll get some. I attack some anti-hypocrites.
Michael Kinsley is a guy who comes to mind as an anti-hypocrite. Perhaps he’ll respond. The New Republic had this interesting thing on their site. The previous editor, Peter Beinart, had a long letter to potential readers of The New Republic talking about how one of their key values was attacking hypocrisy. And that’s one of the reasons The New Republic is such a horrible magazine. (Laughs)
MBD: What’s next after defending hypocrisy?
JL: I think I’m going to write a history of the Vice Presidency. Call it: hypocrisy in action.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl