Hypocrisy is the respect vice pays virtue. – La Rochefoucauld
Hypocrisy is essentially an action where one pretends to hold clear and recognized set of values or attitudes but actually doesn’t. Despite choosing vice, the hypocrite understands that virtue is superior and assumes its facade. Therefore, the hypocrite is not being dishonest about good or evil, but rather himself.
Hypocrisy in all forms (classic, collective, external or internal) consists of the following: a tension exists between a person’s intention to do something and their judgment that act is wrong. In order to avoid the tension, the judgment is either suppressed or descriptions are used to detach the judgment from the intended action. This avoidance of tension allows a person to maintain their judgment and apply it at other times, while acting against it on certain times – acting hypocritically. The mechanisms of this behavior are essentially deceptions, therefore hypocrisy is a form of deception. Deception and self-deception both consists of the following: distortion of the reflective process, or the attempt to deceive one’s own conscience.
Self-deception as hypocrisy
When hypocrisy includes an element of self-deception, it turns into bad faith. Bad faith is both a negation or the denial of oneself, and a falsity or self-deception. I already said that because self-deception is the pendulum between good faith and cynicism, sincerity is the pendulum between self-deception and hypocrisy. Since self-deception is nigh omnipresent, then a choice made in good faith only capture a momentary wink of a constantly fluctuating reality.
Humility as hypocrisy
Humility is generally judged as a virtuous, but it seems the case that it is visible only in contrast to an opposite value that actually exists. If a person exemplifies arrogance in contrast to another person, then that second person is judged as humble. Without the presence of the arrogant person, the other person would not have any moral advantage. Since humility exists only as a function of its opposite, then it has no ethical merit. The arrogant person is merely an instrument used by the humble person to gain the benefits of heaven. And that is the height of hypocrisy.
Regarding humility, it is the repression of pride by a deeper pride hidden within oneself. Miguel Unamuno asks us to observe the precautions a professionally humble person takes in order to avoid turning their humility into arrogance.
Prudery as hypocrisy
Seneca said “prudery proceeds either from vanity or hypocrisy.” Since self-esteem is the root of all desire or intention, then prudery must come from hypocrisy alone. We all think about sex, and we discuss it in secret, but publicly pretend to know nothing about it or deny that we ever think about such depraved things. The most publicly polite people I know are also the most vulgar in private company. Schopenhauer astutely said that sex is the “ever ready material for a joke because the profoundest seriousness lies at its root.” Pornographic material continue to flourish, despite the best efforts of hypocritical people, blinded by their exaggerated prurience, advertising their own moral superiority in their attempts to suppress it and patronize everyone with uptight propriety. Worse yet, innuendo and bawdy humor are given a pass, but once sex is studied in a scientific way or analyzed, out come the Moral Majority. The suppression of such material and prevention of knowledge in the circulation of prudery and vice are actually the chief cause of the so-called “evils” they pretend to wage war against.
Virtue of hypocrisy
As children we are ourselves – spontaneous, sincere, and unpretentious. But growing up, through social conditioning, we acquire a “mask” and as we become more sophisticated, this mask becomes more integrated in our character. The mask is successfully grafted on the character and we are socially disguised from one another in many ways – the stoic expressionless one or the friendly expression one.
However, we’re all self-aware beings, and if there’s a discrepancy between the role we play and our inner selves, then our consciousness will alienate the social self by condemning it as inauthentic. The social mask becomes a convenience that hides the fundamental self. The social or false self that hides the true self becomes established after a long time, and others accept it as the genuine article. Whenever we try to hide our true feelings, then the best move is to expose it, and that appears quite out of character that others will not recognize it and summarily dismiss it.
That means there are two selves that have equal claims to authenticity: the social mask and the inner self. Once we become aware of playing a part then we leave ourselves open to the charge of hypocrisy.
The original Greek term hypocrite is derived from means “to play a part.” Miguel Unamuno claims that hypocrisy used to mean a comedian or an actor, particularly in early Greek drama. Thus a hypocrite originally referred to a person who played a role without feeling it. Either one plays a role and is emotionally present or involved, and thus committed to it, or he is self-conscious and detached from it. That led to the evaluation that commitment to a role was sincere, and privileged over detachment. Once sincerity became a value judgment, that transformed hypocrisy from a psychological issue to an ethical one.
But that leads to the possibility of a hypocrite who actually feel the role that they’re playing in, and some may like to be what they pretend at. Hypocrisy can become an authentic mode of existence, by starting out to pretending to be, as long the fragments that splinter the self-conscious mind are brought under control. When persona is the personage in play, and the personage is endorsed by the self to be the actual personality, then the self-consciousness no longer splinters the personality. An actor that remains self-conscious in his role will stand apart from the play, and accuse himself. But when the actor and the person is successfully blended, his hypocrisy and personality in unison, then self-consciousness is suspended and the only thing left is the personality and the act. The best hypocrite is also the actor who is not just dedicated to his role, but he’s forgotten that it is just a role. This lapse of memory is the secret to the disappearance of self-contemplation or reflective self, no longer wrapped up within itself, and he is no longer estranged from the other fragments of his ego.