Politicians are charged with acting on our behalf, to make laws to protect us and serve our needs. They are also generally expected to lie routinely. When did our society become so tolerant of hypocrisy?
We’re probably all guilty of petty hypocrisies—false contrition when chastised, simulated sympathy for someone’s loss, fake joy over someone’s success, sham acceptance of someone’s opinion, a pretense of respect for someone for whom we have none. Such dishonesty may be sometimes necessary for getting along in society, where truthfulness can sometimes cause distress.
But accepted hypocrisy is fertile ground for those who would take advantage of others. The entrepreneur who makes a show of social consciousness because it’s good for business, false prophets whose true religion is the accrual of personal power, lawyers working to hide deadly malfeasance, the moral crusader caught with his pants down—these characters have become so common that we shrug at their public exposure and move on to the next headline.
What are the limits of our acceptance of hypocrisy? Do we tolerate it because we’re ashamed of our own little white lies? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: If we are so inured to hypocrisy’s pervasive presence, can we still detect it?