Is this person a hypocrite?
November 21, 2020 11:45 AM   Subscribe

A thought experiment: Person L is a left wing random citizen who thinks of himself as a science oriented progressive/humanist and believes we should wear masks. Person R is a right wing public figure who thinks covid is something close to a hoax and no reason to change behavior.

L would be quite pleased if R or a close family member thereof with similar beliefs contracts the disease with severe symptoms, possibly dying. At the same time, L would never in a million years, even in secret, turn the switch that causes R to contract the disease and, situation allowing, would go out of his way to help R or keep R out of harms way.

Where does L fall on the moral spectrum? Is L a hypocrite?
posted by Kevin S to Religion & Philosophy (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
By itself, hypocrisy is not a very serious charge, imho.

L is a human being, and subject to human failings like all others. L can experience & enjoy schadenfreude. L should probably choose wisely with whom they share some of their less-charitable thoughts, but from the description I don’t see much that’s blameworthy in L’s conduct.
posted by rd45 at 11:50 AM on November 21 [7 favorites]

Unless L had the power of decision over R, such as when and where R works and under what conditions, and chose to endanger R to teach them a lesson, then no.
posted by zadcat at 12:03 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]

A hypocrite is a faker, someone claiming to be something publicly, which they are not.

Is L claiming they would not pull the switch, but secretly would? If so (or vice versa), then yes.
But from what you wrote, they don't sound hypocritical. (Maybe other moral failings, but not hypocrisy).
posted by kidbritish at 12:03 PM on November 21 [6 favorites]

Perhaps the categorical imperative comes into play here. (More or less, in my paraphrased version that actual philosophers might argue with, "act in such a way that if everyone did the same it would be consistent with the world you want to live in.")

You can actively want some individual to die but recognize that living in a world where people don't feel free to kill those they want to die makes the world a better place for you. That doesn't seem like hypocrisy to me. Even if you try to save them and then cheer when the effort fails.
posted by eotvos at 12:03 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]

yes, of course.

is it a worse failing than others (for example is it worse than R's refusal to change her behavior because she's being told to?) Well, it is one thing to mind your own business and act according to your beliefs, which is what R is doing*. It is another to claim moral and intellectual high ground, announcing to all and sundry that you are humanist, progressive, scientific, etc., while actually hoping that people who don't agree with you die.

*I am assuming that R is not refusing to wear a mask when in contact with people who have not agreed to that.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:03 PM on November 21

Merriam-Webster says hipocrisy is:

a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not : behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel

especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion

posted by aniola at 12:05 PM on November 21

There's no hypocrisy or contradiction in those views.

One can recognize that their perception of a person should not drive public policy or personal actions. Quite the opposite - it demonstrates a lot of maturity to recognize that one's self is subject to emotion and opinion, but that they are able to overcome those feelings and act humanely to another person.
posted by saeculorum at 12:05 PM on November 21 [8 favorites]

"One reason why we don’t kill is because we are not used to it. I never killed anybody, but I have done just the same thing. I have had a great deal of satisfaction over many obituary notices that I have read. I never got into the habit of killing. I could mention the names of many that it would please me if I could read their obituaries in the paper in the morning." --- Clarence Darrow.

Darrow was, of course, a famous opponent of the death penalty, despite having come into contact with, and even defended, some truly monstrous people. No hypocrite.
posted by SPrintF at 12:12 PM on November 21 [12 favorites]

I wouldn't say L is a hypocrite at all.

L has never claimed that people should always feel bad for others who get the virus, so there is no contradiction in them not feeling bad (or even good) in that situation.

You are sorta mixing the "progressive/humanist" with "compassionate". A progressive or a scientist has no bearing on someone's compassion. Being good doesn't need to overlap with being nice. There are people who believe that to advance a progressive agenda, that you need to deal harshly with those who oppose it.
posted by meowzilla at 12:16 PM on November 21 [14 favorites]

Hypocrisy is preaching one thing, whilst doing the opposite. Being a "science oriented progressive/humanist [who] believes we should wear masks" is not the opposite of being pleased that "a right wing public figure who thinks covid is something close to a hoax" has died of covid.

In strict terms, dying of a virus you believe to be a hoax, when there are reams of scientific and material evidence to prove otherwise, is an example of Darwinism, i.e survival of the fittest (people who refuse to believe something is dangerous when it's been proved to be dangerous beyond all reasonable doubt are less fit to survive than people who treat that thing as dangerous). Substitute "fire" or "bears" instead of covid, if that helps make the point.

Anyone who refuses to believe that bears are dangerous is more likely to die at the paws of a bear than someone who treats bears as dangerous and acts appropriately.

Thus it would be perfectly reasonable (albeit lacking compassion) for a science-oriented humanist to be pleased that Darwinism has been shown to be true, and not hypocritical at all.
posted by underclocked at 12:32 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]

If sick or dead, R will be one less person forcing and persuading other people to take risks, and if sick or dead enough the number of people they won't be infecting will likely be greater than 1. Why is the "right" thing to hope they keep doing the thing L is specifically against? Would it not be hypocrisy to hope R remains totally fine?

If L's position was specifically that COVID shouldn't kill anyone it would be hypocritical to hope it kills R, but a bus in that scenario would be fine. If L's position is that people should behave in ways that protect society as a whole from COVID, and R is not doing that, it is maybe a little petty to hope for COVID specifically, but the only non-hypocritical position is to absolutely want an outcome in which R is no longer doing that somehow.

Definitely the right action is to shrug and walk away once someone wants to die on the hill of "hypocrisy", in any case. There's no good faith there.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:33 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]

I am unaware of any ethical reason why we should wish for liars and thieves to be protected by dumb luck while others suffer because of all the lying and thieving.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:36 PM on November 21 [5 favorites]

Don't know if it should matter, but I realize that my intended scenario would be more precisely stated with the following addition:"R is of such prominence as to strongly influence the behavior of the overall population."
posted by Kevin S at 12:39 PM on November 21

There's no contradiction to saying "we should all protect the village from the wolf, it's dangerous" and hoping that your jerk neighbor who leaves out treats for the wolf gets eaten.

It's maybe mean-spirited, but it's not actually a contradiction, so it's not hypocrisy. There's nothing hypocritical about reserving sympathy for your neighbors who aren't leaving wolf snacks out.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:49 PM on November 21 [29 favorites]

L falls nowhere on the moral spectrum. Wishing is morally neutral. It has zero impact on another party.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:06 PM on November 21 [7 favorites]

Not a hypocrite from this description. Experiencing schadenfreude while being a progressive science believing humanist isn’t hypocrisy. Although he believes killing people is wrong, he also knows he can’t actually kill people with the power of his thoughts.

*I am assuming that R is not refusing to wear a mask when in contact with people who have not agreed to that.

I wouldn't assume that; the OP said R believed that no one should change their behaviour for COVID. Wearing a mask around others would be changing their behaviour for COVID.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:07 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]

No, not hypocrisy, especially with your addendum.

With your addendum, L apparently wants (prominent figure) R’s poor choices and resultant poor consequences to create a lesson for others, and by learning that lesson, L likely believes that many people will decrease their risk of sickening others or sickening and dying themselves. So L is taking precautions to keep himself and others safe and hopes that R will die of his own hubris/recklessness and therein teach many others to take precautions, too (which will presumably save their lives and others’). None of that is contradictory.

L’s logic/stance is fairly utilitarian — R is harming the public good by flouting reckless behavior, and if R dies as a consequence of that reckless behavior and implicitly teaches everyone the lesson not to behave like R, that would be good for the group as a whole. I think the most cogent moral argument against it would be that if L is trying to use R as a means to an end (R’s death teaching others a public health lesson) then L is violating the Kantian imperative that others should always be ends rather than means. But whether you find that Kantian argument persuasive or not... 🤷🏻‍♀️
posted by rue72 at 1:09 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

If L is indeed a humanist, then L is experiencing a kind of moral failing by either wishing death/harm on or welcoming the death/harm of those with whom L is opposed on what is supposed to be a medical/scientific principle, but, let's face it, is also a partisan principle.

The book "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt is not a self-help book but a pop-science book about the psychology of morality. Haidt espouses the Moral Foundations Theory, in which our morality -- which in substance are instincts that lie in our older, pre-rational brains -- was first described as a position one holds on each of five axes: compassion, fairness, purity, authority, and ingroup loyalty.

People who identify with groups on the L side of things tend to instinctively have the strongest instincts about the compassion axis and the fairness axis, as well as ingroup loyalty. People on the R side of things also have strong instincts about those things, but they are balanced with strong instincts on the axes of purity and authority.

L's compassion for R as a human being is being bullied around by L's sense of fairness. L sees themselves as different from, and irreconcilable with R because they're sooo different when in fact they are both a couple of Americans trying to do what's best for themselves and their values. And yeah, these axes, these instinct positions, are their Values. R, meanwhile, is concerned about losing authority over their own person, a position that L should be entirely sympathetic to, but isn't, because other instincts interfere when the context described.

Next time you hear, or find yourself saying, that R is voting against their own self-interest, you should try to remember that R's self-interest is living by their values, and should not be reduced to mere financial/economic benefit. Are L and R hypocrites? Are they selfish? OF COURSE THEY ARE, each on their own ways and only some of the time, and pointing it out is the smallest point one can possible score in light of one's on behavior. It's like point out that people behave differently towards their family and self than they do other people. We are animals and we are built that way; the reasoning mind isn't as reasonable as we think because it's pushed around by our animal nature. Rationalizing isn't a bad thing you sometimes do to justify your instinctive behavior-- it's the main job for which we have Reason at all.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:10 PM on November 21

L is not a hypocrite. There is no such thing as thought police. L is merely enjoying a great daydream, that with any luck, will come true. L does not have a hand in making it come true in any way.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:37 PM on November 21

If L’s definition of humanism includes the belief that all humans have value, then yes, it’s somewhat hypocritical to be pleased at the thought of someone’s potential death. But we aren’t robots. We have human feelings. It’s understandable. I have struggled some with similar feelings. My therapist’s response was, “Fortunately, The Secret is not real.”
posted by FencingGal at 1:59 PM on November 21

That's not hypocracy, it's fantasy schadenfreude.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:09 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]

If R's actions will result in excess deaths, then where should those excess deaths occur? What if L had to decide who died? Random sorting? This isn't quite how you framed things but is perhaps a similar enough thought experiment to answer the question:

If the actions of R, because of their public prominence, will influence others not to wear masks and, presumably, take other precautions then excess people will die (at least from the perspective of L and also in fact). If L wants to imagine themselves as a god-like figure, deciding which excess people will die, if excess people must die because of the actions of R, L may well decide that R should be one of those statistically inevitable people. This is an icky way to think but I don't think it is hypocritical.

Of course, it won't just be one excess death: someone's mother, father, child, etc will die - again, in some part due to the speech-actions of public figure R. If L simply had to choose, as some god-like figure, whether that was the mother, father or child of a random citizen who had tried their best to follow the science-based rules but nevertheless contracted Covid from that citizen or the mother, father or child of R, then, again, L might well decide that the family of the responsible person should not suffer a death that statistically must happen. If the first was icky, this is super-icky but, again, not hypocritical.

(Similarly, if, while arguing with R, L objects to the death penalty because "someone's kid will probably die even though they are innocent, even once" and R says "I do not care about that, I still support the death penalty because reasons" it's not hypocritical for L to say, "I still do not support the death penalty but, if you get your way and I am right, I hope it is your innocent child who is put to death and not that of someone who objects to the death penalty since at least one must.")

Now, the fact that you say L might be actively pleased at the deaths of R or a loved one of R, rather than thinking that a certain justice has been served ups the ick factor considerably but no, I still don't think it's hypocritical as such.
posted by deeker at 2:10 PM on November 21

At the very least L has a fantasy involving a life-threatening suffering crucible for a person as karmic retribution for their factually mistaken and/or politically contrary beliefs - L is fantasizing schadenfreude. It’s not exactly virtuous.
posted by floam at 2:27 PM on November 21

Sorry, on re-reading the original question, two addenda:

1. you state that the family member of R holds substantively similar views. That person might not have the same prominence and influence (hence, perhaps, culpability) but, still, if the choice of who should be sickened or die is between that relative and the relative of a person who followed the rules and tried to stay safe, L may well reach the same conclusion. (In fact, you can sharpen the moral quandary for L further by saying that R has no prominence or power to persuade. If it is R or R's mask-wearing neighbour who must die as a result of the behaviour of R and others like R, which should it be?)

2. you explicitly state that L would never 'flick the switch' to make R or R's relative sick - and I have all but forced them to do so by granting them the terrible power of decision. I do think, though, that the thought experiment sharpens one of the moral problems at play here - if someone must get sick and die, does L have a sense of justice as to who that should be if it is inevitable someone will sicken and die?
posted by deeker at 2:28 PM on November 21

Everybody loves to be right. Everybody especially loves tangible proof that they were right, though taking it to the extent of wishing for a dead body to prove it is taking it a little far. This is not so much hypocrisy as anticipating the satisfaction of saying “I told you so” and “He brought that shit on himself” over the same dead person.

There were many people who said these things after that bear whisperer guy got eaten by that giant bear, on tape, with his girlfriend. Everyone told him that would happen if he kept messing around with those bears. It did, so then everyone said “I told him that would happen” and “He brought that shit on himself”. Not hypocrisy. Just a sad acknowledgement of reality playing out as expected.
posted by KayQuestions at 2:30 PM on November 21

Taking joy in another person's pain is never something to brag about, but no, in this case I don't think it's hypocritical, for all the reasons commenters above me have already listed. That said, if someone wants to judge L for their lack of compassion and deem them a shitty person, they're free to do that, because hypocrisy or not is not the only salient factor here, and if you're the" love your enemies/ turn the other cheek" type, sure, judge away (personally I'm not, so I wouldn't, but I can see the logic behind it).

If R, for instance, were to contract the disease and then face his death nobly and without complaint, if he would refuse the ventilator offered to him so that someone else could have it, because he knew the risk he took and he took it willingly, and he thinks it's a reasonable price to pay for his freedom not to wear a mask, he would prove himself not to be a hypocrite after all and he wouldn't rise in my esteem all that much (maybe a little, if he actually refuses the ventilator, but I'd still judge him). Because he'd still be responsible for the spread of the disease and the death of others and I just don't care all that much if you are morally consistent about your values, if I think your values are shit.
posted by sohalt at 2:46 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Especially with your addendum, this is 100% ideologically consistent. L wants to protect people in general from danger, wants R to protect people in general or failing that be unable to endanger people in general, and would not actively expose R or any other person to harm. Taking pleasure in someone else's comeuppance might not be wholly morally righteous, I guess, but it doesn't run counter to any of the values L is espousing or recommending for others.
posted by babelfish at 3:54 PM on November 21

Looking at this in terms of the categorical imperative, mentioned above, is a useful approach. Here's another that might be useful.

It's normal to want to see people get their comeuppance, as a general thing. If you pretend that Covid is a hoax and then get Covid due to your irresponsible behavior, you're getting your comeuppance, and I might take some schadenfreude from that, and (in a slightly less awful sense) take some satisfaction from the fact that you're learning an important lesson.

But if I pulled as switch to force you get Covid, there is no comeuppance. You didn't "earn" your Covid. Ergo, no hypocrisy.
posted by adamrice at 4:56 PM on November 21 [2 favorites]

I suspect that L believes that should R get covid, then R will finally admit that it is not a hoax and is, in fact, real, and that they will feel and exhibit remorse for their virus-spreading behavior. (AKA, "That'll teach R a lesson!) But there are instances of people who are dying of covid but won't admit to themselves nor to others that the fatal illness they have is covid.
posted by SageTrail at 5:27 PM on November 21

Who cares, it's vaguely repellent to wish someone would get sick or die but unless you are within coughing distance of said person you can't influence the outcome.
posted by kingdead at 8:29 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Why is it repellent to wish for the demise of someone who carelessly, seemingly sometimes even gleefully, endangers many other people? Wishing, as someone said already above, is not the same as acting. I don't think it's at all repellent to wish ill on someone like R. The world would be a better place without all the R's in it. Wishing is fine. Wish away. At the very least, in the situation you describe, OP, it's not hypocrisy.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:56 PM on November 21

If wishing Hitler had died of natural causes at some earlier point in history that would’ve saved lives is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. Not a hypocrite.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 10:25 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

L would be quite pleased if R or a close family member thereof with similar beliefs contracts the disease with severe symptoms, possibly dying.

People who wish disease or death on other people are arseholes. Hypocrisy is besides the point.
posted by biffa at 8:07 AM on November 22 [3 favorites]

Thank you for the various response, some of which I have read and contemplated multiple times. I've never been much into classical philosophy, but I see that I need to explore Kant. I started marking most as "best answer", and then unmarked them since there is no information or evaluation content if they all get an "A" and, anyway, I don't feel it is for me to judge the responses.

I now realize, as I should have on my own, that "hypocrisy" does not really apply since hypocrisy requires action visible to others. However, that leaves the question of where L falls on the moral scale. Maybe there is a word or phrase that compactly describes what is at issue here - "moral dissonance?"

One further clarification. L's being "quite pleased" is not exactly the same as "deriving pleasure." L would be pleased because of the prospect that R's illness would change the behavior of his followers not because of the "I told you so" benefit.
posted by Kevin S at 9:24 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't call L a hypocrite. I would call them unkind, competitive, a person who rejoices in harm coming to an opponent.

I know lots of Ls who have been fairly pleased at various Rs getting Covid, partly because it's been a long, crappy 4 years, partly because Being Correct feel great, with a big helping of I Told You So. Not hypocrisy, also not pretty, not unreasonable. Human.
posted by theora55 at 10:30 AM on November 22

Instead of hypocrisy, I'd call this a case of cognitive bias, specifically in the sense of the Just World Hypothesis (or Fallacy), that people get what they deserve. Good people get good things specifically because they are good, bad people get bad things because they are bad. You get cancer because you didn't perform the correct virtue, rich people are better than poor people or they wouldn't be rich, authority figures will never hurt you because they are obviously good, people who vote for the Leopards Eating Faces party will get their faces eaten by leopards.

It is incredibly agitating to most people when the world fails to serve things up this way. It is incredibly satisfying, like an itch scratched, when it does. Even when it's unkind. The brain loves a pattern, the heart wants to believe anything ever is fair.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:21 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]

Would L feel differently if R had similar beliefs on the virus?

If so, then L is in the wrong - and a big part of the problem we have right now in my opinion.

R is not L's enemy they just have a different view of the world - L should disagree with R, pity R, even not feel bad if R does get sick but not hate R or wish them harm.

However, if R actively does something that endangers others (beyond just having a belief) then L should absolutely hold R accountable and feel justified in them being punished.
posted by NoDef at 12:15 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]

NoDef - Of course. The whole premise is that R believes the virus is something close to a hoax, and will likely cause his followers to ignore appropriate precautions.
posted by Kevin S at 3:14 PM on November 22

L would be pleased because of the prospect that R's illness would change the behavior of his followers not because of the "I told you so" benefit.

Maybe it would help L (if L wishes to stop being pleased) to consider the very real possibility that the R's illness would have no effect on his followers' behavior at all.

In my experience, the world is not some tv drama where people always take the Right Lessons from events. Sometimes people get so attached to their own world views that they would seriously rather die than admit that they'd been wrong about something.

Also, if R views the virus as a hoax, it stands to reason that R will not take precautions, and will likely spread the virus to others, some of whom don't have the power to ask R to take precautions, or to refuse to be in close proximity to R. I don't think that's a pleasing scenario at all, but L's mileage may vary.
posted by creepygirl at 3:32 PM on November 22 [2 favorites]

This is basically why I feel like some people do not really care about harm reduction. They want people to have aversive experiences after their bad behaviors because it feels like justice to these jerks and it has potential to change the victim’s tune.
posted by floam at 10:55 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]

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