Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hypocrisy Pt.4

Just reading a book on economics for social workers. I was inspired to read it by seeing ever more clearly the central importance of trade-offs in social policy analysis--a concept fundamental to economics but alien to social workers, who look for solutions to social problems. (In contrast, as Black economist and social commentator, Thomas Sowell puts it, "There are no solutions, only trade-offs.")

The authors, Lewis & Widerquist (2002, p.9) give three examples of weird behavior and point out that two of them, though pathological, are not irrational in economic terms, because the agents act consistently with some set of preferences. In the third case, where a man never wears a seat belt but supports legislation requiring seat belt use, is behaving irrationally in economic terms because his actions are contradictory. Rationality then is about consistency, matching words to actions, or preferences to behavior.

Of course, we could surmise in this case that the man is quite consistent in that he wants a law to make him do what he knows he ought to do. Compare the example of a man with strong homosexual tendencies who favors draconian laws against homosexuality. He is not necessarily inconsistent, if he supports such laws as deterring him from succumbing to temptation to what he regards (in this example) as sinful behavior.

But he is the sort of man who, if the inconsistency is discovered, is likely to be called a hypocrite. The practice of "outing" such people is part of the armory of some homosexual activists. Is hypocrisy, then, nothing more than inconsistency?

Or does hypocrisy require that you believe, as well as do, the opposite of what you proclaim?

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