Democracy Supports Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy: pretending to have qualities or beliefs you do not

To get away with saying one thing and doing another, it helps to put some distance between your words and acts.  It may not work to say “I always give to panhandlers I pass on the street” as you pass, and ignore, a panhandler on the street.  You might prefer to say that at another time and place, or to say something more abstract, with muddier implications about your specific behavior.

Further distance can come from hiring an agent to act for you.  If your instructions are vague and you reserve the discretion to fire an agent for ambiguous reasons, then you can claim you wanted your agent to do X, while making sure your agent understands that you really reward Y.   If your agent is caught clearly doing Y, you can fire and disavow them.   This works especially well if you can implicitly threaten an even stronger punishment if your fired agent tells folks you made it clear you wanted Y.

The more important an agent is to you, and more attention you pay to that agent, the less believable it is that you were unaware of large deviations between X and Y.  So maximal hypocrisy can be achieved via the agents to which we pay the least attention.  And this is where democracy shines: the very structure of a large election ensures you the voter had very little incentive to pay attention.  Since you had almost no chance to change the outcome, you of course didn’t pay great attention.  But you can still act outraged should an elected politician do Y when he said he would X.  Shame on him, for exploiting poor ignorant you.

The larger the election, the better your excuse, because the weaker your incentive to pay attention.  Longer tenures also help, as does divided government.  If you voted on hundreds of different offices, and did that ten years ago, how can you be very responsible for what any one of them did today?

Legal courts controlled at arms-length by large divided democratic governments seem a perfect storm for hypocrisy.  How can you be blamed for what some judge does, if he is only influenced indirectly by appellate courts, that are influenced by a supreme court, who were chosen decades ago by random politicians.  Surely you can’t be blamed when wannabe immigrants bodies pile up in the desert, when your troops slaughter foreigners in their streets, or when police use brutal street justice to keep your peace.  It must have been corrupt politicians or bureaucrats, or evil voters from the other party, or bought-off media, or just anyone but you;  you surely intended nothing of the sort.

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