It seems to me we charge people with hypocrisy too quickly. The result is that we don't dare to think, for fear of winding up with a mismatch between our own beliefs and actions. The safest way to avoid being charged with hypocrisy is just to believe in whatever we already do.
Still. When someone has long held a position, we expect at least gradual behavioral change. We also expect them to take into account what they actually do before becoming completely committed to that position. It's especially absurd to become a vocal advocate for (or against) some behavior, but totally ignore your own advice. That's just going too far!
To wit--how about George Rekers, Family Research Council co-founder and anti-gay advocate who went to Europe for ten days in the company of a "rent boy"?
And, sad to say, how about Al Gore buying his fourth luxury home? What a carbon footprint that guy has!
In the first case, we'd want to see the man find more happy and healthy ways of being gay, and drop all the nonsensical advocacy. In the second, the advocacy is fine, but I'm afraid the lifestyle is not. Dear Al--You've really got to choose. Either you can promote environmental causes and greener lifestyles, or you can have lots of big, fancy houses. You're not effective when you try to do both.
Most people are not consequentialists, and so whether one can trust another is more important to most people than whether the other is effective.
One basic measure of whether the other is trustworthy is whether his words and deeds match. Trust plays a very key role in human relations.
But why should what Al Gore does at home really affect how effective he is? I know that it does... but why? Is it that most people just don't see that hypocrisy is really rather irrelevant to the issue of global warming?
Maybe Al is a victim of a kind of "halo effect" He participates in a lot of activism, so he feels like he can live in a big mansion.
If I'm an advocate for giving to the poor (and I am), does it make me a hypocrite to spend my money on books and movies? Maybe I'm not the best example for this.... If Peter Singer were to go see Iron Man 2 this weekend, would he be a hypocrite? Would that diminish what he's arguing for? Singer would be a good example of being a vocal advocate for giving all but our bare necessities (broadly defined) to the poor, but ignores his own advice.
Wayne: Most people, including myself, don't trust many people or institutions these days: we don't trust the media, politicians, big business, etc.
As a result, we search for someone or something to believe in, since it is hard to live in a world without trust. Hence, our priority is not so much to find the best cause as to find a cause we can trust. Al Gore warns us about global warming; we want to believe him and to believe in him.
We see that Al Gore does not practice what he preaches. Ergo, the trust factor breaks down again.
We turn away not only from Al Gore, but also from the cause of global warming. I'm simplying greatly, but my sense is that most people's minds work that way on some level. That is why many people (not me) are attracted to dogmatic causes: they believe in them because of the fervor of the discourse. I'm not saying that that is the way we should reason, but that is the way many of us do reason, and any cause, including that of global warming or animal rights, has to take that into account.
Maybe I didn't phrase this carefully enough (trying to grade papers...groan).
I wouldn't say you have to be a saint before you speak out. You should not be a sinner though. I'd say at this point, with 4 homes, Gore is a sinner, and that undermines his ability to tell people to "go green." When you say "go green" you have to convey that it's really possible, and his behavior says it isn't!
Singer, I think, is neither saint nor sinner. I believe he does have a modest lifestyle (OK, I'm guessing). It says on his website (or somewhere) that he enjoys surfing. That's not the same as enjoying Mediterranean cruises.
So, it's a matter of degree. Yes, maybe Al is suffering from the halo effect. Sounds good to me!
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