Perhaps you occasionally contradict yourself. Maybe you tell others not to do something and then find yourself doing the very same thing. Call yourself a hypocrite? Sorry, but you’re not even off the starting line.
I've worked long and hard at my hypocrisy. I’ll sit in Starbucks skimming through lefty opinion pieces about the evils of multinationals. I’ll wax lyrical about the ‘common person’ and grit my teeth when I have to share a bus with a load of them. I’ll go to trendy cafes and imagine machine-gunning the poseurs I see tapping out imaginary novels onto laptops, then get out my own laptop and turn it into a scene for my imaginary novel. I’ll get indignant about the ‘voice of the working class’ being ignored in modern society, and then get equally uncomfortable when the voice of the working class votes for the EDL.
Being a hypocrite isn't just about contradicting yourself. There's a richly creative art involved, a sort of theatricality to it. Why not undermine another person while you're doing it? It's easy, and I do it all the time. I’ll stumble on a new word (like ‘crepuscularity’, for example) and then immediately make sure I make anyone who doesn’t know it feel as stupid as I can.
‘It’s got a high level of crepuscularity, doesn’t it,’ I’ll say, casually slipping it in to conversation and then watching their eyes carefully for confusion.
‘Oh…’ I’ll say, with a flash of astonished sympathy, ‘…You don’t know what crepuscularity means?’
At this stage I’ll give them a patronising look that’s calculated to suggest, in the nicest possible way, that anyone who doesn't know what crepuscularity means should probably think about going to live in a cave or having a part of their brain removed. It takes a lot of effort to become as big an arsehole as me.
People think hypocrisy is easy. It isn’t. You have to work at it. You’ve got to trust to the weakness of your own convictions, no flip flopping. It takes real mental strength to cling to a position you know to be utter fiction: it requires dexterity and ingenuity to argue your way out of pure bullshit, to eternally justify yourself, to assume you’re the one in the right.
Of course, my background has helped. I'm sort of middle class, I guess, and being middle class and British comes as a sort of training in contradiction. Historically speaking this is fairly new: go back to Empire and things were more straightforward. As far as I can glean from the literature of the period, all you had to do to be middle class a century ago was experience sexual confusion in an Eton plunge pool and then go and colonise India. There may possibly have been a bit more to it than that, and quite frankly I’m not sure I'm cut out for either activity, but that seems to be the gist. Being middle class really boiled down to reclining on a deckchair and massacring locals with a blunderbuss while someone dabbed your forehead with a lavender wipe.
Oh, the simplicity.
But things have changed. Liberal attitudes make the contemporary middle class liberal a walking paradox. You’re against people like you having all the money and advantages, and then you scan the upmarket jobs pages to acquire more money and advantages. You’re supposed to despise the gentrification of working class communities, and then find yourself craving for an upmarket deli the moment you move to one. You’re a class-dialectic in process. Give yourself a slap on the back for it.
The world teaches us to be ashamed of our contradictions, of the gaps in our outlook. I disagree. I think we should be proud of our contradictions. If modern society is a sort of fiction, then trying to be true to it turns you into a fiction too. Hypocrisy isn’t a moral cop out, it’s a legitimate response to the paradoxes of the modern world - a world that says you ought to want something and simultaneously makes you guilty for wanting it, a world that promises social democracy and then asks you to salivate over semi-detached lifestyles at sky-high prices. Take it from me. The real charlatans are the people who pretend to have a coherent personality. Be a hypocrite, and be a good one: it’s the only way to really be true to yourself.