Ten Questions with Jeremy Lott

Jeremy Lott is a writer, editor, and blogger and author of the recently released In Defense of Hypocrisy. With the release of his first book and its controversial – or perhaps counter intuitive – nature, I thought it might be fun to send a few questions his way. He was nice enough to answer them, so they follow below. As usual, my questions are in bold.

1) This is your first book. How did it come about? Did you get an
agent, write a proposal, shop it, etc.? Or did someone approach you?

I’d done some work for Nelson Current and associate publisher Joel Miller
asked if I had any book ideas. I thought about it and gave him a list of
possible proposals. Of those, he thought a book defending hypocrisy was
the most promising, so I wrote that proposal. Both the editing and
publishing boards then had to approve it. To my mild shock, they said yes.

2) How would you describe the process once you had a contract
(writing, editing, cover art, publication, publicity, etc.): smooth,
painful, educational, all of the above?

Good writing is always hard and I think that’s especially true of your
first book. It helped that I was able to go back to my hometown of Lynden,
Washington for three months. The air is better there and there are fewer
distractions and the bartenders at the Nut House — bless them — never
objected when I brought my laptop into the bar and typed for hours.

I was constantly rewriting as I went, mostly in response to my test
audience. I sent sections out to maybe a dozen readers who helped to
“prescreen” the manuscript. They told me when they didn’t understand
something, or when I had overdone it, and they corrected errors. Because
of them, the editing went pretty smoothly once I got it into Nelson
Current.

The cover art was the publisher’s doing but I had something like veto
power. I was skeptical but when Joel sent the cover they wanted to use, I
was blown away. I was also a little bit upset, because I knew that I’d
have to write a better book to earn it. It’s just beautiful. In Defense of
Hypocrisy is one of the most attractive books I’ve ever held in my hands.

The publicity end of things has been interesting and a little bit
frustrating. But I’m learning a lot that will come in handy for the second
book and beyond.


3) How involved have you been in the publicity side?

Quite. Nelson Current has asked for my input on all the ads, on where to
send copies of the book, that sort of thing. It’s been very much my show.
They want to help me to sell the book rather than the other way around.

4) As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger what is your view of
role of blogs (both literary and political) in the larger media world?
Good, bad, indifferent?

Blogs are a lot of fun, even though they’re tremendously disruptive to
journalists. Placement in a newspaper now matters a whole lot less than it
did before. If it’s on B-15 but Glenn Reynolds, Matt Drudge, and Slashdot
link to it, I guarantee it’ll get more readers than an A-1 splash. And
mistakes are harder to sweep under the carpet these days.

5) Is there a basic agreed upon definition of hypocrisy? Is it the
denotation or the connotation that is at the root of the problem?

When people say “hypocrisy,” they probably mean one of two things.

In the more ancient understanding of the word, there was a distinction
between “hypocrites,” who intentionally set out to create a false
appearance of themselves, and never really tried to live up to their
ideals once other people had stopped looking, and the morally weak. Those
were people who tried to live according some moral code but often failed
for one reason or other.

We’ve largely erased that distinction. Now, we think of a hypocrite as
someone who advocates one thing but sometimes does another, for whatever
reason.

6) Was it your intention to defend William Bennett’s gambling;
Strom Thurmond’s racist past, and child abusing Catholic priests or are
some reviewers missing the point?

There’s been an awful lot of misunderstanding. With Bennett I said that
whatever you think about gambling that was never something that he was
against. But because people viewed him as the no-fun guy, he was denounced
as a hypocrite and written off, by many, as damaged goods.

I don’t agree with Bennett about a lot of things, but his opponents were
demonstrating what I call the “saint or shut up” approach to hypocrisy,
which is both really childish and annoyingly effective.

Similar misreadings, I fear, will plague the passages about Thurmond and
the Catholic sex scandals. We’ll see what happens as more reviews roll in.

7) If all of us are hypocrites why are we so hard on others on this
issue?

Because we rationalize away our own hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is something that
we’ve been told is wicked and we don’t want to think of ourselves like
that. So we tend to give ourselves and our political allies a pass, and
then jeer as the hypocrisy of others is exposed.

8) Is the elevation of hypocrisy to a cardinal sin a problem for
both the left and the right? Is this a non-partisan issue in many ways?

The diabolization of hypocrisy is bad for most people. It focuses us on
the wrong things. It shuts down debate and damages our faculty for moral
reasoning. It substitutes abstract notions for real experience.

9) How does a concept like Hidden Law relate to hypocrisy?

Hidden Laws are the unwritten rules that we live by, and a lot of those
involve some kind of hypocrisy. Experience teaches us that there can be
too much consistency, and sometimes it’s best to look away. The old
bargain that governed adultery was, as long as the husband is reasonably
discreet and the wife doesn’t call him out on it, we all played our parts
by publicly pretending that nothing is happening. That was far from a
perfect solution, but it was probably better than condemning the kids to
spending every other weekend with daddy.

10) How would a reduced focus on hypocrisy help our national discourse
in your opinion?

Hard to say. Our politics would probably be less petty and childish. Ideas
would matter more. We might even realize that legislation cannot fix every
problem under the sun, and often makes them worse. But that’s probably too
optimistic.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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1 Comment

  • The distinction between hypocrisy and moral weakness. Yes! That’s the point I’ve been feebly grasping for, lo, these many years.

    I’m embarrassed I didn’t work it out myself, but it’s good to get it in any manner.

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