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There’s a trope on the right that runs “the left isn’t hypocritical, stop saying that—it’s deliberate, they’re rubbing our faces in it”. This is not true and you can tell it’s not true if you pause for a moment to consider whether, if you wanted to “rub someone’s face in it” or punish them in some way, you would engage in “deliberate hypocrisy”. When I imagine myself doing so to “punish” or “get” someone I get no frisson whatsoever; it’s just not how humans revenge themselves on other people—hence the contention above is not true.

In fact, how would you even tell genuine hypocrisy from “deliberate” hypocrisy? If we take hypocrisy to be “saying one thing and doing another” the hypocrite would have to consciously decide to say one thing and do another just to annoy you—“normal” hypocrisy is based on self-delusion, whereas “artificial” hypocrisy would be based on a conscious lie to yourself in order to punish others (people are tricky, but they are not that convoluted).

The reason “it’s deliberate hypocrisy” is said is because the right is about consistent behaviour—integrity, logic. It’s also the residual repository for Christianity, mostly cultural these days, and the major lesson from Christ is not to be a hypocrite. Hence to combat hypocrisy is always going to be central to the right. It’s also just straight-forwardly true: you’ve heard this a million times by now, but when people like Prince Harry go on and on about “the climate” and then fly private jets to a conference to “address the climate emergency” it is clear that climate change either is not *that* serious or does not exist at all.

It’s like if I invited you round to my house and said, “Yeah, but we’ll have to stay in my bedroom because the rest of the house is on fire.” “Oh, in that case, I’d better not come.” “No, no it’s a terrible fire, catastrophic in fact—but we’re totally good to have a cup of tea in my bedroom. I’ve actually got my whole family over right now...” You might begin to think that perhaps the fire didn’t exist—or something other than what I said was up, anyway.

What happens, however, is that the right gets fed up with saying “it’s hypocrisy” all the time, so, sooner or later, someone countersignals “it’s not hypocrisy”. “Actually, no it’s totally deliberate—they’re torturing us, laughing at us, rubbing our noses in it.” The right has a paranoid-sadistic bent that is less apparent on the left (it’s a man thing), so the idea “they’re secretly torturing us, they’re all laughing at us peasants” naturally appeals to the rightist mindset (throw in reference to “peasants” to appeal to the resentful depressive axis in right-wing opinion).

It’s also designed to make people more antagonistic. Hypocrites do not usually know they’re hypocrites; it’s not like a thief or a murderer who sets out to consciously do wrong. Hypocrisy comes from conceit and vanity, lack of self-awareness. That’s why it’s insidious, you can become a hypocrite without knowing it (because you don’t know yourself). In the New Testament, the hypocrites are the Pharisees but they’re not “bad” in the sense “criminal”—but they are conceited.

However, this means that hypocrisy is not “offensive”—i.e. “on the offence”; and in politics, an antagonistic field, that’s a problem because if your opponents “know not what they do” that makes it hard to be antagonistic with them. Hence “deliberate hypocrisy”—“they know what they’re doing” = “it’s acceptable to be antagonistic towards them, since it’s a deliberate attack”.

I think Justin Trudeau, for example, is just unaware—I think in his mind he’s a noble, good man who has to deal these “hateful white men” who don’t like women, non-white racial groups, baby seal pups, and homosexuals for no reason whatsoever. I think he’s self-deluded, a genuine hypocrite, since he relies on the racial-cultural base he disdains in order to thrive—if he’s malicious it’s because in his mind it’s justified antagonism against oppressive people, not because he “feigns hypocrisy”.


It’s easy to be hypocritical in modernity because we live in very complex societies. I have no idea how to fly a plane, how to build one, how to build a machine that makes the coffee at Costa—how to do, in fact, almost any activity that sustains my life. If we jump back 547 years, the likelihood is that I would be in a field, my neighbour would be in a field, his neighbour would be in a field—we all did roughly the same thing, with varying degrees of success. There was a blacksmith, but if you wanted to know what he did you could watch him. The only entirely “mysterious” person in the village would be the priest, since he could read and had a few books—and he was an initiate.

In that world, everyone is pretty responsible—for their patch of soil. In the contemporary world, I can, if I want, voice an opinion about climate change—I don’t know anything about climate change, but, actually, as a citizen I’m told I should “participate in the debate”. Insofar as I have a view about climate change, it will have to involve large bureaucracies—state and private—and politics, technologies, and on and on; nothing I am personally responsible for—and yet that is the situation modernity creates, especially in the media and government.

You know that *action* in modernity will be a large-scale affair; if you want to stop, for example, carbon output in industries you will have to campaign for it and lobby for it—yet to do that you must emit carbon. You don’t live in a simple village society, you live in a vast post-industrial society where change is undertaken through division of labour and specialisation. There’s even a special division of labour, journalism, where your job—your *responsible* job—is to inform and entertain people, encourage change.

This is why people are untroubled by a personal jet at a climate conference: in order to achieve that objective, in order to turn the oil tanker that is modern organisation, you have to use the tools it provides. Hence the “personal jet at a climate conference” is ultimately only a rhetorical, not a substantive, point (though it does raise substantive questions—“If you’re really so terrified by this possibility, why would you take any action at all that might add to it even if some action is necessary to stop it at all—especially when alternatives, videoconferences, are widely available?”). To flip it to the right, it’s like saying to an anti-immigration activist: “You oppose immigration, yet you took an Uber with an immigrant driver to get to your ‘patriotic’ conference.” It’s aptly summed up in the below meme “We should improve society somewhat”, “Yet you live in society, interesting”.

Who is really the smug one, tho?

The point is, actually, leftist in the meme (as indicated by the fact the meme relies on speech more than image to convey its message, not to mention the fact it’s about “peasant oppression”)—the coded assumption is that medieval peasant societies were bad and any improvements came about from social change and “activism”, not a technological change created by individuals (or, indeed, completely obscured, the possibility that medieval societies were superior to our own—not just “fardels to bear” on your peasant back).

This point notwithstanding—and this meme is often posted in response to rightists who jeer at a leftist that their tweet was “sent from my iPhone”—there is a grain of truth in the meme, irritating as it is. The grain is that modern societies—not peasant societies—are so constituted that it is very hard not to be a hypocrite; even if you recuse yourself entirely and only comment on your specialised career, you have not really solved the problem because you have abdicated moral responsibility for your relation to society—this is the modern dilemma.


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1 Comment

Jan 24, 2023

Guy in the well did nothing wrong.

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