THE HYPOCRITE IN ALL OF US
How many of us practise what we preach? While it’s easy doling out gratuitous advice to others, living by the principles and values we espouse is another matter. The hard truth is that many of us display glaring contradictions in our behaviour, adopting one pose in public and another persona in private.
In all domains of life, people put on false fronts. Examples of double standards include pious politicians promoting family values while secretly having an affair to two-faced parents telling their children not to smoke while doing so themselves. Inconsistencies between what we say and do abound as we often fail to meet our own moral code.
While most humans can be accused of duplicity, higher standards are expected of those who claim the moral high ground. Priests and other religious implore us to love our neighbour, yet (some) have committed unspeakable transgressions against children. Such unvirtuous behaviour is repugnant and has exposed the heinous moral hypocrisy of religious institutions.
Just as churches need to put their own houses in order before damning others, so do we. Everyone is prone to hypocrisy at one point or another in their life. Humans are not cold logical robots but fallible emotive beings, which is why we suffer from a misalignment between words and deeds, thereby making hypocrisy unavoidable.
High-status people are some of the worst hypocrites in society. These individuals are frequently admired by others and often occupy leadership roles. Yet, as author Peter Schweizer outlined in his 2006 book, Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy, famous people are not holier-than-thou and also fall short in living their beliefs.
Schweizer conducted an investigation in to the private lives of a handful of prominent US citizens and found a long list of blatant contradictions. To quote the book’s promotional copy:
Michael Moore … claims to have no stock portfolio, yet he owns shares in Halliburton, Boeing, and Honeywell and does his postproduction film work in Canada to avoid paying union wages in the United States. Noam Chomsky opposes the very concept of private property and calls the Pentagon “the worst institution in human history,” yet he and his wife have made millions of dollars in contract work for the Department of Defense and own two luxurious homes. Barbra Streisand prides herself as an environmental activist, yet she owns shares in a notorious strip-mining company. Hillary Clinton supports the right of thirteen-year-old girls to have abortions without parental consent, yet she forbade thirteen-year-old Chelsea to pierce her ears and enrolled her in a school that would not distribute condoms to minors.
The business world is similarly guilty of hypocrisy with companies displaying a lack of coherence between talk and action. Consumer activists have long argued that most business models prioritise profits over people despite the assertion by firms to the contrary. The classic example is the rag trade where global clothing brands have been complicit in the exploitation of sweatshop workers.
Sweatshops are as old as the industrial age and were started by heartless businessmen. Modern-day consumers must be careful of being too sanctimonious about the plight of garment workers because they (as shoppers) have knowingly bought high-street brands supplied by factories which mistreat their workers.
One of the reasons that high-street clothing has been getting cheaper and cheaper for decades is that sweatshop workers do not receive a living wage. The suffering of these unknown workers on the other side of the world is easy for us as consumers to ignore, particularly as we have become accustomed to reaping the benefits of lower production costs.
Something else that we have become accustomed to is politics in sport and this was on full display during the Beijing Winter Olympics. The overwhelming message of the opening ceremony was about peace and togetherness. A giant LED snowflake sculpture was used to symbolise all people coming together and living in harmony.
Yet human rights organisations branded the 2022 Olympics as “the genocide games” and accused China of holding a million Uyghurs (a largely Muslim ethnic group) against their will in re-education centres. In response, many nations – including the US, Britain, Canada, and Australia – staged a diplomatic boycott of the games in protest at China’s repressive policies toward the Uyghur minority group native to Xinjiang.
Many saw the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award China the games as political hypocrisy. Having an alleged human rights abuser as host was called out as clashing with one of the fundamental principles contained in the Olympic Charter – a commitment to “the preservation of human dignity”.
Another international body which recently came in for criticism is the United Nations entity that supports and co-ordinates action on climate change. For nearly three decades, the UN has brought together almost every nation on Earth for global climate summits called Conferences of the Parties (COPs). The 26th annual summit – COP26 – took place in Glasgow last November.
As leaders from around the world made promises to tackle an existential threat to humanity, climate change activists and experts railed against the hypocrisy that accompanied it. As noted in a University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg Media report:
… a total of 400 private jets flew down to Glasgow from all over the world, carrying more than 100 leaders. This emitted 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For comparison, the average person’s carbon footprint globally is 7 tonnes per year and the carbon footprint of an average American is 21 tonnes per year. The leaders have been called out by critics as “eco-hypocrites” for emitting a huge amount of CO2 while gathering for an event organized to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change hypocrisy also extends to members of the British royal family. On numerous occasions over recent years, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been criticised for flying around the world in private jets while lecturing the world about climate change. A former UK government minister told Newsweek:
It’s completely hypocritical for Prince Harry or other members of the royal family to lecture people about climate change when they’re emitting more carbon than almost everyone else on the planet. People using private jets are in the top one percent of carbon emitters in the world.
Many citizens understandably jump up and down about humanity’s need to take climate change seriously. These same people typically look to governments and businesses to find eco-friendly solutions, when the real power for change is in our collective hands. We support governments with votes and businesses with dollars, which means that we can choose who governs and where we spend our money. We need to put our votes and our money where our mouths are!
■ ■ ■
“Hypocrisy is the natural state of the human mind,” according to Robert Kurzban, author of Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite. Kurzban argues that our behavioural inconsistencies are caused by the mind’s design, which consists of many specialised modules. These modules don’t always work together seamlessly resulting in impossibly contradictory beliefs and violations of our supposed moral principles.
Consequently, hypocrisy is everywhere and can manifest itself in countless ways. To pretend that we can live our lives without hypocrisy and contradiction is itself a form of deception. We must, therefore, exercise care before angrily lambasting others for their deeds, while doing the same ourselves. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
We’re all hypocrites, it’s just a matter of scale.
Paul J. Thomas
Chief Executive Officer