The hypocrisy of the enlightened, of the hip, of those who – externally at least – hold admirable, humanitarian values, but behind closed doors, when push comes to shove, prove to be far darker beings. Nick Cohen examined the increasing darkness among this number in his brilliant book What’s Left? Having written for the Guardian and the Big Issue respectively, we too have come to realise that it often those who shout loudest about what lovely people they are who have the worst secrets.
Cohen’s book was about the political left but also about human nature: ‘children afraid of the night/Who have never been happy or good.’ Hypocrisy is part of being human. We all indulge in it to some extent. But it’s instructive to focus on those who preach moral purity while snapping their moral compass in half.
There’s the hypocrisy of the liberal-creative male who professes sensitivity and intellectualism, but who is predatory and misogynist in his attitudes to women. The hypocrisy of the gap-year traveller who comes back from the Chinese dictatorship raving about the spirituality of the natives and like human rights is just a Western idea, you know? These are two types you will encounter often, particularly in your student years and your twenties.
In retrospect, the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism was a godsend to these men. No more paying lip service to liberal ideals to get laid. No more pretence. Here was a chance to support racist, gynophobic, anti-gay fanatical maniacs, to cheer on murder and oppression, to feel the vicarious thrill of ‘contextualising’ woman-hatred and genocide and the rhetoric of the apocalypse, and still keep your moral superiority. What amazing luck! What delicious liberation! We are all Hezbollah now!
Yes, there has always been a creepy servility to power inside the hearts of darkness of the status-quo left. Take the Middle East. A huge amount of intellectual energy goes into the defence of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, whose regime executes trade unionists and for whom holocaust denial is official policy. I’ll never understand why so much time and effort goes into playing this lunatic down. Oh, when he says Israel ‘must be wiped from the page of time’ he’s talking about the occupation, or he’s criticising Israel’s tax system. Or something. Never mind that stuff about ‘filthy Zionist microbes’. It’s a mistranslation. And the nukes? Nothing to see there. All that plutonium is just to power the Revolutionary Guards’ digital TVs. Not that we’re in favour of civil nuclear programmes. Erm…
On the other side of the coin, we have the most liberal, tolerant and multicultural society in the Middle East – the state of Israel. Its paramedics risk their lives to treat Palestinian children; it welcomes immigrants from Yemen to Latin America; its Supreme Court gives relentless scrutiny to decisions made by the government and action taken by the military. Yet this Amsterdam-style paradise is a pariah state on the pseudo-left map. It is compared routinely to apartheid South Africa and its soldiers to jackbooted Nazis. Its enemies are deified, its journalists are subject to discriminatory boycotts and its very right to exist is challenged daily.
These are issues which are debated constantly in the blogosphere but in their book Not in My Name: A Compendium of Modern Hypocrisy, Julie Burchill and Chas Newkey-Burden bring a fresh perspective to the contortions of contemporary thought. Rational politics only explains so much and the arguments of the age have been crying out for Burchill’s more visceral analysis. She has the talent to reduce an apparently intellectual stance down to its base drives. Is it really beyond belief that the inadequate, frustrated, callow misogynists of the Western intelligensia looked upon the sexual apartheids of the Muslim world and thought: ‘At last! A society where the bitches know their place!’
It isn’t all good – articles such as ‘Fat Girl Feminists’ are very time-specific and are only going to chime with people who follow fashion as obsessively as Julie Burchill. The authors also misunderstand the old saw that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue: it means that hypocrisy is an admission that we would like to be moral but can’t; it’s the Libertine’s Prayer: ‘Lord, make me chaste… but not yet.’
Yet the book is worth reading for its political essays. You may not agree with Newkey-Burden’s take on the Grand March: that ‘millions of people took advantage of Britain’s freedom and democracy, marching through the streets to ask that the government deprive Iraqi people of those very values’. Loads of people marched because they were afraid civilians would die. The doctrinaire pacifist may be a moron but is not a hypocrite. However, as Newkey-Burden says:
I’ve never met a single pro-war person who failed to accept the consequences of their argument. Similarly, I’ve never met a single antiwar person who did accept the consequences of theirs.
Here are some examples of modern hypocrisy that the authors somehow left out.
1) Prolier than thou anti-smoking activists who claimed that the smoking ban was necessary to protect bar staff, when available evidence suggested that smokers were overwhelmingly represented among bar staff, that they were more concerned about pay and union recognition and that bar staff did not want this ‘protection’, such as it was
2) Northern sentimentalist comedians like Peter/Vernon Kay/Jason Manford who get rich with tired and cliched routines about wedding discos and Bolton families that bear no relation to the reality of what growing up in the North is like; and then fuck off to London and a C4 panel show as soon as the opportunity presents itself
3) Celebrity-haters – people with mortgages and dull nine-to-five jobs who moan about the excesses of hedonistic celebrities. These people are like prisoners on life sentence complaining about the immorality of those who escape from jail. Give them a million pounds and a record deal and they’d be falling out of a limo in Camden too.
Feel free to add more in the comments.