Hypocrisy, like hate, knows no national boundary as a WhatsApp forward from US confirms

“For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit,” said Noam Chomsky. But hypocrisy is all-pervasive and can be found everywhere. Acknowledgment and an apology might just help

Hypocrisy, like hate, knows no national boundary as a WhatsApp forward from US confirms

Samir Nazareth

I recently received a WhatsApp forward of an American Catholic priest using his sermon to speak out against presidential candidate Joe Biden and vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.

His argument was based on their ‘un-Christianness’ which includes their pro-choice stance, support for trans people and gay marriage and their alleged bent towards socialism. He also blames them for the unrest in the US. There are two levels of hypocrisy here. The obvious one is that he is blind to Trump’s ‘un-Christianness’ – his infidelity, his many marriages, his disrespect of others, his dodging of taxes, his lies that put millions of lives in danger, to name just a few. The second level of hypocrisy is ignoring the fact that Jesus Christ was the first socialist and his teachings are in effect the fundamentals of socialism. He gathered the poor, the weak and the oppressed and gave them hope and said all are equal in God’s eyes.

It’s a wonder that this priest doesn’t see the ‘tithe’ (portion of the produce or earning given to support the religion and the clergy) as socialism in practice. One wonders who will bear the cost of this priest’s hypocrisy. The fact of the matter is that hypocrisy is the grease that makes the world go round. As a corollary, the bigger the hypocrite, the greater the individual’s social capital. There is a reason for this. People do not call out hypocrites and make the person accountable because they themselves have something to hide or lose – tangible or intangible. When a leader or his political party’s actions are called out, the counter charge of hypocrisy I used, becomes both an offensive and defensive weapon. For example, whenever the Congress party questions the BJP on riots, corruption, nepotism etc, the BJP points a mirror at them and to their track record. It ultimately leads to a status quo or stalemate that draws attention away from the original issue.

At a personal level, to not use various forms of hypocrisy in everyday life would mean either living as a saint or not participating in society. As social animals we deal with a variety of people, attitudes, and opinions. Thus, to function within a certain milieu, it becomes necessary to look beyond things that may not fit our framework. If there is damage, then it is limited to the self, but the choice is an individual one.

However, what happens when an entire section of society chooses hypocrisy? Take the example of a survey conducted by the polling firm YouGov. It found that 72% of Indian Americans are going to vote for Biden-Harris. This means that they espouse the liberal ideals of the Democratic party. Their liberal ideals do not extend to the land of their ancestors though. Why wouldn’t those enjoying and protecting liberalism in America want the same for their folks back home in India? The support from this section of American society for the Indian Prime Minister has strengthened his image and hold over the country.

The ramifications of such sanctimony are far more egregious because of the consequences for those at the receiving end.

What happens when institutions that are supposed to be pillars of society choose to be hypocrites? The fallouts are manifold - citizens lose faith in them, they opt for alternatives which range from fake news to taking the law into their hands to either mete out justice or exact justice. In the process the country becomes a nation of hypocritical lawbreakers. Of course, such an extreme will not be reached because either the laws would be changed in time or the courts will set the guilty free. These actions will find resonance in the media.

It is not easy for a society to not transact in hypocrisy when it has become the lifeblood and a valuable currency. But this must be done if we are to come out into the light. I would suggest a four-step process. Acknowledgement, Restitution, Remediation and finally Prevention.

Acknowledgement does not accomplish much if there is no restitution and remediation. Restitution and remediation can include not interfering in the investigative and judicial process. These steps can neutralise the charge of hypocrisy. It may also inspire people to look at their own actions and inspire citizens to speak truth to power. More importantly democratic institutions and those who administer them will regain the trust of the people they are supposed to serve.

I am sure you will say these are the suggestions of an idealist and therefore a pipedream. Given how deeply hypocrisy is entrenched as an administrative and political ethic, it won’t of course be easy, but there are instances from history. Post the Salem Witch trials not only was an apology tendered to the victims but restitution offered.

President Lincoln established Thanksgiving to repent to god for ‘our national perverseness and disobedience’ during the Civil War. Pandit Nehru apologised to foreign missions attacked by rioters in Delhi. Arkansas Governor offered apologies after African-Americans were refused service at a café. Pope Francis apologises and seeks forgiveness from victims abused by priests. Manmohan Singh apologised for the anti-Sikh riots. Though one can argue that these had nothing to do with combating hypocrisy, the fact of the matter is that apologising is not new. What will be different are the next steps and eventual outcomes.

Hypocrisy in society and in the functioning of institutions is corrosive as it ultimately negates what can be the best in us as a society and country. It is far more important to come out of its servitude because then we will be able to deal with so called 1200 years of slavery.

Full Disclosure – I am a hypocrite on the path to recovery

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