When ideologues are blind to their own hypocrisy

One of the funniest – yet unintentional – ironies I’ve heard of in recent years was the time a local ‘peace action group’ were charged with possession of unlicensed firearms. That’s right. A ‘peace’ group apparently felt justified in illegally having weapons. Apparently, in order to stop violence and promote peace, you have to fight and kill.

It always intrigues me how easily a cause or ideology leads certain types of people away from reason and tolerance and towards anger and hypocrisy, usually directed against whoever is immediately in front of them at the time. I saw other examples during my student days, when campus leaders espoused the virtues of acceptance, inclusiveness, equality, and kindness – all of which are wonderful. But these students demanded absolute adherence to the way they wanted to get it, including to their vocabulary; if you did not use it, you were advocating what they demonised. Dissent from the ‘party line’ was forbidden, punishable by ostracism, ridicule and abuse. Anybody who dared even try to discuss the fact that this thinking was being viciously enforced with authoritarian zeal was dismissed as (wait for it)… a Nazi.

The irony was lost on those behaving this way. As was the hypocrisy. Needless to say, all was pursued with a thin-skinned, utterly humourless zeal that made baiting them easier than catching fish in a barrel by dropping a grenade into it.

Such conduct is still around today, of course. I don’t buy that it is political, either, not at all. The intolerant and angry students I was at university with imagined themselves to be ‘left wing’, but I’ve seen that precise same sort of behaviour also expressed by those who identify with the other side of the political spectrum. And the whole, of course, reflects a much more fundamental aspect of human nature than the narrow artifice of modern-era western political views – both ideas, including the ‘left’ and ‘right’ labels, were originally products of the French Revolution in the late 1780s, which historians regard as the beginning of the ‘modern’ historical era.

In particular, it seems to me, behaviours such as ‘authoritarianism’, ‘liberalism’ and so forth are more reflective of the complex mix that dictates human conduct. And this is not a binary opposition. What drives it, I suspect, has less to do with political orientation than with a desire to validate one’s own self and ego. People look for ways of validating themselves; and authoritarianism is an easy way to do so. Why bother being self-confident when you can simply bully others? It’s an easy-win position.

I think that putting a political orientation on things serves only to mislead. I think that the values associated with caring for others, with inclusiveness, with kindness and with tolerance transcend the frameworks western society has so often put around them. I think they are broad and underlying human values, to which we all need to pay attention, without burying argument in immediate ideas.

Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019


20 thoughts on “When ideologues are blind to their own hypocrisy

  1. We had another incident in Manchester today, less than a mile from where I work. It triggered the usual stuff, but was the action of one guy. It’s that sort of fear that triggers demagogues, though, and that’s what we’re seeing in England now. Plus, God save the Queen etc. Roll on Brexit… erm…

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    1. I still can’t understand Brexit. I mean, a couple of generations back Britain was bending over backwards to get into the EU, causing utter panic here in New Zealand where our entire economy was apparently going to collapse if they did. Now Britain is trying to leave same but appears not to know how… or something. It seems very complicated.

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      1. It’s due in… three weeks. No one seems to have any idea what’s going on. It’s not much fun. I just want it to be done with so then it doesn’t dominate the news non-stop. It overwhelms the climate crisis issues etc.

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  2. Well said, Matthew. I’ve become thoroughly confused by the whole mess, and it seems only to get worse as time goes by! But ego validation seems like a good point. I may have said before I think the 21st Century world we could be living in — something a little more like Star Trek’s Federation — is a threat to people who either see no place for themselves in such a milieu, or feel threatened by that sort of future, period. The fact that such fears aren’t rational is kind of the point.

    I liked your point about the French Revolution. If one can rely on C.S. Forester’s sense of history, the sorts of things said about “Red Republicanism” in England during the Napoleonic Wars sound all too similar to remarks about “Red Communism” in the Cold War. And the “thin skinned” bit seems to apply to all sides!

    Good post!

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    1. Hi Tom and Matthew,

      Indeed, there is such a big mess now that I only have this to say, not with more words but with a stylized cartoon that I created in the parlance of political satire at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/the-quotation-fallacy/best-quotation-to-win-an-exclusive-loyal-contract-to-make-pig-boss-company-great-again/

      Given the escalating social problems and ongoing environmental crises on Earth, it would be easy for those like us to imagine that we could be citizens in the kind of morally and technologically advanced societies portrayed in Star Trek. Unfortunately, we were born several centuries too early. Sometimes one might indeed feel that it would be very nice to join Roy Neary in the movie “Close Encounter of the Third Kind” and to leave the Earth for good so as to achieve or awaken interstellar or (inter)galactic Spiritual Revolutionaries!

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    2. Thanks! What I’ve tried to do is apply one of my historiographical techniques – the ‘step back and look for the underlying driver’ method. It works better for history because the view of the past is by nature only partial and the driving patterns more obvious. in the present, we’re swamped by the detail of the immediate and – all too often, I fear public opinion is swung by whatever current frameworks of argument are being used, as if one has to be right and the other wrong exclusively. Apropos the French Revolution – Forester was very insightful, as novelists so often are. I sometimes concieve of that period as one of general ferment, driven by the changes in the ancien’ regime, emerging industrialisation and the philosophies of the Age of Reason – it expressed itself differently in different places, through the ‘lenses’ of various different national sub-cultures, and with a lot of inter-play. And so we ended up with the French Revolution (where absolutism was at its worst), the principles by which the US Founding Fathers set up the Constitution (deliberately to create a better society), and a slower change in Britain (which was already a constitutional monarchy); a general sea-change of ideas, thought and concept about the relationships within complex society.

      All was broadly driven by the socio-economic changes of the day across the developed world, and – except in Britain – in general reaction to the absolutist power of early modern monarchs. In that last regard the French were particularly annoyed at their monarchy at the time – driven home to me when I visited Versailles some years ago. It was a small thing that made it clear. Apparently there were no toilets in the place, way back when. Why? Well, opinion was divided about them. Everybody said you needed ’em. Louis XIV said you didn’t. And, well, who was king? The result was that people – er – ‘went’ in various random places around it and, after a while, this magnificent example of baroque architecture and art was so fouled it had to be evacuated while it was cleaned…

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      1. Yeah…I always thought the central question of civilization was, Quis custodes ipsos custodies? If my nonexistent Latin is correct! Anyway, Who shall guard the guardians? But almost equally important, maybe more important: what the heck will we do with out s**t?

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        1. Pretty much! On which basis – purely as an aside – we may also deduce that the most important single figure in the 2000 year history of London was neither monarch nor Prime Minister, neither churchman nor warlord. It was Joseph Bazalgette.

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  3. “I think that putting a political orientation on things serves only to mislead.”And then it begins. Above, Sarah Angleton cites your sentence that finishes what began with the label. Well done, Matthew, as always.

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    1. Thanks – yes, I’ve tried to picture some of the underlying issues, and I keep seeing that one – ego and self – recurring. Today and, of course, historically. My student experience, way back when, provides a litmus test; the ‘age of anger’ creating a spotlight on that emotion among a group for whom experience has yet to create the tempering of wisdom. I sometimes think that people don’t actually learn, later; all they do is learn how to behave better. Except, sometimes, they don’t behave better; and I fear that social media has become a device for facilitating it these days. Sigh…

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  4. This kind of behavior is an inevitable outcome of the human mind’s limits, and always has been. Lack of self-awareness. Lack of imagination. Etc. etc. Nothing new here, but well said.

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  5. I had wondered where the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ had come from, always seeing them as essentially divisive, exploiting division rather than agreement. Brexit is a fine example. Fear, and perhaps not much else, is a major motivator, we get up and act only when we feel threatened. What is intriguing is that ‘left’ and ‘right’ has given way to ‘leave’ and ‘remain’, rather showing up the shallowness of such divisions. Ban political parties!

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    1. It often intrigues me to think that what – today – we view as a fundamental shape of politics is actually a product of events just 250-odd years ago. In a sense, the behaviours that each view reflect are deeper; we can see elements of them throughout history. However, the specific nature of today – such as the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’ – is also specific to the emergence of a structurally and economically modern society with industrialisation and the Age of Reason. It’s shallow in many senses; the behaviours are considerably more dimensional and contain many shades of other spectrums, such as authoritarianism vs libertarianism, which people of both ‘left’ and ‘right’ can display in extreme at times. There’s a political compass somewhere that tries to plot people on ‘left/right’ vs ‘libertarian/authoritarian’ axes, in three dimensions, but I think that’s still too simplistic. Hujmans are complex beings, we create complex societies, and then we shroud that in simple structures into which people get slotted, usually as a result of one aspect only of their nature or character.

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  6. Oh what a surprise, the authoritarians pulled the Nazi card, never heard that one before 😉 I think they must have grown up with Alanis Morrissett’s version of irony, so they don’t quite get what that is yet 😉

    Couldn’t agree with this post more!

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, both ‘irony’ and ‘hypocrisy’ were lost on these people. I think some of them grew up, but of course this sort of behaviour is part of the human condition and keeps re-emerging in various ways. Just to channel Prof. Sir Karl Popper – what ever happened to reason, reasonableness tolerance, understanding and civilised discussion? Sigh…

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