72. Other Perspectives on Hypocrisy

As a little boy I was bewildered to hear my father denounce the “hypocrites,” “the fascists!” and “les cochons” (French for pigs). I had no idea whether these were imaginary figures, animals, real people, or simply the angry expletives of adults. Today I still hear the words “hypocrite” and “hypocrisy” being hurled quite indiscriminately by politicians of all parties on both sides of the Atlantic. Obviously these words have endurance, having been coined by the Greeks 2,500 years ago to describe masked play-actors who falsely pretended to virtues they did not possess.

Today the crafty political hypocrites veil or mask their persona with assumed virtue, or as the 19th Century wit, Ambrose Bierce, wrote, “hypocrisy is prejudice with a halo.” Dictionaries define a hypocrite as pretending to a virtuous character with moral religious beliefs or principles that he does not really hold. I would define hypocrisy as being the devious pretense used to bridge the often unjust or undesirable gap between what is and what could be.

I think hypocrisy is so vehemently denounced because it assumes “that which is not” and, although the duplicity of the hypocrite is not as manifest as that of the cheat or the liar, it may rankle even more. That most insightful philosopher, Hannah Arendt, wrote that “what made the hypocrite so odious was that he claimed not only sincerity but naturalness.” She went on to point out that “Psychologically speaking one may say that the hypocrite is too ambitious; not only does he want to appear virtuous before others, he wants to convince himself.”1

What I find most intriguing about hypocrisy is its unexpected, and ultimately positive, impact. Our traditionally historical values, like freedom, honor, integrity, liberty, tolerance, truth and trust are being steadily devalued. However, when we attack those who are hypocritical in their promotion of certain values for political or economic reasons, we seem unable to recognize that the hypocrites are demonstrating to society that those values still exist.

One of the principal characteristics of moral fictions is that they purport to provide society with impersonal and objective criteria, which of course they do not. Morality is more than merely conforming to the norms of the great majority; it involves listening to an inner voice. One problem in judging a hypocrite is that we do not know what his or her inner voice might be. (And I wish to point out that it has been rare for a woman to be labeled as being hypocritical, although this is becoming less exceptional, witness the case of Hillary Clinton.)

Hypocrisy exposes the basic inconsistencies between the image politicians and religious leaders often seek to portray and the reality of their actions. Religion and hypocrisy frequently appear to go together. Sometimes this is even welcomed! One proselytizing minister, exclaimed: “The Church is full of Hypocrites! Yes, it is, and thank God for that, it means the church is doing its job. The church wants hypocrites, adulterers, thieves and more, for the church is where we receive healing. To condemn the church because it has failed members is to condemn a hospital because it’s full of sick people.”

The recent unwillingness of different churches to examine their own infractions or even their criminality, and cover this up with evasions and sanctimonious excuses, is gradually being corrected for Catholics by the openness of Pope Francis. Of all the attacks on hypocrisy in religion, none has ever moved me more than the passage from Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. Douglass, (1818-1895) a former slave and eminent human rights leader in the abolition movement, was the first black citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank: “… I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land… I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of ‘stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.’ I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cow-skin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus… The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master.”2

The early Christians, guided by St. Augustine, offered affixed revelation of confidently absolute and unchanging morality and truth. The religious life was to be lived in adherence to fixed beliefs. The depth of Christian sophistry in the middle ages was nothing less than hypocrisy in giving convenient exemptions to a large part of Christ’s teachings: The Gospel texts in favor of abolishing wealth and private property were absolute and largely ignored by all those seeking material gratification.

The next largest social grouping accused of hypocrisy are the politicians. Much of our moral and political talk of defending civilized values often covers hypocrisy driven by greed and envy. Hannah Arendt wrote that “In politics more than anywhere else, we have no possibility of distinguishing between being and appearance. In the realm of human affairs, being and appearance are indeed one and the same.”3

Politicians tend to justify themselves (and their supporters) for those moral lapses that they are always ready to condemn in the opposition. It is important to note that two hundred years ago Benjamin Disraeli, who was later to become Prime Minister, said on the floor of the House of Commons that “A Conservative government is organized hypocrisy.”4

Although not many Americans appreciate it, hypocrisy has been an important part of Washington’s ability to get its policies accepted abroad. In a featured article in the respected establishment magazine, Foreign Affairs, two political theoreticians cautioned readers on the End of Hypocrisy in Washington,5 For much of the post WWII era the sincerity of US politicians was so embedded that they could not accept that their hypocrisy was “a key strategic resource” nor that they were unable to abide by the moral values they trumpeted. Now, after the revelations of wikileaks, Manning and Snowden, Washington finds it far more difficult to cover-up its hypocrisy and many officials may even feel pressured to start practicing what they have preached.

A hundred years ago President Woodrow Wilson, despite his ardent espousal of “open covenants openly arrived at, ultimately recognized that in international politics the action of sovereign states at times demanded a degree of hypocrisy. Now, elected officials in the age of nuclear, chemical, biological and terrorist threats are faced with responsibility for the fundamental welfare of their nation, so the extent to which they choose to match their decisions with moral constraints has to be nuanced. For example, after years of preaching the virtues of nuclear nonproliferation, Washington discreetly accepted Israel’s nukes and then affirmed India’s rights despite the fact that Delhi had flouted the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

No longer able to occupy the moral high ground, Washington’s pursuit of self-interest has become evident to all. The days of hegemony may be over but its administrators sorely miss “the lubricating oil of hypocrisy.”

American politicians are not alone in having become desensitized to their country’s double standards. Our aspirations may be fervent, but these are often not supported by the policy choices of politicians. Their hypocritical behavior tends to upset us because we would like to take peoples words and actions as witness to their character. Our generally liberal society is faced with the challenge of how we can preserve the virtues of diversity, individuality, tolerance and liberty when those virtues, carried to current capitalist extremes, serve to undermine society. Despite the erosion of morality in the 21st Century, the electorates, accustomed as they have become to hypocrisy, persist in believing that the difference between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, is important. Two philosophers cautioned a generation ago that we will perceive that we have a moral allegiance to a manifestly imperfect, if not immoral society, and we will find, paradoxically, that our duty lies in the service of ideals which we nevertheless know we cannot possibly achieve.”6

I shall not forget that beyond the religious and political domains, the fruits of hypocrisy are also shared by economists and bankers. Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz attributed the new lows of 2008 to “a pattern of dishonesty on the part of financial institutions and incompetence on the part of policy makers.”7 The hypocrisy of HSBC in advising thousands of its British and American clients on the best ways to avoid or evade taxes was manifest. Both customers and the media have become accustomed to the hypocrisy of banks which rejected any suggestion that they should face regulation and rebuffed any move towards anti-trust measures, but when the crisis struck in 2008, they pleaded for state intervention on the basis that they were too important to be allowed to fail.

However outrageous the history of hypocrisy may be, I think nothing matches the incredible role and the passion for unmasking it that came into play towards the end of the French Revolution of 1789. The hunt for hypocrites demanded by Robespierre became covered in blood. He and his followers equated virtue with the qualities of the heart and saw the subverting forces of intrigue, calumny, treachery and hypocrisy, above all, everywhere. Hypocrisy of the heart was the most feared because it was the best hidden of the conflicts of the soul. Hannah Arendt wrote that “the never-ending fight to ferret out the hypocrites was a fight which could only end in defeat because of the simple fact that it was impossible to distinguish between true and false patriots. Ultimately “It was the war on hypocrisy that transformed Robespierre’s dictatorship into the Reign of Terror.”8

It is surprising that hypocrisy, which I always regarded as a minor vice, could have been hated so intensively above all the others. Is it really such a monster? Hannah Arendt regarded the question of the relationship between being and appearance as one of the most ancient of metaphysical problems whose implications and perplexities with respect to the social and political realms challenged Socrates, Machiavelli, Nietzsche and modern philosophers as well.

Machiavelli instructed leaders to “Appear as you may wish to be.” By this he meant that it is not relevant how you really are in politics – only appearance counts. If you can manage to appear to others as you wish, you’ve got it made. Arendt said that the hypocrite’s crime is that he bears false witness against himself because integrity can exist under the cover of all other vices except hypocrisy. The courts of law have for centuries recognized that the manner of presentation can be as prejudicial as the verity of the evidence offered. Consequently elaborate structures of rules of evidence have arisen but none for judging a hypocrite.

Hypocrites do take advantage of the gap between aspirations and reality. The only way this could be overcome would be to deny aspirations. Hypocrites, however, have aspirations or claims to allegiance even if they cannot live up to them. So Giles Fraser, a London Priest, exclaims: “Hurrah for hypocrisy!” Fraser notes that “it is with the modern media that the charge of hypocrisy really takes off, for it is here that exposing the gap between moral aspiration and actual behavior has become one of the standard measures of a person’s moral standing.”9 Ironically, when it comes to morality, the hypocrite’s perceptions go to prove our cognizance of values and virtues. We must therefore be thankful for the very existence of hypocrisy for without it we might be even more amoral than we currently are.


1Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963) p.103
2Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, (1845)
3Arendt, op.cit.p.94
4Benjamin Disraeli, March 17, 1845)
5Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, “The End of Hypocrisy”, Foreign Affairs, November 2013.
6Michael Polanyi with Harry Prosch, Meaning (1975) p 214.
7Joseph Stiglitz, “The fruit of hypocrisy,” The Guardian, September 16, 2008.
8Arendt, op.cit. ,p .95
9Giles Fraser, ”Give me hypocrisy over cynicism every day,” The Guardian, February 25, 2015

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71. Denying the Dangers of Growth

“Capitalism, as a system, is based on growth, some of it extremely harmful: there has been enormous global expansion in air and water pollution, soil erosion, and the burning of forests. This adds an ironic twist to capitalism’s ‘grow or die’ challenge. As capitalism has kept on growing and expanding on a global scale over the past two centuries, both nature and indigenous civilizations are being bulldozed in the process. We must face up to the fact that eventually any group, species, or system based on endless expansion must collapse. Endless growth, as any doctor will tell you, is the way of cancer. It is death. If unchecked, such growth guarantees our own extinction as a species in relatively few generations.”1

This passage from my book, Dollars or Democracy,(2004) incorporated a frontal attack on the dependence of politicians and the entire economic system on growth. As I pointed out at the time, growth at a level of 2 per cent per year could not continue for very long. The mathematics of such accumulations are simply prohibitive. And yet politicians around the world are acting as if they were deaf and blind by continuing to uphold “growth” as their best slogan for re-election. Those in power refuse to recognize that capitalism, which brought us out of feudalism and from the industrial revolution to the digital age has now become a failed system in the battle against environmental extinction. They are in denial: We admit that capitalism never was a stable system but are reluctant to recognize that it has become downgraded from being a force for development to being a tool for the hyper-rich to become ever richer. But then the end logic of capitalism has always been capital accumulation.

The crash of 2008 did not resolve any of the basic economic problems facing mankind, like the environment, runaway technology, and the shift away from labor to automation. I had expected that a collapse of the economic system would lead to a rethink and eventually to a complete overhaul of what existed. I had proposed an entirely new economic model, “The Incentive Economy,” which would bring back hope into the way we lived. Instead, the inept and basically venal banking system was propped up by the injection of hundreds of billions of dollars which saved the bankers and the corporate world and made a few at the top even richer. Where I had proposed an end to the corporate structure and its transformation into a cooperative one, the multi-national corporations grew ever more powerful through newly formulated global tax evasion. Yes, the corporate world embraced that kind of growth.

Mathematics, statistics, and reading ability should all tell the people that economic growth is not like that of springtime greens. And yet, despite the alarms coming from environmental scientists that we must stop the devastating side-effects of growth, insufficient notice is being taken. The writer Naomi Klein has emphasized that economic reforms so essential to controlling the environment “are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”2

Another outspoken writer, George Monbiot, has come out with one editorial page analysis after another clearly spelling out the simple message that the impact of economic expansion is destroying our planet. Monbiot, repeatedly warns that there is no alternative policy accepted by mainstream political parties to replace growth addicted capitalism: “Why are we wrecking the natural world and public services to generate growth, when that growth is not delivering contentment, security or even, for most of us, greater prosperity? Why have we enthroned growth, regardless of its utility, above all other outcomes? Is it not time to think again? To stop sacrificing our working lives, our prospects, our surroundings to an insatiable God?”3

However, all too few economists are listening. They are in denial. Many cling to 20th Century prospects. All too many still continue to regard labor as a commodity! They categorize workers as input in the production of wealth. Perhaps it is that many economists are so dependent on the current economic system that they cannot afford to consider the critical need for an alternative. Adam Smith would not for an instant have tolerated the corrupt economic world we live in today. Justice was central to Smith’s critique of the crony capitalism which was just then (around 1800) forming. Today all too often the crooked capitalism of many corporations, banks, auditors, lobbyists and tax evaders are calling the (false) tune. To my amazement, economists still consider free markets (characterized by individual selfishness and social competitiveness) as the ideal form of economic organization. The truth is that free-market encouragement of selfish behavior has led to the increasing breakup of communities, rising divorce rates, increased loneliness for the young and old, soaring drug use and a massive decline in trust.

Richard Smith, an outspoken economic outsider, has been clear in charging that “Capitalism is, overwhelmingly, the main driver of planetary ecological collapse. From climate change to resource overconsumption to pollution, the engine that has powered three centuries of accelerating economic development revolutionizing technology, science, culture, and human life itself is, today, a roaring out-of-control locomotive mowing down continents of forests, sweeping oceans of life, clawing out mountains of minerals, drilling, pumping out lakes of fuels, devouring the planet’s last accessible resources to turn them all into “product” while destroying fragile global ecologies built up over eons of time.”4

Daniel Cohen (an economics professor of Paris’s Ecole Normale Superieure) maintains “Powerful software is doing the work of humans, but humans thus replaced are unable to find productive jobs.”5 McKinsey, an eminent consultancy firm, estimates that new technologies will put some 140 million service jobs at risk in the next decade. Another study estimates that 47 percent of all employment in the United States is susceptible to automation over the next two decades. Few believe that job creation is going to keep pace with automation.”6

The manifest failures of the prevailing materialistic outlook have led to growing loneliness and depression writes economics analyst Hugo Dixon: “In pursuing growth, other precious things can get damaged. This includes our social environment — our communities and networks of friendship and family — as well as our physical environment.”7 Dixon believes that it is necessary to focus more on quality than quantity and take better care of the social fabric. Ultimately, the economy should service society rather than the society servicing capitalism.

In Dollars or Democracy? I clearly spelled out the prospects of an alternative “Incentive Economy ” with enormous social changes but little financial growth. I proposed that a basic income would be the right of every adult: Those without a regular job could volunteer their time on sick and elder care, child mentoring, community gardening, as well as innumerable cultural projects. Instead of growth the aim would be for greater social and economic equality, cooperation, sharing, community and creativity. Education, for example, could develop and expand with next to zero impact on the environment; so could most of the arts from music to painting and writing as well as film and video making. Yes, there are creative human alternatives to the artificial economic growth being manufactured by speculators, bankers, corporate executives, advertising agencies, real estate tycoons, and national treasuries.

I should like to conclude with a ten year old paragraph from my book:

“The new paradigm that we must forge together is one of a globally civil society based on economic cooperation rather than competition and cancerous growth. What is needed is not an affirmation of money, in the form of dollars or euros, but a sustainable way of life and human community…Reconciling our new technologies with our economy is one of the challenges of the twenty-first century I have tried to address. Obviously the social norms that still worked for the 19th century have been disrupted by economic advances on many fronts and society has failed to catch up. The planet desperately needs a global discussion about our economic future, specifically targeted at the long-term weakness of plutocratic market capitalism. The promised land of tomorrow may seem like a distant dream, but I would like to think that we could advance in the right direction. As the Bible proclaimed: We too have it in our power to “make all things new.”

 


1Yorick Blumenfeld, Dollars or Democracy? (2004) p.75
2Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything,”(2015)
3George Monbiot, “Growth: the destructive God that can never be appeased,” The Guardian, November 19, 2014
4Richard Smith, “Capitalism and the destruction of life on Earth: Six theses on saving the humans,” World Economic Review, #64.
5Daniel Cohen, “When the growth model fails,” The New York Times, February 13, 2015.
6Kastrin Bennhold, “After jobs dry up, what then?” New York Times, March 11, 2015
7Hugo Dixon, “Growth vs. what really makes life good.” The New York Times , December 7, 2014

70. Upholding Handwriting

I am writing this blog because I feel that the single most artistic activity of human beings that is being threatened is the art of writing. Cursive writing is under attack. I treasure handwriting, but the way we are headed, future generations may not be able to read cursive texts nor even sign their names! In this respect I think that digitalization is whittling away our humanity on a grand scale. We must confront this.

You may object that today’s youths won’t miss anything when they no longer write with pen or pencil — but that is also because all too many of us take the act of writing for granted. Many see it only as a means of communication — like a telegram (also on its way out). Just as a voice on the telephone tells you a lot about the personality and character of the caller, handwriting conveys even more about the state of mind of the writer. The digital message is close to being anonymous. The ABC of electronic letters does not reveal anything about the sender (perhaps to the regret of the Secret Service!)

So what is happening? Teaching handwriting in primary schools is on its way out. In the United States and other countries, like Finland, technology is replacing writing just as it is seriously affecting so many important human activities ranging from memory to contact with the natural world. Today’s teenagers are far more comfortable texting on their mobiles, touch-typing on iPads or tapping on laptop keys than holding a pencil or pen in their hands. For many students, cursive is becoming difficult to read. For teachers, however, computer word processed papers are easier to read and to correct. Even more important, teachers feel the digital advances provide them with extra time to spend on other common core standards.

Prof. Richard S. Christen, an expert in education at the University of Portland in Oregon, told The New York Times that cursive writing could easily be replaced with printed handwriting or word processing, but he was concerned that students will lose an artistic skill. “These kids are losing [class]time where they created beauty every day,” he said. “I’m mourning the beauty, the aesthetics.”1 The splendor of Chinese and Japanese brush strokes, the vitality of Arab calligraphy, and the glory of medieval manuscripts are part of the history of writing which has so enriched civilizations.

The everyday process of writing, over the past two millennia, had become integral to our cultural evolution. The ability to write was something that could affect the future of a child’s life. Writing also was a companion to the arts. The way children progressed in their writing influenced their lives in a fundamental way. I shall try to explain this at some length because I regard it as crucial to our understanding of the process of writing itself.

For children the slow progress of communication starts only a little after babbling. Klara Roman in her exceptional book, Handwriting: A key to Personality, wrote that it all begins with the pleasure children have in scribbling, that is, taking a pencil and marking up sheets of paper rather haphazardly. “This random movement has been compared to the graphic equivalent of babbling. It is free, spontaneous motor play — of movement for its own sake.”2 After a while, maybe some days or months, such random movement becomes sequential. Each child develops its own individual approach: one may push the pencil in an angular way producing zigzags, another produces circling whorls. The energy they exert varies greatly: some hold the pencil lightly, others cover the paper with diffused weak strokes, while a few make forceful sweeping marks. Usually a pattern develops which will be repeated over and over. This is the child’s own imprint and achievement and fills it with delight. It not only empowers, it also is a basic way of self-expression which involves mastering one of the first tools.

With a relatively stable pattern of scribbling a child can express its different moods: Sadness will reduce the size of the more downward strokes. Cheerfulness will expand the line patterns, while anxiety will constrict them. Child psychologists point out that feelings of aggression are displayed in increased angularity while rage results in outbursts of vehement strokes. The scribbling stage does not last long, but presents a visible record of the infant’s self-expression before and independently of teaching. Repetition of its pattern-making gives a pleasurable feeling, in part because it bestows the comfort of familiarity. Its individual execution makes it easily identifiable from that of other children. Scribbling is an expression of fundamental personality traits. At about the age of four scribbling is usually abandoned in favor of drawing, and after that comes writing.

The first efforts to push a pencil over paper in order to copy a letter of the alphabet are hampered by cramped movement of the hand. Learning penmanship is often an ordeal as well as an embarrassment to the five year old. Free expression must come to an end when the child learns to write under school instruction which enforces the imitation of copybook letters. Only gradually will the child acquire sufficient eye to hand control to copy each letter accurately in what is called print script — that is, with little or no connection between the letters. Only later will children be coached in the transition to cursive writing. Their handwriting will develop steadily throughout the primary school years. Generally children will progress to write in a firm and controlled manner. Their familiarity with reading, writing and speaking will become fully integrated in their minds.

When children enter first grade they usually have acquired a basic understanding of language in a haphazard fashion. Reading and writing will then demand a more formal and systematic approach. The first grader will read aloud printed words in a monotone way without understanding their meaning. Similarly in copying words, they will trace letters without comprehending the sense of the word. Eventually, seeing, hearing and writing the word simultaneously will represent the essential leap forward. It used to be a kind of a rite of passage to be able to write like grown-ups. There was pride in the dexterity, the fluidity and the exactness which are essential when putting pen and pencil on paper. Now the manual script skills of the past are fast disappearing. An art form is being de-activated.

I am only an amateur graphologist, but to this day I greatly admire the handwriting of my parents. The way my father (a famous photographer) brandished his pen reveals his virtuosity, his vitality, humor, strength of character, intuition, insight, charm, self-confidence and- above all — his artistry. However, his writing has none of the commitment, steadiness, understanding, compassion and humanity of my mother’s handwriting which, for all its merits, lacks both an artistic bent or ambition. Today their letters, written decades ago, reveal so much of who they were. Admittedly, today’s videos also can present astonishing aspects of those pictured for future generations, but they lack the extraordinary depths provided by handwriting.

As it is, people no longer keep diaries, and letters from our friends are becoming rarities. The lack of such writings will seriously affect the historical research of tomorrow.

I find it highly discouraging that when the fate of writing is being discussed by law-makers in Washington, references are usually made that unless they are taught script, students will no longer be able to read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence which were originally written in copperplate script.3 Politicians seem to have blinkers on. Scribbling will continue, just as the babbling of infants will not stop, but script writing may soon come to an end. The problem facing us is a much larger one which those pushing the advances of technology should not be left to resolve. Nor should teachers and their unions be forced to decide.

I believe that teenagers who create handwritten paragraphs are engaged in a process which enhances their conceptual understanding as well as their memory. Hitting a button with one’s fingers is a markedly different exercise from carefully shaping letters into words. Critics admit that pen and pencil may help develop motor skills but that children can record their thoughts at a much faster pace by tapping their fingers. Speed in writing, like speed in everything else in our modern lives has become a determining factor… but there will be a price to pay in having machines gradually bulldozing our humanity.


1Katie Zezima, “The Case for Cursive,” The New York Times, April 27, 2011.
2Klara G.Roman, “Handwriting: A Key to Personality,” (1952) p. 21
3Libby Nelson, “Cursive handwriting is useless, but politicians want students to learn it anyway,libby@vox.com, February 1, 2015, 4:00pm