Funny old world, I remember my mother using that phrase, and now, perhaps thirty years later I discover it was written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Perhaps it’s an appropriate expression to be brought to mind when I’ve just read that China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Algeria, and Cuba have won seats on the UN Human Rights Council?
But there again, political hypocrisy has been the soundtrack of my life. After all I can remember America defending democracy by the simple expedient of propping up military dictatorships throughout much of the world.
It’s hardly a new phenomenon. I remember reading of an exchange in the House of Lords. One honourable Lord was reduced to spluttering fury. Her Majesty’s government had just recognised as head of state an African tyrant who had seized power by killing his predecessor. In the words of the irate gentleman “Never has a British Government sunk so low.”
At this point an older and potentially wiser member of the chamber had risen to his feet and raised a point of accuracy. He remembered a case when the British Government had recognised a dictator who had not merely killed his predecessor but had eaten him as well.
Are we entitled to intervene to impose our opinions upon others? Was the Second World War justified, or should we have sat back and let Fascism evolve and burn itself out? Was the creed that perpetrated the Holocaust a legitimate target?
But what about modern campaigns which might crush tyrants or regimes of which we disapprove; but that might well also secure energy supplies? Are they justified? Are we justified in going to war with an organisation that regards a fair proportion of the human race as non-persons who are fit only to be chattels of the rest? In the UK we’ve decided to join in the war against Islamic extremism, but we never interfered in the American civil war.
Personally I would suggest that hypocrisy abroad starts with hypocrisy at home. One problem is that we expect to get what we want at the expense of others. Look at the howl that has gone up over the price of energy this winter. Look at the complaints about the price of food. But if we were honest with ourselves, the prices have gone up because they were far too cheap; we were getting a good deal at the expense of others. Apparently, countries like Saudi Arabia now need an oil price of at least $100 a barrel to cover the level of social payments, food subsidies and suchlike they pay to their own population.
You cannot expect cheap food and energy and then bewail the conditions faced by those who are struggling to make a living producing that food.
But with the ‘my beliefs first’ attitude well entrenched we manage to take things even further.
Let us take the issue of the Winter Olympics in the Russia. Do I like the Russian government’s attitude (which may or may not be widely shared by the Russian people) to homosexuality? Frankly, no.
Do I think the Winter Olympics should be held there? Well let us put this in perspective. I have no interest whatsoever in the Winter Olympics (but then I never watched anything to do with the 2012 Olympics in London either.) If the Winter Olympics were cancelled, postponed or moved to Barnsley, it would bother me not at all.
But there are athletes out there who’ve worked for years, practicing, training, giving up all sorts of things, with the 2014 games as their goal. In 2018 they’ll be too old or past their best or new talent will have come through. Their lives have been geared to these games.
If I decide I’m affronted by the Russian attitude am I entitled to demand the games be boycotted, to demand that others screw up their lives to ensure that my beliefs are given the priority I think they deserve?
Surely it cannot be anything other than gross hypocrisy on my part to sit in a house warmed (directly or indirectly) by Russian gas, expecting others to sacrifice their careers because it’s an easy way for me to air my beliefs?
Surely I’m no better than those who demand that women sacrifice their independence of thought and action because their interpretation of their religious beliefs tells them this is how the world should be?
Complicated old world isn’t it?
The more you learn the less certain you become. Leap on a passing bandwagon and you discover it’s a tumbrel taking some poor innocent to the guillotine. I’ll leave you with a comment from a web cartoon, ‘Looking for Group’ at http://www.lfgcomic.com/