Faultlines – Hypocrisy – 4 – The Currency of Hypocrisy

In this series of blog posts I have been investigating how accusations of hypocrisy are deployed by combatants on both sides of the climate debate – a firefight that is less about whether something should be done and more about when something should be done and by who. Do we close down the coal mines today or tomorrow? Do we put the dishwasher on an eco-cycle or revamp the entire transport network?

Those that argue something needs to be done right now, the “nowists” if you like, have taken to the streets to make their voice heard, attempting to expose the hypocrisy of institutional bodies who say, alternatively, that this can all happen in good time, the “good timers” if you will. The good timers, for their part, attempt to expose the hypocrisy of the nowists,  as judging one and all, whilst not acting on any of these changes themselves.

But both groups, in their very accusations of hypocrisy, point to a common ground, the basic moral principles a society should abide by. When those principles became clear eg during the second world war, with one nation united against a common foe, accusations of hypocrisy disappeared. It is only now, during a peacetime of ‘culture wars’, with our plural identities, that hypocrisy feels rife. When in fact beneath the surface these same moral certainties remain.

In the bish-bash-bosh of social media we might be forgiven for thinking there are no better or worse hypocrisies only entrenched positions of mutual distrust. But is this really the case? In previous posts I’ve talked about personal and insitutional double standards; the difference between an individual discrepancy, eg driving a car to a climate protest, and a government double speak, eg opening new coal mines after signing up to a climate agreement.

But there is another way of looking at hypocrisy – narrow and broad[i]. In narrow, an individual expresses an expedient opinion, perhaps to gain votes or followers, whilst acting in an entirely different way for self-interest. In the broad sense, there are things we all fall short on, eg taking our children to school in a car whilst being worried about climate breakdown. Narrow hypocrisy seems far less morally palatable than this broad kind.

Those at the forefront of activism eg civil rights activists or climate protestors, cannot help but be hypocrites in the broad, day to day, sense. They cannot make change happen without falling short of their own high standards in a society that has yet to accept that change.

This is not to say that all activists should get a free pass but on the other hand calling all climate activists hypocrites isn’t enough. We need to think carefully about what kind of hypocrites they are and where their motivations begin and end.

As I write Rishi Sunak, the UK Government Treasurer, is charging oil companies a windfall tax in the energy crisis whilst at the same time giving tax breaks to those same companies for investing in oil exploration. The moral equation, on the surface, reads as: we the government,are helping you the people, now. But Rishi Sunak’s “nowism” turns out to be an inverted “Maoism” of considerable distortions. Those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, the poor and marginalised, are having their futures diminished by fossil fuel excavation. This isn’t sturdy conservative pragmatism, it isn’t a “just transition to a carbon free economy”, it is duplicitous hypocrisy of the narrowest kind, which benefits those with the least to lose, affluent oil companies and elite politicians.

Am I guilty of creating my own Faultline here? Of setting up yet another antagonism? I don’t think so. If we analyse hypocrisy closely enough, we can all see, regardless of our political affiliation, a basic sense of right or wrong, a clear demarcation of decency or duplicity. In the second world war this was self-evident. In the Ukraine crisis our shared moral and ethical codes are rapidly developing. In the climate wars our shared ethical framework is proving slower to coalesce but the sooner we can gather around this common cause, the sooner we can find a way out of the maze of hypocrisy, and onto a more sensible conversation about what we need to do and when.

[i] Hypocrisy: Ethical Investigations by Bela Szabados and Eldon Soifer

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Faultlines – Hypocrisy –  3 – What We Share

In the last two posts I talked about the history of the word ‘hypocrisy’ and how this helps us understand why it so often used, and used so divisively, especially when discussing climate change.

Activist : “The government accepts that action on Climate Change is needed but does nothing to stop it.”

Interviewer : “But did you come to the protest on your electric moped?”

Conservative political movements on the right sense an implicit judgement in the “woke” politics of the left. And the left are judged for this very “wokeism”. We can trace the use of the word hypocrisy, as judgement, all the way back to religious awakening and the parable of Jesus and the Pharisees.

Today religion no longer has the same sway and what we call a moral right, or wrong, is far less clear. A variety of pluralistic beliefs fight for attention in what we call the culture wars and our sense of morality has a less concrete foundation. Perhaps this is one reason why hypocrisy is so often used as a defensive and neutralising term. When we reveal hypocrisy in matters of existential importance, be that climate change or political change, we are fighting for the viability of the moral framework of society itself, a framework that is feeling increasingly unstable.

But here’s the good news.

The fervent importance we give to hypocrisy, and exposing hypocrites, means that, fundamentally, we’re all concerned with the same thing – the inherent value of a system of morals, and the ethical codes and laws that spring from that. Both sides of the debate, left and right, Climate Activists and Climate Inactivists, by deploying hypocrisy so frequently and volubly, are both declaring that they want the same thing, a decent set of moral codes by which we can live by.

This is the common ground, the bridge that reaches over the faultlines, a place that, with a bit of listening, empathy and understanding, we can build a new set of environmental ethics. Not some kind of utopian peace camp, but a Venn diagram of what both sides believe to be important,  from which we can build a path into the uncertain future, sunblock in hand.

Next week – the cyptocurrency of hypocrisy – is a little hypocrisy worth exposing a larger hypocrisy when all the all world’s burning?

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Faultlines – Hypocrisy – 2 – Judgement

In my last post I described how the word hypocrisy originates in Greek theatre, from hypokrite, an actor who plays their role in counterpoint to the main chorus of the drama. In this sense the Climate Activist storming the kerb side of our tv screens and live streams, is already a hypocrite before they’ve even opened their mouths.

But this hypokrite has no moral push and pull. Its “wrongness”, it’s evilness if you like, only enters popular understanding, with the parable of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees seek to catch Jesus out, by asking him if taxes should be payable to the Roman emperor or not.

Jesus recognised their bad faith and said to them, “Why are you trying to trip me up you hypocrites?”

With this a negative moral intent or ‘wrong’ is read into the use of the word hypocrisy for the first time. The Pharisees, the moral arbiters of Hebrew law, profess to pass judgement on others, when they themselves commit the greater sin of lacking a basic human kindness. Here hypocrisy becomes tied up not just with double standards but with judgement. Who are you to judge me?

And this is at the foundation of all accusations of hypocrisy against Climate protestors. Who are you to judge me, when you drink from the same polluted fountain of capitalism, with your traveller lifestyles, with your smoggy vans, with your trust funds, with your organic bakeries and your middle class enclaves of organic puritanism. Who are you to tell me, how to live my life?

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of any protest movement, throwing yourself into the spotlight of street theatre, and judging others on the cornerstone of their faith, in this case Oil, is going to elicit wails of hypocrisy, particularly from the more conservative areas of society.

Conservatism is not only bound by ideals of law and the strict moral codes inherent in those laws but an appeal to the values, or domestic laws, of home and family.  We can see this in the writing of Jordan Peterson, an intellectual whose philosophy and views owe something to the older traditions of Christianity, and whose ideas have been more fully embraced by the right. Personal responsibility and responsibility for keeping your home in order are paramount, “set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world” says Professor Peterson, a man who holds particular ire for climate activists, “self appointed judges of the human race.”

To me it seems the message of frontline Climate Activism, is not so much directed at the lifestyle of the average man and woman in the street, as the systemic double speak of broken government promises. The message of Climate Activism may be the hypocrisy of systemic inaction but it is read by many who witness it, as a personal judgement. The preoccupation of the left leaning Climate Activist may be for systemic change, for societal action, but it meets a right leaning political preoccupation with personal responsibility and putting your own home in order first.

“Why are they asking me if my shoes are vegan when there is a new open coal mine being proposed?” thinks the flag wearing Climate Activist. Because your shoes are your responsibility thinks the right leaning climate skeptic.

This isn’t to say that all Climate Activists are left wing and all Climate Skeptics, right wing, far from it. But those trying to raise the profile of our climate crisis need to recognise that the individuals trying to bump them off the streets with their SUVs, or drag them from the roofs of tube trains, may feel those climate concerns as a personal judgement, that heightens the moral charge of hypocrisy, particularly when the activist’s personal lifestyle doesn’t mirror the change they are arguing for. Two different types of hypocrisy are being lobbed like hand grenades into the trenches of intransience.

But this doesn’t mean there can be no meeting place, there is no way out of this firefight. In fact our very preoccupation with hypocrisy means, strangely, that both sides share the same moral plot of ground, a little patch of no-mans land between the trenches, where a game of football might be played, a little common humanity allowed.

Tune in next week when football metaphors are replaced by brand new metaphors in even sexier shorts. Scratchy hemp knickers. With a silky bow.

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Faultlines – Hypocrisy – 1

A series that explores the confrontations of climate action – this week – hypocrisy – first installment.

Through the bog roll telescope of social and unsocial media, climate activists have been copping it more than most. Their shoes are made of fossil fuels. Their trucks burn enough diesel to bury seventeen kittens. Their vegan sausages are made from the dead frog babies they dissected in their privately educated biology lessons.

The activist argument, in the other direction, is that the government is hypocritical in megaton quantities of magnitude. The unfulfilled promises of a thousand treaties fall down from the sky like volcanic ash.

This is the Faultline of hypocrisy. Each side sees the other as a moral contradiction.

How do we find a way out from the double mirror of hypocrisy? And should we even try to?

Going back to the etymology, the source code of language, is too often a lazy win. But understanding the origin of the word hypocrisy, really does begin to shed some light on this eternal confrontation.

In Greek theatre the individual speaker, or hupokrites, had a separate voice from the overarching chorus, speaking under (hupo) and separate (krinein) to it. But there was no moral counterweight. To be a hypocrite was to be an actor, to pretend something you are not, in counterpoint to another story. But it wasn’t necessarily wrong.

In climate activism (where a strong message needs to be conveyed immediately) there is certainly pumped-up drama – locking yourself to a building, dousing yourself with fake oil, dumping a boat in the highstreet. But the nicety of the proscenium ‘fourth wall’ that separates theatre from the audience is ignored, in fact it is visibly torn assunder. Activism is rude, it is crude, it intrudes through the fourth wall into the daily news cycle of everybody’s lives, whether they’ve bought a ticket to the show or not. Not only is the activist going against the grain of the chorus, the prevailing status quo, they are throwing the whole notion of a regulated fiction, or non-fiction, out of the window. Activists are hypocrites before they have even opened their mouths. As the philosophers Bela Szabados and Eldon Soifer elucidate hypokrites in their book Hypocrisy – Ethical Investigations:

“There is a distance between theatre and real life traditionally marked by the sharp separation of the stage from the audience. We expect and respect this distance and are embarrassed by, and resentful of, those who are unaware of it and, say, mount the stage…” We might praise a conventional actor for their performance but the “more convincing the hypocrisy the more we blame the unmasked hypocrite.”

But if it were just about an act, activists couldn’t be accused of hypocrisy in our modern sense. They would simply be histrionic, am-drams with no table manners. So what is that extra ingredient that makes a hypokrite a hypocrite, and by extension the climate activist, ethically questionable? What is the moral flaw at the heart of twenty first century hypocrisy?

And so we move away from Greek theatre and onto the parable of New Testament scripture – Jesus and the Pharisees. This is where the moral flaw is injected.

Please enjoy the intermission. You can get a drink at the bar. Soda water is free.  But you have to pay for the glass.

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Faultlines – Gobbet

What are Monday’s for? Starting the week? That heartsink when the recycling bins are waiting for you like upended suitcases, reminding you you’re always back where you started?

Well joyous bells of heavenly punks. For myself, and the one reader of my blog that lives in Cirencester, I present to you my Monday morning gobbet* of opinion Faultlines.

I’ve long been perplexed and concerned, riled even, by the dividing lines that separate us. All this when we need to be uniting behind the monumental problems we face as a species of consciousness amongst an unconscious planet in the seizures of collapse. You know, the old “we’re fxxxed why don’t those fxxxers understand?” argument. Inversely read as “we’re not fxxxed why don’t those fxxxers understand?” argument. Also reasonably subtitled as “why the need for the strong language Jet?” Well the profane and the profound dance a tight little tango in my opinion.

So what do I have to offer on this stall? Mouldy mushrooms. Half formed clickbait. The odd vegan sausage? “Roll up. Roll up. A bag of meat in a bag,” the butcher used to shout from his refrigerated trailer when I was a kid.

I do not offer you a bag of meat. I offer you a confused man trying to make sense of confusion every Monday. Gathering up a gobbet of opinion.

Next week I begin with hypocrisy. The week after it might be toenails. Or fresh strawberries. Lets see.

*Gobbet: a small piece or lump of something, especially food. Cambridge University Dictionary

*A commentary or gobbet is largely concerned with the explication of a single passage of text; an essay is directed towards a different goal, making a more general argument or arguments on a set topic. Faculty of Classics Oxford University

* “He taught her how to hawk up a prodigious gob of spit” Sid Vicious instructing Viv Albertine in 1970s propulsion.

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It’s a question that’s preoccupied philosophers, writers and theologians for thousands of years. How do you live your life? But the real question has always been – how do you live your life right now? In the pressing concerns of our cultural and historical background.

Across these lives and across these cultural and historical variations there has always been a consistent – the seasons. Kings and Queens, battles and plagues, notions and notaries, have come and gone but the seasons have been there for us, for tens of thousands of years, lilting our lives with the consistent sway of their periodic cycle. But we now live in times of such confusing seasonal disruption, those early Springs and vanishing Summers, tied in with climate change, that our childhood memories of holidays and seasons start to feel awry. We need to find new ways to wrestle and interpret this confusing landscape. Not just of the seasons but of memory and the imagination.

Diseasonality is a new website project that begins to experiment with these shifting sands by marrying the original written sonnets that Vivaldi created for his concerto, The Four Seasons, with the folk nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill.

You can find it here : https://diseasonality.wordpress.com/

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Cycling to Glasgow COP26 with an Ice Block

On Monday 1st November I’m attempting to cycle from Bristol to Glasgow in seven days towing an ice block in a bike trailer to the Glasgow COP26 Climate Conference. The melting polar ice threatens the global ocean currents including the Gulf Stream that protects our temperate climate. A report this year in Nature shows this system is in jeopardy.

My cycle ride is a bit last minute, a bit crazy and might not work. But that’s Climate Conferences for you. #actnow #couragenothope

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New Single ‘Hovercraft’ and New Album – ‘Keep the Light On Baby’

I’m a lot of things. A writer, a psychiatrist, a maker of off-centre marmite sandwiches. But I’m also a musician. The music part of that has always sat alright with me. But the ‘-ician’ bit has always felt uncomfortable. The ‘-ician’ is that extra square of chocolate. You know when Hendrix knocks out an unequalled riff. Or Kate Bush trills to the far reaches of the piano. Or George Ezra smiles a smile so wide you could launch boats off it, whilst, apparently calmly, strumming his way through the highest reaches of pop heaven.

But over the years I have grown more comfortable with ‘songwriter.’ That fits a little more comfortably. I write the songs and pull out the guitar chops that make the songs work, and then the musicians around me, make the songs fly.

I’m proud of this, my umpteenth album of songs, for lots of reasons. Not least because it feels properly musical. Not in a prog-rock-origami-maricami kind of way. But in the radio whisperer kind of way. I can hear so many of these songs coming out of the radio. Almost as if they’d persuaded the transistors they were good enough. Now DJs may or may not agree. But the transistors. The supernatural sound of summer showers on dry pavements of those transistors…well…

One of my earliest memories is being driven to school and hearing an Abba song coming out of the car radio. And thinking how on earth did that happen? That thing there. That sudden shot of energy that came into my ears and through my body which I now call melody but didn’t have the words for at time. How can someone possibly conjure that out of the air, channel it through a machine the size of a sandwich box, and into the back seat? This, now this, is the conjurers transcendence. Not the stuff they call fairy in fairy tales. Not that thing at a pantomime where someone yanks fabric flowers from a dusty looking hat. Not even the melancholy gap between the cut jumps in the original Paddington Bear animation after school ( which always properly spooked me). This Abba thing was it, this indescribable sweetness, coming out of the radio. This was magic. And, was surely, something, I would never be able to do.

There was no culture of musicianship in my family. My Dad learned the accordion but I’d never really heard him play. My Mum was and remains a brilliant fine artist. But there were no songs being sung around the family fire, no journeys through the scales of musical instruments, no long playing records skipping through the dusk. Essentially there was no musical language in my childhood. Not in a poor-me musical poverty kind of way. It just never occurred to any of us to make those score sheets and cassette tapes a central part of our lives.

So the idea that this form of non-words might one day be available…that I could open my mouth and make sounds fly into melody and let the melody lead me through a song seemed ridiculous.

And now here I am releasing an album with my bandmates, The Woodlice, some of whose songs I can imagine coming out of that Datsun radio on the way to school, and thinking, that, well that, that, might just be magic. It may not set the discos alive or shake the foundations of Scandinavian pop. And probably isn’t appropriate for the ears of most seven year old boys. But it’s certainly up there with some of my best wonky marmite sandwiches.

You can find out more and buy the album on digital download / CD / and gorgeous dusk spinning vinyl here

The album ‘Keep the Light On Baby’ was recorded in Easton in Bristol July / August 2020 between the first and second lockdowns in the UK. A time when, for a moment, everything seemed lighter than air. Free from the past and trying not to think about the future. ‘Keep the Light On Baby’ reflects that period of freedom and release, searching for brightness, jumping between shadows, looking for lift-off in the pillars of sunlight.

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I Wanna Be A Hovercraft

When I was a kid, maybe 8,9,10, I was fascinated by those ads in the back of American comics, eg Caspar the Ghost, Batman, Superman, etc that promised you x-ray specs, or bodybuilding devices that made you Mr Universe in one week, but, most excitingly, ones that said you could build your own hovercraft. I never did send off for a hovercraft but now hovering around middle age I have written a pop punk song about this very impulse. And, in the coup de grace, have spent a frivolous amount of time building several prototypes out of cardboard with my bandmates from The Woodlice. The new single “Hovercraft” is out, complete with a reckless Hovercraft video, in May, to celebrate the launch of our new album “Keep the Light On Baby“. Keep your eyes peeled and your feet floaty. In the meantime there’s a link below to a terrific article about all those comic book inventions and misadventures.

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Musicians on Bikes

Illustration by Ilse Weisfelt

I saw an Instagram post today from a friend Kate Stables, of the band ‘This is the Kit’, imagining a world where musicians went touring on bikes, perhaps as a tiny part of the environmental and climate crises we are facing. One bucolic Summer I went on a musical bike tour with her partner Jesse through the pubs of Shropshire. Kate’s post also reminded me of an article I wrote a while back with Boneshaker Magazine, called ‘Musicians on Bikes’, where I talked to a whole bunch of people, including Kate and Jesse, about their experience of touring on bikes and the relationship between musicians and those spoked harps of the road. Here’s the whole article as a pdf:

You can also listen to a bandcamp playlist of all the musicians who took part here:

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