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.