01 February 2010

Principle of Universality; Hypocrisy; Self-Interest

"(T)he principle of universality: if an action is right (or wrong) for others, it is right (or wrong) for us. Those who do not rise to the minimal moral level of applying to themselves the standards they apply to others -- more stringent ones, in fact -- plainly cannot be taken seriously when they speak of appropriateness of response; or of right and wrong, good and evil." Chomsky, "Terror and Just Response."

Chomsky, when writing in the Bush years, will often speak of this principle and then note that to fail to apply this is a form of hypocrisy--he will then note that W. and Tony Blair both "famously" acknowledge their love of the Gospels (and W. claiming Jesus is his favorite "philosopher")--and wonder if they simply pass over the part about hypocrisy.

My guess is the US is not hypocritical in ACTION...we speak consistently with our weapons in our self-interest. Our hypocrisy is confined to our proclamations of freedom, equal rights, human rights, etc. (ie, the self-interest of others). We like those notions--if applied to our business needs (our self-interest). We'll improve your rights if it improves our short term bottom line. (Note that capitalism IS a short-term ideology.)

Anyway...all of us can acknowledge this as fact. We are hypocritical as a government and our people believe we are a beacon of freedom to the world. (Even though now our government is beginning to bring that big stick to bear more and more on its own population.)

And so to hypocrisy...which ignores universality. The Gospels of the New Testament are, at least for Xtians, the right place to start.

My favorite out of this well-known chapter of Matthew wherein Jesus lambastes the Pharisees and Scribes (this is the church hierarchy--rule-makers, "governors", of their people):

23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-4

This is our political discourse in a nutshell--heck, probably most of our arguments--but I feel there is real intent here to actually present the "gnat" as the problem to discuss and worry over while the camel can be forgotten. Interesting here is the camel again--most well-known regarding earthly fortune and heaven (Matthew 19):

17... but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

18He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

19Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

20The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

21Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

22But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

23Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

24And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

(I included more here because I love that the "young man" when told to follow the commandments actually asked "which ones"! That is awesome.)

The common theme here seems a motivational call to cash--why does the young man go away unhappy? He has to give up riches. Why do the Pharisees do as they do? The wealth of their station affords them decadent pleasures (and it is deserved as a reward for managing the religious, doctrinal, needs of their people). Again securing of material wealth and security for the "self"; this is applicable when carried to our most powerful institutions. (We could now take a detour and examine human rights and material wealth--again, self-interest hampers our better angels.)

And at bottom--this is the goal of the US as well--constant flow of capital and resources that secure that capital flow. All else is rhetorical and negotiable.

There may be a personal aspect, a weakness to hypocrisy, that cannot be labeled an absolute error. There is good intent behind proclaiming a just action even if one cannot in fact make that action come to pass oneself. Sam Johnson, distinguishing hypocrisy as failure of will to act within a desire to act--clearly looking for a balm on his own "failures of will":

"Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself."
Samuel Johnson, Rambler #14

I imagine there are more "unjust" things in this world than calling someone a hypocrite--and I would again put this down as the rhetorical strategy of the "caught-in-the-act". Forgive me my weakness...I know the GOOD but my human frailty has let the devil in. I will do better...next time.

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