Hypocrisy: The Universal Trait of Mankind

Vulpes et lignator from Sebastian Brant's 1501 edition of Aesop's Fables (Public Domain). The image above is an illustration from The Fox and the Woodsman, a fable which warns readers against hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. Hypocrites are usually disliked and seen as lacking moral fiber. Many people claim that nothing annoys them more about a person than hypocrisy. I believe this is because we as a race dislike criticism and to have someone criticize us while doing the same act that is being criticized is seen as absurd and disgusting. Mankind has an interesting history of hypocrisy. I would wager that humans have committed this moral treason since before we were able to recognize it.

We start seeing mass hypocrisy in recorded history around the time of the Holy Roman Empire founded around 800 AD. Many blame the church for the problems around this time. While preaching charity and goodwill, the Catholic Church would demand high tribute and start wars with foreign lands in the name of their religion. The Hypocrisy here is very obvious. Literally preaching values of early Christianity and then violating those same values simultaneously. Eventually the enlightenment would reconstruct Europe, however it’s dissolution in 1806 marks over 1000 years of mass hypocrisy.

Then continuing on into the 19th Century, American hypocrisy emerges. Slavery was seen as perfectly acceptable, yet the Judeo-Christian values held high in American society do not support these actions. In fact in the Old Testament, the Jews were slaves to the Pharaoh of Egypt and in those stories the Egyptians were seen as the antagonists. This moral dilemma was ignored in the sermons of Southern Protestant churches. Of course hypocrisy in politics was not a new concept. That being said, the 19th Century saw public outcry at this corruption. Therefore, some political leaders such as those in New York’s Tamany Hall, spoke out against corruption while continuing to have their back pockets stuffed with funds from criminals and community leaders. Towards the end of the century, we see a hypocritical sentiment within much of the population leading of to and during the Spanish-American War. The hypocrisy comes from many citizens in the United States accusing the Spanish to be evil because of their treatment of Cubans and Filipinos. While Americans were quick to attack Spain for these colonial actions. After the war when Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines fell into U.S. territory, there was never protest when Dole Fruit Company would spend the lives of Filipino and Hawaiian nationals to turn a profit. Spain was not the only target of public hate in the U.S. France, England, Germany, and Belgium all took flack for their colonial holdings. This is despite the fact that American industry was doing the exact same thing.

The 20th Century saw improvements to technology and new world conflicts. World War II, seen as the greatest conflict in human history, reshaped the world as we see it and it’s after effects can still be felt years later. The creation of Israel was one of the first actions taken by the new world paradigm. The new nation was created on top of the existing state of Palestine and received support worldwide. Israel was seen as compensation for the atrocities committed against the Jewish population by Germany and Palestine. Now, around 70 years later, the Palestinians of Israel are treated as second class citizens. In fact, most minorities experience either societal discrimination or institutional discrimination within the borders of Israel. The treatment of minorities in Israel is eerily similar to 1930s German and pre-war Palestinian treatment of Jews. Also in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia still stands as a monarchy, despite receiving support from the U.S., a staunch supporter of democracy, often using it as an excuse to invade other nations. The same can be said about former dictators Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Both of these rulers were supported and their regimes sustained by the United States. Hussein was even an honorary citizen of Detroit.

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There are unlimited examples of this type of behavior in human history and society today. All around the world the act of hypocrisy is condemned yet also practiced constantly. In fact, the act of discouraging hypocrisy is in itself hypocritical. Hypocrisy is as natural for humans as breathing. Rather than getting depressed about this fact, I embrace this realization. A film critic does not have to make films to be able to criticize films. In the same way, we can accept other people’s suggestions even if they are not implementing them.

This Guest Post was written by Benjamin Booher, a first-year at DePauw University.

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