Monday, 12 April 2010

Transparency v. hypocrisy

Heather Brooke is the investigative journalist whose Freedom of Information Act requests launched what was to become the uncovering of the MPs expenses scandal.
The subtitle of her new book ‘The Silent State: Secrets, Surveillance and the Myth of British Democracy’ suggests there are still many dark corners that require exposure.
It takes exceptional diligence and resources to uncover the biggest deceptions. Without the Daily Telegraph’s efforts, the MPs would have been able to get away with blacking out vital details when it came to publishing the relevant documents on their expenses and second homes.
What worries me though is that the media in recognising the public’s appetite for such fare is hell-bent on exposing hypocrisy in all its manifestations.
So if any environmental or food aid campaigner jets off to an international conference, they are likely to be accused of profligacy and hypocrisy. Yet their contibution to changing world opinion would far outweigh the ticket price or carbon footprint of the flight.
Any definition of hypocrisy includes something along the lines of professing beliefs that one doesn’t actually hold and is therefore inconsistent with ones actions.
But don’t you think there is room for the white lie – in other words, intention is important in any moral judgement about the degree one is being a hypocrite?
Encouraging my friends to exercise to maintain their heath isn’t any the less good advice even if I don’t follow it myself.
Take the cleric, for example, who comforts bereaved parents with the prospect of their children’s ascent to heaven yet has lost his faith having seen too much suffering on earth. Yes, this man is a hypocrite but he is a pillar of his congregation. If we could see inside his mind to whose benefit would be his exposure?
On the other hand one of Shakespeare’s most famous hypocrites is straitlaced Angelo who lusts after Isabella to the extent he will take her brother’s life if she resists. His exposure is Measure for Measure’s climax and rightly so.
Just in the same way there are people who are proud of their honesty, which is merely a cover for spitefulness and insecurity. So there are hypocrites and hypocrites and not all are bad.

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