Political hypocrisy

Political hypocrisy

Point, Counter Point

with LLoyd B Smith

Friday, January 15, 2021

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What did the hypocrite say?

Don't be a hypocrite.

Who does a hypocrite really hate?

A hypocrite!

Over the years, Jamaicans have given their respective political leaders various sobriquets — some rather flattering, others not so much. Among the most memorable have been “Manlie” (Norman Manley), “Shearout” (Hugh Shearer), “Joshua” (Michael Manley), “Ciaga” (Edward Seaga), “Fresh Prince” (P J Patterson), and “Sista P” (Portia Simpson Miller).

More recently, prime minister and Jamaica Labour Party leader Andrew Holness was nicknamed affectionately by his adoring followers as Brogad. In the meantime, many Jamaicans, especially those in the lower socio-economic echelons of the country, whether out of cynicism or awe, have oftentimes referred to him as “Mista Holiness”. As to whether or not this mispronunciation of his surname is typical of not so well-educated Jamaicans or is a deliberate twist/play will forever remain a debatable issue.

Mista Holiness seemingly has a penchant for labelling his critics and political opponents as hypocrites. Others have followed suit, but, from my research, the prime minister stands out as having used the words hypocrite and hypocrisy more frequently than any of his other counterparts. Is this being self-righteous or righteous indignation? The jury may well be out on this one. Then again, there have been charges and countercharges of hypocrisy hurled across the floor of Gordon House ad nauseam.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines hypocrisy as the practice of claiming to have higher standards or beliefs than is the case. A hypocrite, therefore, is one who indulges in hypocrisy and it has been argued for many decades that the most hypocritical among us have been our politicians.

According to Wikipedia, “Hypocrisy is the practice of engaging in the same behaviour or activity for which one criticises another or the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behaviour does not conform.

“In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one's own expressed moral rules and principles. According to British political philosopher David Runciman, 'Other kinds of hypocritical deception include claims to knowledge that one lacks, claims to a consistency that one cannot sustain, claims to a loyalty that one does not possess, claims to an identity that one does not hold.' American political journalist Michael Gerson says that political hypocrisy is the 'conscious use of a mask to fool the public and gain political benefit'.”

During successive election campaigns Jamaicans have been the willing (and unwilling) victims of political hypocrisy. Indeed, when our Members of Parliament swear allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, her heirs and successors, isn't this the heights of hypocrisy? It therefore begs the question: What kind of hypocrite should voters choose as their leader?

This question may be cynical, but as Runciman suggests, “It is actually much more cynical to pretend that politics can ever be completely sincere. The most dangerous form of political hypocrisy is to claim to have a politics without hypocrisy.” In his book Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbs to Orwell and Beyond, Runciman argues that we should accept hypocrisy as a fact of politics, but without resigning ourselves to it, let alone cynically embracing it. He goes on to say, “We should stop trying to eliminate every form of hypocrisy, and we should stop vainly searching for ideally authentic politicians. Instead, we should try to distinguish between harmless and harmful hypocrisies and should worry only about its most damaging varieties.”

In this context, the potent question to be asked is: Is there and has there ever been an honest politician? And, if it is that all politicians play the hypocrite at one time or another, are there any benefits to be gained from political hypocrisy?

Political theorist Judith N Shklar argues in Let Us Not Be Hypocritical that, “We are all too eager to construe even minor deviations from our opponents professed beliefs as hypocrisy, rather than understandable imperfections and weaknesses to which everyone is prone.”

And to put the icing on the cake, political journalist Michael Gerson stresses that, oftentimes, “hypocritical deception is involved in political and diplomatic negotiations, which generally start with principled, non-negotiable demands that are negotiated away in the process of finding a compromise”. He admits that hypocrisy is unavoidable and necessary. “If people were required, at all times, to live up to ideals of honesty, loyalty, and compassion in order for those ideals to exist, there would be no ideals. Being a moral person is a struggle in which everyone repeatedly fails, becoming a hypocrite in each of those moments. A just and peaceful society depends on hypocrites who ultimately refused to abandon the ideals they betray.”

The story has been told about what happened one Sunday morning during service, when a 2,000-member congregation was surprised to see two men enter, both covered from head to toe in black and carrying sub-machine guns. One of the men proclaimed, “Anyone willing to take a bullet for Christ, remain where you are.” Immediately, the choir fled, the deacons fled, and most of the congregation fled. Out of the 2,000, there only remained around 20. The man who had spoken took off his hood, looked at the preacher and said, “Okay, Pastor, I got rid of all the hypocrites. Now you may begin your service. Have a nice day!” And the two men turned and walked out.

Of course, religion and politics have always been estranged bedfellows, but the moral of the story remains potent. As was intimated earlier, one of the greatest acts of political hypocrisy in today's Jamaica is our successive governments swearing allegiance to the British monarchy. Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding are complicit, whether willingly or unwillingly, in this act of hypocrisy that must come to an end post-haste.

Jamaicans continue to have an identity crisis. So many of our people do not accept who they truly are and wonder why we, as an independent nation, must bow/curtsy to Missis Queen. Constitutional reform must take priority so we can truly say we are bona fide Jamaicans. Meanwhile, let us take some comfort in heeding these words of Pope Francis: “We are all sinners. But may the Lord not let us be hypocrites. Hypocrites don't know the meaning of forgiveness, joy, and the love of God.”

Incidentally, having served as a Member of Parliament, I cannot escape the fact that I have been a hypocrite. A classic case of: Physician, heal thyself!

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

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