Andrew Macklin, "Hypocrisy, Revealing The Ugly Truth" speech. The Philosophers' Corner, August 2010
“Hypocrisy, Revealing The ugly Truth” by Andrew Macklin.
“The Philosophers’ Corner” speech.
Ariel Bookshop, 11th August, 2010
• Hypocrisy is a hydra-headed animal so let’s start with a few examples.
• Madonna lip-syncing - the material girl with the immaterial voice
• A war started on the lie of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction) to enrich politicians with
business interests in Halliburton or Blackwater - creating war and unleashing death to make
• Paedophile priests knowingly supported by the Church for decades
• A state funeral attended by then-prime minister John Howard for newspaper magnate Kerry
Packer, who spent his life maximising his wealth by evading tax and boasting about it
(Leona Helmsley, ‘Only little people pay taxes.)
• climate denialist ‘scientists’ whose ‘facts’ are payed for by Exxon
• The Orwellian double-speak of phrases like ‘fighting for peace’ or ‘surgical bombing’ which
contain dangerous contradictions
• A parent buckling a child into an SUV with no thought of the consequences of their polluting
actions on their child’s future - in ecological philosophy called ‘intergenerational ethics’
• And a government that backs down from equitable taxes for mining magnates who, snouts in
the trough of greed, fight tooth and nail to stop any sharing of wealth. (Mick Davis/Xtrata) We lose
15 billion dollars.
• First definition:
• hypocrisy is lying and deception about who or what you are, to others, because of an
ulterior motive to further selfish ends – money, sex, power, control, reputation etc.
• Second definition:
• hypocrisy is the enactment of double standards – to preach one way of living while overtly
or covertly indulging in the very practices you condemn. To manipulate or transgress the rules or
laws of a society to advantage yourself while simultaneously wanting to live in a society with those
rules or laws. This is its more frequent or popular usage in the press or conversation when we accuse
someone of transgressing a moral position via a double standard. By the way the accusation of
hypocrisy has often been used by hypocrites to censure truth-sayers.
Nixon + bin Laden/Deceivers - Moliere quote
• Hypocrites pretend to be who they are not, they the alchemists of lies - impersonators and
counterfeiters, deceivers and falsifiers – they are the conmen, the charlatans, the tricksters;
they sweet talk, feign sincerity, manipulate emotions - they use their power not for good but for their
own interests, they come in dark clouds blown by the spirit of the times and evaporate in history
leaving us with a ruined reality.
• Hypocrisy transcends all categories - there are wealthy hypocrites and poor hypocrites; black,
white or Asian hypocrites; Christian, Buddhist and Muslim hypocrites – Capitalist and communist
Ecuador/Is hypocrisy wrong?
• Mostly yes, alth0ugh I will discuss some examples where hypocrisy is necessary (hypocrisy of
compromise) or useful; in ethics we judge hypocrisy by its consequences
• Hypocrisy is immoral because hypocrites (Chevron Texaco) pretend to be who they are not
(responsible corporate citizens) in order to deceive others (dumb natives whose land is off by the
Equadorian government corrupted by Chevron) into destroying their land for Chevron’s profit.
Brannagh as Iago/Etymology
• Hypocrisy comes from the ancient Greek hypokrisis and was originally a morally neutral term
that just meant to act or acting but it does imply the idea of being tricked by actors - the more
compelling the acting, the more we are duped, the greater the deception or hypocrisy.
• Jews in the 3rd century BC when translating the Old Testament from Hebrew into Latin
used the Latin word hypocrite for the Hebrew hanef and the meaning shifts to the idea of a
person with a deceptive heart.
• Buried in the original meaning which shapes its development (from ecclesiastical Latin to Greek) is
the prefix hypo means ‘under’ (as in hypnosis + osis = sleep) and the verb krinein meaning
‘to sift/decide/judge’ (from which we get words like critical). Thus the original meaning implied
a deficiency in the ability to judge or interpret truth
• So from the etymology we can take away that hypocrites misinterpret truth, that hypocrisy is not a
single lie but to live a lie, to enact a lie; that hypocrisy is deception – the acting is now
offstage and in reality, the hypocrite is using reality to camouflage the deception.
• Let’s return to our original definitions - definitions are important because they give us key
words which I am about to discuss, linked into relationships creating a picture that distils to
essence the meaning of the hypocrisy.
• In both definitions we have some similar keywords - lying and deception, ulterior
motives and selfish ends – which are all in co-dependent relationships.
• The most important term in both definitions for moral philosophers is self-interest; using others
to get what they want.
China selling arms in Sudan/Self-interest
• A hypocrite is obsessively focused on their own goals or twisted logic, or entwined in their own
ideology or ambitions - China wants Sudan’s oil so they sell arms ignoring or lying about the
consequences of their actions on the lives of Sudanese (atrocities in Darfur) explaining this
through justifications ‘what they do with the guns is their business’ using moral relativism even
using hypocrisy to protect a war criminal
- e.g. December 2009: "China opposes the International Criminal Court's issuing of an arrest
warrant against the Sudanese president Hassan al-Bashir – this warrant interferes in the
Exxon + Phillip Morris/Key words - deception + ulterior motives
• A hypocrite lies about who or what they are in order to deceive others because there is an
ulterior or hidden motive.
• Hypocrites hide the motive because they know that what they are doing is wrong, wrong
because there are consequences which are morally or ethically unacceptable – and they know
• Probably the most important characteristic of hypocrisy is lying and deception - corporate
deception has become an industry from advertising and marketing to spin doctors.
• Armies of scientists and experts telling you there is no proven connection between
smoking and cancer and when that fails armies of lawyers and lobbyists to stop or more
importantly delay the ugly truth getting out using the delay to make more money.
Seatshop/Key words: Embodied injustice
• For the philosopher Kant foregrounding self-interest is wrong it transgress the right-to-life of
others which is the basis of what he calls his supreme ethical formula: ‘formula of the end-in-
• ‘Act so that you treat humanity whether in your own person or in that of another, never as a means
only but always at the same time as an end.’
• In other words don’t destroy other people’s lives for your gain, pursue yourself interest AND
respect their rights (i.e. don’t make money by selling cigarettes which cause cancer, don’t sell
products made from child labor).
• In the world of global capitalism this is difficult leading to an important point that hypocrsisy is
often forced on us. The Marxist idea of ‘commodity fetishization’ elaborates the idea that a
commodity hides the injustice of it’s making e.g. sweatshops. Putting Kant with Marx we get the idea
of ‘embodied injustice’ –products are cheap because costs are reduced through cheap/
unprotected labor or child slavery leading us to ideas like ‘fair trade’.
Risdale/Climate denialism/Key words: Doubling/duplicity
• Hence hypocrisy is morally objectionable because duplicity challenges our understanding of
truth or reality which is now relative to the ulterior motive of the hypocrite. This
confuses and calls into question our ability to judge what is true:
- e.g. Those debentures are guaranteed by a bank therefore they’re safe.
- e.g. My son couldn’t be raped by a priest.
• Hence hypocrisy is morally objectionable because it destroys trust in others – on a micro or
- e.g. The rape of a child by a paedophile destroys their trust in others (as it occurs at such
a formative and vulnerable age).
- e.g. Climate denialists are payed to introduce doubts where there are none.
Uriah Heep/Knowing to unknowing
• A key difference between the two definitions is between knowing and unknowing hypocrisy.
• In the first definition a hypocrite is one who knowingly and habitually engages in
intentional and deliberate deception to further selfish ends; this is what Hobbes calls
• Jean-Jacques Rousseau always approaches the analysis of the knowing hypocrite from the way
they form intentions (ripping off invested money, raping children) based on goals (money or
sexual gratification/perverse pleasure/power) mediated by the consequences (the loss of status
or a jail term).
• What is important here is that the knowing hypocrite is probing the social, legal and moral
landscape for how much they can get away with in terms of what will happen if they get caught.
• They are inverting the scales of justice by weighing the costs and benefits to themselves
and editing out the consequences to their victims or society. (Capitalist economics does this
through the concept of ‘externalities’ – defraying the costs of pollution or cancer onto
society for the sake of profit, they make the money we clean up the mess.)
• The second definition is really focused on the everyday hypocrisy of double-standards which is
dominated by self-justifications and is often unselfconscious.
- e.g. You arrive 20 minutes late for work every day take long lunch breaks do poor work then rail
against your co-worker who gets promoted over you because s/he is lazy.
• Interestingly this is a form of what moral philosophers call sincere hypocrisy - the hypocrite is
unaware of his/her self deception and is genuinely surprised when confronted.
• Unselfconscious or sincere hypocrisy demonstrates a culpable failure of self-knowledge
• For the German Jewish political theorist of fascism and totalitarianism Hannah Arendt or author
George Orwell the true hypocrite is unaware of his hypocrisy.
Bayer hands/Unknowing hypocrisy
• The idea of a hypocrite who is unaware or unknowing of their double standards introduces a core
problem in the definition:
- When there is no intent to deceive or insincerity involved does this mean there is no
- Does the absence of awareness or bad intentions remove the unselfconscious hypocrite
from moral criticism?
- How do we judge the consequences of the unknowing hypocrite? Who is morally
- Example: The gap-year back-packer who comes back from the Burmese dictatorship raving
about the spirituality of the Karen natives and ‘like human rights is just a Western idea man’ –
the hypocrisy of moral relativism supporting tourism in countries that engage in torture.
Moral identity/Hypocrisy and avoidance of the truth
• Whether knowing or unknowing hypocrisy always involves some form of avoidance of the truth.
• You have school age children but speed through a school zone because you’re late for work.
• This is a classic example of what is called ‘coping hypocrisy’.
• You’ve contravened your principles but you justify this to yourself. (To get to work to make money to
support your kids.) All hypocrisies involve justifications which are how you explain the lie or the
moral dilemma to yourself.
• And all justifications involve a llogical fallacy/inconsistency – reasoning with an omission
or an error that is used either deliberately or subconsciously to support your actions and explain
away the contradiction.
• This leads to cognitive dissonance which is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two
contradictory ideas simultaneously. The dissonance might be experienced as guilt, anger, frustration,
• This brings us to the famous phrase by Rochefoucauld that ‘Hypocrisy is the homage vice
pays to virtue’ meaning that if you recognise your hypocrisy, you recognise your the double
standard – so hypocrisy is a moral reckoner leading to a ‘moral identity’.
• Knowing and unknowing hypocrisy is the organising framework that generates categories of
hypocrites e.g. the criminal conman or everyday hypocrisy.
• Outside of this we have two other categories - the politician and necessary hypocrisy and the
ideological or religious fanatic or the hypocrisy of self-righteousness.
• Following, I am going to discuss an example of the criminal hypocrite - the conman Bernie
Madoff and then hypocrisy and politicians.
• In March 2009, New Yorker Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 felonies and admitted to turning
his investment company in to a massive ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors of
billions of dollars. Prosecutors estimate losses at Madoff’s hand totalled$64.8 billion.
• Ponzi/pyramid scheme/scam: The Ponzi scheme entices new investors by offering
abnormally high returns on investments others cannot. You do this by paying early
investors with money from later investors rather than from any actual profit earned. To
continuing paying the ‘real’ returns that camouflage the Ponzi scheme requires an ever-increasing
flow of money to and from investors to keep the scheme going. The system is destined to
Madoff, Mort Zuckerman, Elie Weisel, Spielberg
• Criminologists call Madoff’s crime affinity fraud, he was a Jew ripping off Jews. Affinity
fraud is the way the hypocrite-conman preys upon and exploits the trust, bonds and
friendship of members of an identifiable religious or ethnic group of which they are
usually a member. Madoff destroyed the fortunes of numerous Jewish charities and institutions
such as the Yeshiva University or Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation.
• Madoff lulled largely Jewish investors into a sense of false security because he was one of them, and
Jews, particularly after Auswitzch help each other, not destroy each other.
• This is particularly poignant with Elie Weisel who has spent his life educating the world to the
atrocities of the holocaust winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for this. Madoff has largely
bankrupted Weisel’s organisation.
• But a fool and his money are easily parted.
• As with all cons, Madoff duped people because they were greedy, foolish or desperate and
were prepared to turn a blind eye and ignore the obvious to get rich.
• Hypocrites have a powerful understanding of the desires that drive their victims and how to
Friedman, Reagan, Greenspan/A corrupt system
• But we all become victims when the system is corrupt.
• ‘The best way to rob a bank is to own one.’
• Madoff’s ponzi scheme could only grow in an already corrupt system namely American
• Ronald Reagan - mesmerised by the economic theories of Milton Freedman’s neo-liberal
capitalism - deregulated the financial markets through the Studs-Teagal Act, destroying the
Keynesian economics of Roosevelt’s Bretton-Woods system, and legalised fraud in 1982 leading
to the Savings and Loan scandal – and Worldcom, Enron etc to the GFC.
• Hypocrisy exists where there are limited checks and balances on unethical practices
which is at the core of ideas like deregulation and privatization of economic rationalism.
Whistleblower Harry Markopolos informed the US Securities and Exchange Commission (the
SEC) that he believed it was legally and mathematically impossible to achieve the gains
Madoff claimed to deliver and was ignored by the SEC. He has since published a book No One
• Was the SEC stupid or corrupt? Hypocrites are often involved in influence peddling:
Madoff gained access to Washington's lawmakers and regulators and sat on the Board of
Directors of the Securities Industry Association and was quote a "dear friend” with SEC
Chairman Mary Schapiro.
Kenneth Lay/Enron, Lehman
• As with Enron, Worldcom, or closer to home the collusion of the CBA with now-collapsed
Storm Financial hypocrisy leads to a web of relationships built on collusion and conflict
of interest that corrupts the entire system. For example the collapse of Lehman
Brothers for ‘accounting fraud’ over the Enron scandal. Hypocrisy leads to sycophantry,
groupthink and ccollusion of an entire system and its eventual collapse.
Shaking hands/The politician
• For Hobbes, Hume and Rousseau hypocrisy is a necessary part of politics.
• Politics is characterized by relationships among different and competing groups with conflicting
interests that are dependent on each other to achieve their own ambitions – there is a relationship
of mutual dependency and need and this requires hypocrisy leading to what many theorists call
necessary hypocrisy or the hypocrisy of compromise.
• For Rousseau in his famous idea of ‘the social contract’ - mutual self interest is the very
mediator of hypocrisy. Politicians understand that the only way they will achieve their interests
is to allow others to achieve theirs which requires limitations on their own pursuits as well. Political
morality is then understood as the result of this compromise between competing self-interests – the
social contract – the consensual agreement between politicians and the other groups
to limit their self interest so that everyone gets partially what they want.
• Hence Rousseau says that if we accept that hypocrisy is necessary part of politics we need to ask,
“What are the moral limits of political compromise?” What is the difference between
a legitimate compromise and a sell-out?
• Importantly, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Rousseau however ALL agree that the truly problematic
hypocrisy in politics comes from two issues – personal or party survival and the political
passions of vanity, pride and ambition
• Rousseau recognises that compromise based on the desire to survive whittles away
idealism until there is nothing left. For example, the weakness of both the Liberal and Labor
governments, unwilling to stand up to the power of mining corporations so they will get re-elected.
Ecological ruin/Double think
• For Hannah Arendt and George Orwell point to a more insidious relationship between
hypocrisy and politics in the 20th century.
• The very definition of a politician is somebody who has a belief in an ideology but what
happens when that belief lips into fanaticism? What happens when the government develops
a fanatical belief in an ideology that leads to an unyielding belief in the truth of their
views, even when they contradict reality, blinding them to the hypocrisy of their actions?
• Self-righteous hypocrisy leads to what Orwell calls ‘double think’.
• Double think: “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and
accepting both of them....To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact
that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from
oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to
take account of the reality which one denies.”
• So what happens when a government denies global warming, fires its own scientist whose
facts contradict its policies and give environmental awards to aluminium industry
CEO’s; How do we deal with politicians who change laws in favor of corporations who give
them jobs when they leave politics? How do we deal with governments who stack regulating
bodies with industry cronies or change laws so developers can build in national parks?
• Most importantly, how do we deal with politicians who deliberately lie or are transparently
corrupt and justify this based on a belief in an ideology – economic rationalism.
• Double think in political hypocrisy is when lying has becomes naturalized and instinctual in
the politician leading to a completely distorted view of reality that is fanatically justified.
Daniel Ellesberg, Toru Suzuki, Trugannini, Anna Politkovskaya, Steve Biko, Naomi Klein, Che
Guevara, Aung San Suu Kyi, Vandana Shiva, Franklin Roosevelt, Angela Davis, John Pilger, Rachel
Carson, Sub Commondante Marcos, Charles Perkins, Lam Van Tuc/burning monk, Helen Steel and
Dave Morris/McLibel, Ken Saro-Wiwa
• And finally, what is the opposite of hypocrisy – integrity!
• Firstly this means to act authentically; in the moral sense authenticity means to truthfully present
who you are to others and importantly yourself – to act with sincerity.
• Integrity for Kant means to live with a moral code, meaning not just responding to life’s
challenges in the moment but from a holistic set of considered values, beliefs and principles.
(normative ethics how we should/ought to live)
• And a moral code incorporates ideas such as honesty, fairness, respect for others and
engages with deontological ideas such as justice.
• Integrity means to live consciously and involves ‘care’ which in the ethical sense means to
take responsibility for our actions and their consequences.
• It means to develop empathy for others and to think about others not just oneself – the
philosophy of altruism.
• To finish, hypocrisy is ethical poison running through the labyrinthine passages of or our
society - lighting up lies, paradoxes, ethical blind spots – leaving confusion and contradiction in its
• Hypocrisy challenges us to consider what we ‘value’ - truth, the rights of children, polluting
the planet, to be an active citizen, not to lie about who we are etc.
• And it is important to do this because as Thomas Jefferson famously remarked, ‘All tyranny (I
would add hypocrisy) needs to gain a foothold, is for people of good conscience to