Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hypocrisy Intolerance?

Ever since I was a teenager I have had a strong aversion to hypocrisy in myself as well as others. This attitude has had real effects on my views and my actions. When I realized that I was eating meat that came from animals that I would not be morally comfortable killing, I decided to adopt vegetarianism. Until I was willing to kill a cow, I would not eat cow meat. My belief is that it is morally abominable to shield oneself from the moral repercussions of an action that one has caused. I feel that people would behave more morally if they were not protected from the moral consequences of their actions. There would be more vegetarians if people had to slaughter the animals they ate. There would be fewer wars if the leaders of national governments had to see first hand the results of a rocket going off-course and striking a day-care center. The death penalty would be abolished if live coverage of every execution pre-empted all radio and television programming.
However, I have been occasionally criticized for being too intolerant of hypocrisy. I am willing to grant that it is practically impossible to live a life completely free of hypocrisy. I have some areas of hypocrisy in my life which I am unable or unwilling to alter. The obvious example: I strongly believe in conservation of the natural environment, yet I drive a car with an internal combustion engine that spews pollutants and greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Why don't I stop? Because I need my car, damn it. I have no justification for this, it is simply an area where my actions fall short of my ideals. In this example I am at least not guilty of avoiding the consequences of my actions, we are all confronted with the smog and pollution which we spew daily. Hopefully these negative consequences will spur us all on to find some solution to the problem.
But if the negative consequences of our poor stewardship of the environment were hidden from us, the way they are hidden naturally in the case of Global Warming (until the thing is well on its way to catastrophic levels), we lack the motivation to make the positive changes in our behavior that would avoid those consequences.
What I am most opposed to is artificial methods of shielding people from the moral consequences of their behavior, because these methods promote immoral behavior by divorcing it from its moral context. A decision to eat a can of pork and beans is divorced from the moral context of deciding to slaughter a pig. A decision to vote for the allocation of funds needed to launch a military invasion of another country is divorced from the moral context of the decision to rain death and destruction down upon a community of human beings. A decision to vote for a pro-Death Penalty legislator is divorced from the moral context of pushing poison into a human being's veins in order to end his life.
Am I too intolerant of hypocrisy? Perhaps I would be well-advised to keep in mind the practical reasons that people act in certain ways and let those circumstances mitigate my moral judgement, but I think that over-tolerance of hypocrisy is far more dangerous than an abundance of intolerance of hypocrisy.


  1. Nik. We do eat animals, and particular ones. We do not eat human, I do not see the problem. I think the claim that we are not meant for eating animal flesh like carnivores is a stretch. The whole construct that animals should not be eaten is based on the paradox of assuming suffering as intrinsically evil. Well, the only truly thing intrinsic regarding the matter is the concept that suffering is inherent to nature. In fact, I would not envision nor a desire a world without it. And there are good reasons for it. Could you imagine not being able to sense and suffer? How indolent to other people's suffering we would be in such a case? That's exactly nietzchean idea of the white beast the nazi so much went after.

  2. Armin, I think you are misunderstanding my reason for being a vegetarian. In point of fact I am not technically an absolute vegetarian. This is because I am willing to eat an animal as long as I kill it myself. My central objection is not necessarily to the suffering and/or death of the animal. Instead, I object to having someone else kill an animal so that I can eat it, when I would not be comfortable killing the animal myself. I believe that, if I am to benefit through an action that I find morally questionable, I should not be protected from the consequences to my conscience of that act.
    As to the (different but related) question of whether it is moral for a human to eat animals in the first place, I have not been able to come to a definite conclusion. That is why I call the killing of an animal for food "morally questionable" instead of "immoral". So if I am going to deliberately undertake an action that I consider morally questionable, I think it would be wrong to avoid the moral consequences. It is these very consequences to my conscience that will help me to decide whether an action is moral or not. If I do not experience these consequences, because I have protected myself from them using artificial means (in this case, using a proxy to commit the actual act), I am more likely to act immorally in the future. Knowing this, it is therefore an immoral action in itself to hide from the consequences to conscience of morally questionable actions.

  3. Nik, I now understand and I praise your position that refrains you to act in situations of doubt. Let's try then to understand why you are unclear on the subject. He he, it seems to me that this challenge becomes now a moral obligation to your conscience; a moral obligation that indeed you cannot escape :)