I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while now during my ‘what the hell am I (supposed to be) doing here, or, trying to figure out life’ thinking sessions, and I’ve come to the very painful and frustrating conclusion that I am a hypocrite. In the following I’ll try to explain why this is in fact true. If you’re a bit surprised reading this, and asking yourself who in their right mind would want to convince anyone they are a hypocrite, please don’t be. This is the least of your worries; you’re going to be much more surprised by what else you’re going to find out. So read on with great caution as you may find yourself looking at life a bit differently, and you might also find yourself as frustrated as I am right now, if not more frustrated. The presence of a physician while reading is strongly advised.
So let’s start with the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: I am against terrorism. I have a friend who I lend money to. He uses that money to fund terrorism.
Scenario 2: I am against terrorism. I have a friend who I lend money to. He has a son who he supports financially. His son uses the money he gets from his dad to donate to some religious group. This religious group funds terrorism.
If I were to walk around and tell everyone how I am against terrorism and people knew about both scenarios I described above, you can easily see how they could say that I am a hypocrite. Afterall, I am against terrorism, but am in the first scenario almost directly funding it, and in the second scenario also helping to fund it even though it is more indirect. If these people wanted to be fair and reasonable, they would consider me a hypocrite only when they know that I know, in the first scenario, that I am helping a friend who funds terrorism, and in the second scenario, that I am helping a friend who’s using the money to support his son, who again is using the money to donate to a religious group who funds terrorism. If I knew what was happening in both scenario’s, and still kept lending money to my friend while I am against terrorism, that would make me a hypocrite.
But assuming that I don’t know what my friend does with the money, does that still make me a hypocrite? Does that still make me a bad person? Afterall, I didn’t know what he was going to do with the money. It in any case does not change the fact that I am, however indirect it may be, helping to support terrorism. I’ll come back to this later.
Let’s consider a real world example now. I am a strong supporter and fan of Microsoft as a company. I’ve always liked Microsoft. I love their technology, and use and prefer their technology to build software. I recommend them to friends and generally support them in various ways. Then I find out that Microsoft is using its powers to do something bad. For example, they use their technology and power to help the Chinese government restrict freedom of speech in China. I am against this. So right now, I find myself in the sad situation of becoming or being seen as a hypocrite. On the one hand I am against the Chinese government restricting freedom of speech, but on the other hand I am a supporter of the very same company that is helping to restrict freedom of speech. By supporting Microsoft, even in the most indirect way, I am helping them to restrict freedom of speech in China. By using their technology, by using Windows on my PC, by recommending them etc. I am giving them the power, supporting them financially and in many other ways to do what I am against. And the sad part is that I now realize and know this. And this makes me a hypocrite.
You could argue that I am not directly funding or supporting Microsoft to do bad things, but the many levels of indirection don’t change anything, similar to the second scenario I described above. The moment I realize what I am doing, or what I am helping to do, I should take action.
There are of course many more examples. You can for example be against killing baby seals for their pelts, but continue to buy fur clothing in stores and help to create a demand for fur clothing, which in turn leads to a demand for more pelts and obviously to killing more baby seals. Buying fur clothing while you are against killing baby seals makes you a hypocrite.
You could go so far as to say that by simply paying taxes in the USA, even the people who are against the war in Iraq are supporting their government and enabling them to fund that very same war that they are against. Even though there are probably many levels of indirection between paying taxes and funding the war in Iraq, this does not eliminate the fact that by paying taxes, you help the government fund and wage war.
If you are the vice president at a company, and you know that some employees are being paid far less than they deserve or should be receiving, even though this may not have been your decision and you are against it, by staying at that company and not doing anything about it, you are supporting and helping that company to exploit those employees. Even if you can’t do anything about it, by staying there and watching as the exploiting continues, you are helping them and supporting them to do it. If you are truly against it and you cannot change it, you’d leave the company and not be a part of it and most certainly not stay to benefit from it yourself. After all, the (financial) benefits the company gets from exploiting those employees are directly or indirectly used to pay your high salary!
You can undoubtedly come up with many more examples yourself. And you can probably already see that when you start to look at things this way and that when you start to realize certain things, it becomes very difficult to function. All of a sudden you’ll start to see the way things work, you’ll start to see the interests that are at stake, and you’ll feel disgusted to be a part of it. You’ll feel even more disgusted if the situation is such that you are set up to benefit from it. As an outside supporter, I feel bad about Microsoft helping to censor information in China, but what if I was an employee at Microsoft? What if I was actually the one building the technology to help censor information at Microsoft, while I am against it? I can by the way use the same example for Google.
Another thing that I found is that there is very little you can do about this. If you view the world we live in as a system, there are certain rules according to which things seem to behave in that system. These rules seem to have been in place for centuries. It seems to be by design. So if you as a person would like to be a part of that system, that means that you are going to have to be, or become, compatible with that system in order to be able to function normally in it. This means that you will have to behave according to the rules in that system. If the system is evil, you’re going to have to be evil more or less, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly. If you don’t behave according to those rules or don’t accept them, sooner or later you will not be able to function well in that system, doors will close around you and you soon find yourself isolated. The very fact that you want to be a part of the system, means that you will sooner or later find yourself in conflicting and hypocritical situations if that is the nature of the system. The very fact that you want to be a part of the system, means that you will sooner or later, and possibly during most of your life, be supporting or helping bad things taking place inside that system, however indirectly it may be. You will be a part of it, and it won’t be easy to avoid it. In fact, if you want to be part of the system, then by definition it is impossible to avoid this.
Let me illustrate this with an example: The very fact that someone lives in the USA and is being a good citizen paying taxes, means that he is (however indirectly it may be) supporting the war in Iraq, even if he is against it. How easy is it to avoid this? Should he stop paying taxes? Should he move outside the USA, in order to get out of the system and stop supporting it in any way? It’s very difficult.
This is the sad, painful and frustrating reality. And there seems to be no practical solution. The only solution I can think of is a radical solution, which means to not be part of the system at all. While talking about this with a friend, he suggested that this is probably the reason why monks isolate themselves from everything, and seem to live far away from everything else. This is probably the only way to avoid being part of the system and to not depend on it. After all, if you know the system is evil, why want to be a part of it and depend on it? If you don’t want to be a bad and evil person, the mere fact that you are a part of the system makes you a hypocrite.
And if we look at it from the perspective of religion, how can god, assuming that he exists, expect us to really be good people in a system that is fundamentally flawed and evil by nature? How can you be expected to function in such a system without becoming flawed yourself? Again the only solution as I see it, is to live like the monks somewhere in the mountains in the middle of nowhere and isolate yourself from the system as much as possible.
At the beginning of this post I said I would come back to explain after the following:
But assuming that I don’t know what my friend does with the money, does that still make me a hypocrite? Does that still make me a bad person? After all, I didn’t know what he was going to do with the money. It in any case does not change the fact that I am, however indirectly it may be, helping to support terrorism.
One could argue that if one did not know about something, one can not be held accountable for it. So if I did not know my friend used my money to support terrorism, while I am against terrorism, people in all fairness could not call me a hypocrite. It becomes a totally different situation if I knew what he was doing with the money, and still gave it to him. So you can be a part of something while bad things take place without your knowing, but as soon as you know what’s happening, it becomes a different situation. You’re going to have to act on that knowledge. Will you remain part of the system while you know what’s going on?
So now that you’ve seen that the system we live in is fundamentally flawed and evil and that as a part of it, it forces us to support it however indirectly it may be, while we may know it or not, what will you do about it?