|Montreal, December 20, 2003 / No 135|
by Ralph Maddocks
It sometimes appears that hypocrisy is fast becoming the prevailing orthodoxy, there are so many examples of it that one is hard pressed to choose the most egregious. Hypocrisy, it will be recalled, was one of the pit stops on the ultra-mundane journey described by Danté Alighieri in his La divina commedia. In Canto 11.057 he wrote "Wherefore within the second circle nestle Hypocrisy, flattery, and who deals in magic, Falsification, theft, and simony, Panders, and barrators, and the like filth." Hypocrisy is in good company indeed. Hypocrisy, and many of its fellows, may be found in many aspects of our lives, notably in the political arena where many of them have become virtually institutionalised. This thought struck me when I read an item in last Sunday's Telegraph in Britain which reported that a library in the county of Buckinghamshire had refused to display a poster advertising a Christmas Carol service and midnight mass at a local Anglican church.
The poster announced simply the time and date of the event and contained
no other message or religious exhortation. A member of the local council
explained that because the service would contain Christian prayers it was
against their policy, adding, "The aim of the policy is to be inclusive
and to respect the religious diversity of Buckinghamshire." Another official
opined, "This means we tend not to display posters and leaflets concerning
religious, political or sexual preference groups, to avoid discrimination."
The established faith and official church in the UK is the Church of England (Anglican) but the Buckinghamshire county council unfathomably regards it simply as a "religious preference group." Another neurotic and paranoid Anglo-Saxon council official said that the staff was right not to display the poster, adding "We have a multi-faith community and passions can be inflamed by religious issues," and "We don't want to cause offence to anyone." One might ask why if, say, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus are affronted by Christian symbolism and practice are Christians not likely to be similarly affronted by the sight of a poster advertising a Muslim, Sikh or a Hindu festival?
Those who believe in the separation of state and church may think that this is perfectly normal, and from that narrow perspective they might be right. However, that same library which refused the Christmas carol service poster held a party to celebrate Eid, the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, one week earlier. The party, surprise surprise, was organised by the multicultural services librarian at the Buckinghamshire county council, a lady whose name most definitely does not suggest a lengthy Anglo-Saxon heritage, and was advertised by means of leaflets distributed at that same library.
At this time of the year we read other stories of similar acts. The British Red Cross was reported to have told volunteers not to create nativity scenes or to put up advent calendars with pictures of Mary or the three wise men. They claim that they wish to be seen as neutral and not affiliated to any religion. Apparently, even Oxfam, a noted charity, requires one to specifically request Christmas cards with a Christian theme. Their spokesman said: "As Oxfam is a non-religious organisation it is Oxfam's policy not to promote one religion over another. The shop's stock reflects a range of religions." As far as I know, the first six letters of the word Christmas form the basis of the Christian religion, so why those requesting cards for use in the third week of December would want anything other than a Christmas card is quite puzzling, at least to this bear of little brain.
Of course all becomes quite clear when one learns that even the word Christmas will be missing from the hundreds of cards sent out to friends, colleagues and organisations that work with her department by Tessa Jowell, the British Culture Secretary. The greeting says "Season's Greetings" rather than "Happy Christmas" and ignores everything remotely connected with what most Britons, and many others in the west, see as symbolic of Christmas. This card, which has been castigated by critics as the quintessence of "political correctness," bears a series of images designed to reflect life in New Labour's Britain today. The card bears the word "Goal" in bright yellow images and displays pictures of a steam train, two ethnic dancers and a bicycle race. In addition it includes a cardboard cut-out of a rock star, a small colour television and a piece of modern art. Nowhere to be seen is a nativity scene, or any of the Biblical figures involved in the story of the birth of Jesus.
An interesting twist on the topic of racial diversity occurred a few weeks ago when a young female announcer was dismissed at the BBC World Service because her accent was considered too "posh!" Presumably "posh" referred to her use of received pronunciation (RP, preferably acquired at Eton and Oxford) which is associated with a white, upper/middle-class demographic. Indeed, in the 1920's, Lord Reith, then director general of the BBC, believed that there was a right way to speak and insisted that his announcers should all speak properly and all sound the same. Reith saw it as his duty to ensure that the public knew the right way to speak and his standard was maintained until relatively recently when the BBC decided that its true mission was to sound classless. At least this is the official explanation.
As listeners to the BBC World Service will know, this decision has led to a proliferation of Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Australasian voices. The young lady in question though had been employed as an announcer there for three years, and just six months earlier had been told that she had been selected as part of this new sound. The young lady, one Zenab Ahmed, a self-described mixed race, half-Pakistani and half-English, South Londoner from a very ordinary background, speaks in the way Lord Reith would have approved. Her black newsroom colleagues thought it was great to have an Asian name on air and expressed their belief that the BBC was indeed moving away from the white middle class image they have projected for so long. Miss Ahmed's dismissal was instantaneous, she was informed by telephone at home in the morning before her next broadcast, her computer account was closed immediately and, because none was offered at the time of her dismissal, she had to sue the BBC for severance pay. So the interests of politically correct diversity must now be served not only by the employment of people with appropriately sounding "immigrant" names but they must not speak RP English.
Hypocrisy though, is not confined to Tony Blair's Cool Britannia, it is alive and well in California where a white girl was forced to leave her school after being threatened with violence for setting up a "Caucasian Club" which she had intended as a forum for debating racial insensitivity. The unfortunate 15-year-old intended her club to be the equivalent of the Black Student Union, Latinos Unidos, and the Aloha class Club for Pacific islanders. The club was supposed to be for students to discuss how their "whiteness" affected other ethnic groups. As the young girl said, "It wasn't supposed to be a big deal." Big deal or no, she was immediately denounced as a "white racist," a "fat, white neo-Nazi" and a "KKK girl." Gangs of girls threatened to beat her up and even a teacher, obviously an outstanding model of political rectitude, told her in front of her class that he would rather see her "drugged out and pregnant" than on the news talking about her new club.
There has been a demographic shift in California, especially in schools in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco counties where, in the past three decades, Caucasians have been a shrinking component of the population. It's an indication of things to come, with clear implications for the next generation. Whites as the minority is unique to California and the Bay Area today, but census figures show that it will soon be a reality in many regions of the USA. So in discussions outside and inside the classroom, when the words "diversity" and "multiculturalism" are bandied around, many white students wonder – either aloud or quietly – just exactly where they fit in.
At the Independence High School in San Jose, in a campus of over 4,000 students only 8 percent are Caucasian. There are Indians, Vietnamese, Mexicans and Filipinos among others, and a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes stands out. One such girl is Justine Steele, a 17-year-old senior, whom the other students call "white girl." As she said in an interview, "During multicultural rallies, when there are Indian dancers and Chinese dancers, it's a little strange to not have something, or someone, representing me," and, "I realize that outside of San Jose – when you watch movies and television, when you read magazines – whites are still the majority. But at Independence, I'm not."
The USA is a constant source of examples of hypocrisy and one which immediately springs to mind is the topic of free trade. US interest in Free Trade usually extends only to furthering its own exports while protecting itself from imports, as evidenced by President George II putting tariffs on steel almost immediately he came into office. Now that the World Trade Organisation has rejected the US appeal to retain those tariffs, confronting the US with a couple of billion dollars of retaliatory tariffs, Mr. Bush's administration must face up to reality.
In just two years time, the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is due to begin. When thirty-four countries negotiated it back in 1994, this had seemed quite feasible but now it appears that negotiations are at an impasse. US trade representatives are pointing fingers at countries such as Brazil and Argentina for dragging their feet and uniting together in an attempt to consolidate economic power and attain leverage against their North American trading partner. However, before blaming these countries – who are by no means the greatest aficionados of free trade – we should take a look at some of the actions of the USA.
It will be recalled that in July 2002, the Bush Administration announced plans to encourage more global access for agricultural exports by lowering tariffs and subsidies worldwide. However, shortly afterward, Congress and President Bush pushed through the 2002 Farm Bill, a 10-year, $180-billion package that will increase farm subsidies by 70 percent. A second example was the pressuring of Brazil by US trade officials to submit proposals for services, government procurement, intellectual property, and to lower tariffs on American goods. The US's own proposal to eliminate tariffs offered them only faraway relief from the extensive tariffs which restrict its most competitive exports – agriculture. In addition, the US is insisting upon dealing with the issues of agricultural tariffs, subsidies, and general anti-dumping rules in the labouriously sluggish Doha Round of world trade talks, instead of making concessions within the FTAA negotiations themselves.
Quite correctly, US officials constantly tout the potential benefits of the FTAA for South America, claiming that access to and competition with the North will help them to grow stronger, but the South American countries know that this will never happen until the US opens up too. It will be an interesting test of Mr Bush's Administration because they will have to get Congress to amend the infamous Farm Bill and tell subsidy-craving American farmers and industries (like steel) that the time has come where they must support themselves. While the president and Congress will be very reluctant to anger their protected constituents ultimately they will have to accept the responsibilities of leadership and explain the benefits of trade liberalisation and, importantly, the penalties likely to attach to continued protectionism. If they do this properly they should not then have to worry about losing any significant number of votes.
Eventually the US will have to make such a move and they could do worse than to follow the example of New Zealand and Australia who in the 1980s eliminated most of their farm subsidies. Farmers there did not go out of business, the withdrawal of subsidies gave agricultural producers an incentive to operate based on market demand. No longer receiving government pay-cheques, farmers there stopped producing things for which little demand existed and began to produce, more efficiently, goods where they enjoyed a comparative advantage and where there was market demand. Is there any reason for Mr. Bush and his satraps to believe that similar results would not follow their lifting of agricultural subsidies?
The US will have to slash its tariffs on imported goods too if they are to convince the poorer less developed and liberalised countries to open their markets to imports from the richest nation in the west. They must lead by example, if the benefits of an hemisphere-wide free trade area are to be shared by all thirty-four countries. Saying one thing and doing another will serve only to convince their southern partners that hypocrisy is an essential part of US trade philosophy thus continuing to provide those countries with an excuse to resist the FTAA.
Perhaps the most astounding example of the monumental hypocrisy of our time would be the criminal justice systems of the USA and Canada, because let's face it, the US, Canadian and other countries' so-called "War on Drugs" is an overwhelming failure. Much has been written on this topic and readers will not be bored further by a lengthy dissertation on the issue. The law, as Dickens pointed out, is an ass and we do not have to look far to find numerous examples of the veracity of his remark. How many people seeking to satisfy some hedonistic need have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms?
Removing potentially productive members of society for indulging in an activity which caused harm to none, most of the time not even to themselves, and incarcerating them at great public expense is neither beneficial to the individual nor cost efficient to society. Everyone knows that criminalising a product immediately creates an underground market with a concomitant tendency to violence as those involved seek to protect their business interests. One in eight murders are drug related, mostly among competing suppliers. Additionally, we all know that many of the main actors in the criminal justice system, the police, the judges, the prosecutors and the defence attorneys and many of those who draft the laws do themselves indulge in the use of the recreational substances they are so happy to ban.
As John Adams opined, "Be not intimidated... nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice."
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