Facing Up To Our Hypocrisy | Pushing the Wave

Facing Up To Our Hypocrisy

Opinion, 29 September 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Taking the ferry in Stresa Italy
Taking the ferry in Stresa, Italy
I try not to return to a topic I have already discussed at length, but last week’s piece on male domination and abuse, and way it is tolerated by the microcosm of society that surrounds it, keeps on throwing up some valid points to examine.

Not the man himself. His name has been bandied around so much I am loathe to add to the sense of importance he undoubtedly feels about himself, even if he is being talked about for all the wrong reasons.

Last week, Martha Gill suggested in The Guardian this latest outrage in exploitation was accepted for so long because he wasn’t a hypocrite. He practised precisely what he preached.

She points to his career having not been ended by ‘Sachsgate’, in which he made a lewd phone call on air to Andrew Sachs, or by numerous unpleasant and sexually demeaning comments he made over and over again both in his standup shows and to various media outlets.

Noting that it was an open secret that the man was a sexual predator, Gill quotes:

“Are you a more successful sexual predator now you don’t drink?” [Piers] Morgan once asked [Russell] Brand in an interview. “I like to think of myself as a conduit of natural forces…You just have to unpick the conditions stopping women going straight to bed with you,” he replied.

She adds that Brand, who so far denies he did anything wrong, “had been behaving in ways that would kill most other careers.”

Gill suggests the reason is we “instinctively loathe” hypocrisy, and says Judith Shklar wrote in Ordinary Vices we typically rate it as worse than other human flaws.

This is a problem because “it gives predators and criminals a handy loophole” to guard themselves against scandal, Gill says.

But why do we hate hypocrisy so much?

I think it’s because we are, deep down, all hypocrites. Moreover, we know it, and we don’t want anyone to find out.

I don’t mean for a second we all behave in ways that we should want to hide. Rather, we all have thoughts, wishes and beliefs from time to time that run counter to how we try to portray ourselves to the outside world, and of which we are, frankly, ashamed.

We have also all said and done things at some point in our lives we regret deeply and live in fear that one day, they will come back to haunt us.

Personally, I recoil in horror every time I think of the awful lads culture that pervaded practically every single social interaction when I was at university in the mid-1990s. Looking back, I realise how misogynistic we all were, without even realising it. But it seemed okay, because everyone participated in and perpetuated it, even the female students.

Hold on a second.

I say “without even realising it”. But is that strictly true? It’s always the get-out when talking about the past: Everyone was like that, it’s just the way things were. We were young, we didn’t know what we were doing, and we didn’t think it mattered. But we’re all grown up now and we would never talk or act in that way nowadays.

I should hope not!

But actually I did know at the time. I was raised by two strong women and I was ashamed of the things I said and did when I was a student, all simply to be part of the group.

I was very young and naïve, yes, but I had also been singled out and mocked for my working class ways and accent, and I was desperate to no longer be an outsider. When I realised I could join a clique of fellow medical students, including those from posh backgrounds, who would accept me, I jumped at the chance. The price? To behave like an obnoxious yob.

My other friends who were not medical students, and did not feel the need to be accepted, of course questioned what I was doing, and they were right to do so. I questioned what I did, but I felt I had no choice but to accept the terms of entry to this coterie, so I went along with it. I hated some of what was said and done, especially in the objectification of women, but I didn’t raise my hand or voice, and I didn’t leave.

I should point out nothing violent happened. There were no assaults I was aware of, but the words and attitudes were violent enough. If I was so desperate to fall in line with the culture simply to fit in, how must those young women, like me naïve and inexperienced, have felt at the time? Awful, I assume.

Why am I telling you all this?

It’s important we don’t pretend that ‘they’, as in the bad people, were the only people to do bad things ‘back then’, even if what we did doesn’t rise to the level of criminal charges. To say it was the pervading culture and think that absolves us of guilt is nonsense. This is the Nazi camp guard excuse: I was only following orders. I did only what everyone else did.

That’s not good enough. If I could go back in time and raise my hand, stop people talking in that way and push back against the pervading culture, I would do. It would have meant being ejected from the group I desperately wanted to be a part of but, to me as I am now, I wouldn’t care. I’d be glad to leave, as long as I took the opportunity, just once, to say what I already believed at the time.
On a lighter note, this week I rekindled a deep and long-lasting love of mine. I was visiting Stresa, in Italy, for work, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a ferry.

Readers of my column will now that I have a love of these functional boats that borders on the obsessive, and have recounted several adventures on them over three columns (you can read the first one, My Big Ferry Love Affair, here).

The beauty at the top of this page is one we passed on the return leg of a trip to Villa Taranto, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. However, I was able to get the ferry back to Stresa and take the picture only thanks to the kindness one finds so often in Italy.

Earlier that day, I had elected to walk around the headland to Verbania rather than visit the Villa and its gardens. After lunch and while on my way back to the dock, I saw the ferry arriving in the distance. I hurried along as quickly as I could, as I knew the next one would not be along for an hour and there is not much to do around there.

Sadly, I was too late. By the time I arrived at the pontoon, the ferry had already cast off and was heading to its next destination.

But when they saw me sprinting towards them, they stopped the boat, reversed back into port and let me on. I was of course extremely grateful, and I can think of few places in the world where a busy crew running to a timetable would do that.
I have been going about it for weeks, but we are finally in the final stages of producing the follow-up to My Life as a Dog, entitled: More Life as a Dog.

The cover design is complete, the paperback and hardback covers are being worked on, and the final texts are in full swing. I cannot wait to share more details with you as soon as I can.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Facing Up To Our Hypocrisy | Pushing the Wave