Hypocrisy and Moral Inversion by Bruce Charlton

These paragraphs are taken from a Blog called Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany – http://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/ – published as a 2010 booklet called DECLINE OF THE WEST EXPLAINED. I strongly recommend any reader curious about the peculiar oddities and insanity afflicting Western society to read it. It is available online here.

I reprint here two of his pensées in hopes of stirring up some interest in this writer’s remarkable thoughts: one on Hypocrisy and one on Moral Inversion.

Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy regarded as the worst moral transgression

For secular modern societies hypocrisy is the worst sin.

Traditional Christian morality is that to sin is bad, but everyone sins since we are naturally worldly and self-loving (prideful) – what is important is to repent the sin.

And, traditionally, denying sin or defending sin or advocating sin in others are all very bad sins indeed.

In other words, although we cannot ever wholly stop ourselves from ‘transgressing’, we should never encourage others to transgress; people should aim at the highest standards; should publicly defend the highest standards – although they will not be able themselves to attain the highest standards.

Therefore, in the modern loose usage of the word, ‘hypocrisy’ is inevitable.

*

In secular modern societies, morality is regarded as being something invented and chosen; and Christianity in particular is vehemently rejected.

Yet there is a natural morality, natural law – or what C.S Lewis called the Tao in perhaps his greatest lecture series The Abolition of Man – http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition3.htm

Natural morality is spontaneous in all humans at all points in history (quite possibly it is an evolutionary legacy, related to humans being social animals), and everyone (who is not a conscienceless psychopath) knows when he is transgressing it.

But secular modernity does not recognize the validity of natural morality, and the morality of secular modernity contradicts natural morality in many respects (usually with a utilitarian rationale) – this is what can be termed ‘moral inversion’ – where bad (according to natural morality) is re-labelled good and vice versa; bad people and good people are reversed in public esteem.

This is a normal aspect of political correctness, where monogamous heterosexual marriage among family orientated, law-abiding and hard-working people is loathed on the grounds of its hypocrisy and judgmental-ness; while open advocacy and practice of transgressive behaviours (i.e. transgressive according to natural morality) is morally aggrandized as being ‘honest’ and tolerant.

*

The moral inversion of PC seems to spring from its generally ‘rebellious adolescent’ mind set. Adolescents are (naturally) the worst behaved group in society – in terms of the psychology of personality across lifespan, it is during adolescence that a person will (on average) reach their highest levels of neuroticism, impulsiveness and extraversion, their lowest levels of empathizing/ agreeableness; and aggression levels peak around the mid teens.

The youth culture – driven by pride – has therefore evolved a new morality which makes adolescents the best people instead of the worst: the teenager as moral exemplar – the sensitive adolescent – impatient, full of angst, with multiple sensitivities, with easily bruised ego, lonely yet yearning for love – as the moral hero and compass for the rest of society…

Secular modernity (with its psychological neoteny – its essential adolescence, its suspended immaturity) therefore performs a moral inversion which relabels its own faultsas virtues, and reframes morality as primarily a matter of ‘honesty’. Honesty means living by chosen standards. The square adult world is accused of hypocrisy – of failing to live up to the high standards it advocates – and this sin is seen as invalidating all else.

Adolescent ‘honesty’ is not, therefore, about telling the truth – but about advocating very low standards of behaviour, then exceeding them!

Only adolescents, so the story goes, are really moral – because only they adopt an ‘honestly’ low standard of behaviour which they – and everyone else – can truly live-up-to, can even exceed (and exceed gratuitously! – as a pure act of surplus goodness – not underpinned by religious or otherworldly rewards or sanctions).

This is perhaps the essence of moral inversion in modernity.

*

For example; for secular modernity; the open, explicit advocacy of impulsive sexual promiscuity is regarded as in itself morally admirable – since it is a standard that anyone can live up to (and gratifies at least the person doing it – the main problem being to convince the victims of assembly-line seduction that they too are being made happy and morally-enhanced by their exploitation).

Indeed, anyone who exceeds the very low moral standard, and behaves somewhat in the direction of natural morality, may be regarded as a genuine moral exemplar – e.g. a ruthless, manipulative, serially promiscuous individual who nonetheless maintains a long-term and affectionate relationship.

*

In sum, the morality of secular modernity ‘solves’ the ancient problem of the inevitability of human sin by denying the sinfulness of most attitude or acts – the inevitable gap in behaviour between spontaneous morality and actual human behaviour is dealt with by down-grading the definition of moral behaviour until it is low enough that anyone can attain it.

But because humans cannot stop making moral evaluations, sin is not actually eliminated, rather the location of sin is displaced.

Evaluative neutrality is impossible for humans (we cannot be ‘non-judgmental’; we are judging or evaluating animals), and because societal manipulations of natural morality are pushing against human nature, the displacement of sin is only possible with a high level of social coercion. The freedom to live a hedonic, gratification-oriented life becomes *moral advocacy* of a life of self-gratification.

The displaced sin then becomes the advocacy of high standards. High standards are regarded as aggressive because high standards will not be met, which will make people feel guilty, which makes them intractably miserable (because in secular modernity there is no forgiveness for guilt – only an attempted denial of the basis for guilt).

In a utilitarian society, to behave in a way that makes other people intractably miserable is regarded as the worst of sins…

*

In secular modern societies, people that advocate a high level of morality, especially natural morality, are seen as aggressors against the happiness of the majority – even or especially when such people actually achieve significantly higher standards of behaviour than the rest of society. The point is that their behaviour is not perfect, therefore they are hypocrites; which is the worst thing to be.

And of course such people really are ‘hypocrites’ in the sense that with high standards some level of degree of failure is inevitable.

*

So we get the profound moral inversions of secular modernity, in which exemplary citizens who advocate high moral standards – like Mormons and devout Evangelicals – are the primary hate figures.

While people who both advocate and practice lives of aggressive, exploitative, manipulative self-gratification are regarded as moral heroes.

Because so long as their explicitly advocated standards of behaviour are set even-lower than their actual behaviours; arrogant, selfish pleasure-seekers are immune against being regarded as that worst of modern villains: the hypocrite.

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Moral inversion

The most striking aspect of modern secular society, which would have amazed and horrified our ancestors, is the moral inversion by which have redefined bad as good, sin as virtue.

This has happened as part of the modern rejection of Christianity, and as a solution to the fundamental paradox of the human condition – the conflict between spontaneous human desire and spontaneous human morality.

It is, at root, this moral inversion which is causing secular modern societies to commit suicide by a combination of denial of danger and by deliberate policy.

*

It seems that our literate ancestors (such as the ancient Jews) all spontaneously recognized that for a person to live according to their spontaneous desires – living primarily for seeking gratification and avoiding (or minimizing) suffering – was morally wrong.

This was so obvious that it needed (and indeed needs) no argument – it is the natural moral law for humans that a life aiming at selfish hedonism is intrinsically wicked: that is wicked as a basic stance, not merely in terms of its consequences (which vary according to specific circumstances).

Yet it was also recognized that at some level, for humans as they are now, it is also natural and spontaneous to be selfish and hedonic.

So there was a conflict between the way that humans were ‘set-up’ to be self-gratifying and the moral sense by which we knew that this way wrong.

*

This was the basic situation, the human condition, as perceived by pretty much all humans throughout history – that of conflict.

And therefore the situation was bleak in the extreme, since there seemed to be no solution.

Of course, all humans also believed (in some sense) in the soul, and its potential persistence after death (in some form, perhaps as a ghost, perhaps in Hades – not the same as hell, perhaps returning to be recycled or reincarnated)

The ancient Jews attempted solution was The Law, which prescribed morality in terms (essentially) of behaviour. If a man could live according to the law, his life (in this world) would be good – although the end was the same for all – good and bad – the ghostly and depersonalized realms of Sheol/ Hades.

However, actually men could not live by the law. It was impossible, because of their nature. They could never achieve that to which they aspired. The human condition was tragic.

*

This was the basic human situation, about which humans could do nothing, and from which humanity needed to be rescued.

The Christian solution, the Good News, was that God’s Grace had provided a solution, since the incarnation meant that God had taken-up humanity; and if a person proclaimed in their heart Jesus as Lord, and repented of his (inevitable) sinly nature, then there would be forgiveness and the soul would (instead of losing humanity in Hades) be granted eternal life with God.

Man’s soul after death would become God-like instead of a gibbering, depersonalized ghostly form of persistence.

So, the Christian message is that belief and repentance in this life can lead to a solution of the fundamental paradox, but only in the next world, after death (however this life is temporary, while life after death is eternal).

*

For whatever reason, the Western elite ruling class became increasingly atheist from the advent of modernity (?c 1700). Since the elite ruling class disbelieved in the soul, they were this-worldly; and since they were this-worldly they wanted as much satisfaction from life as possible (there being nothing else).

But spontaneous natural morality gets in the way of worldly self-gratification – so spontaneous natural morality must (somehow or another) be rejected.

Yet since morality really is spontaneous, it cannot be rejected.

*

So emerged moral inversion: the morality that (contrary to the instinct of spontaneous morality) this-worldly self-gratification is the proper primary aim in life.

From this derives the many specific new ‘Laws’ of modernity; which state that what we used to think was necessary is actually un-necessary, that what we thought was bad was actually good, and what we used to think was good was actually bad.

For secular moderns the only *real* sin is to believe in the reality of sin.

*

This is the current situation, this the secular modern ‘solution’ to the fundamental paradox of the human condition – that life in this-world can be, should be, harmonious – *if only* we recognize that our spontaneous self-gratification is actually morally necessary and should be the primary explicit goal of human endeavor.

And because this solution actually solves nothing, and is merely a statement, a wish-that-this-was-so; it has necessarily been embodied in the coercive beliefs, practices and laws of atheist totalitarian states (notably the USSR, National Socialism and Communist China) and this process is now advanced in all Western societies (by enforcement of what is termed ‘Political Correctness’).

So the citizens in modern secular societies are not merely encouraged to flout the natural morality which they cannot help but feel, they are increasingly forced to flout natural morality. They are compelled to live (and to think and to believe) as if hedonic gratification was the primary value in a life which ends with death and extinction.

And there is no hope of resolution in this world, nor the next world (the existence of which is denied).

*

Since there is no hope of resolution, the only alternative is distraction – to lose oneself in hedonic gratification: such that intense, continuous self-gratification obliterates our awareness of the fundamental paradox.

Despair, distraction, denial, self-indulgence… and if these do not work, then some kind of suicide of awareness.

By this analysis, the Decline of the West is a willed societal suicide driven by the mass psychological consequences of top-down, enforced moral inversion.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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10 Responses to Hypocrisy and Moral Inversion by Bruce Charlton

  1. I’ve long held that any morality it is possible to live up to is unworthy.

  2. Gian says:

    “Adolescents are (naturally) the worst behaved group in society –”

    Only in the modern West, perhaps.

  3. David_Marcoe says:

    So, John, how would you/do you fight this moral inversion on the artistic side? Obviously, a writer or artist opposed to such madness attempts a contrast, to present a compelling counter-vision of the world and inspire higher ideals, but how do you go about it specifically in your writing?

  4. Stephen J. says:

    Some interesting thoughts and a lot of them I agree with, but I’d express a caveat or two:

    - Adolescence as nadir of empathy: This is not unfailingly true — my own observations suggest that it is more when empathy fluctuates rapidly and fiercely between complete self-obsession and manic outward orientation. Nobody can get as honestly, unselfconsciously outraged on behalf of a Wronged Victim as a teenager encountering the concept of Wronged Victims for the first time, which is one reason why Political Correctness and Marxism both resonate so powerfully among the young.

    - “The point is that their behaviour is not perfect, therefore they are hypocrites”: Most modern secular utilitarians would probably argue that the point is not that there’s a gap between what moral preachers say and what they do, but that — in all too many instances — the gap is so wide, and so constantly widened by further fresh violations, that it becomes prohibitively difficult to believe that the preacher himself believes what he says at all. As Lewis himself commented, “It was said during the war that ‘Careless Talk costs Lives’; but when it comes to living as a Christian in the public eye it is probably more accurate to say that Careless Lives cost Talk.”

    (Underlying this is the modern pop-faux-Freudian belief that it is only what we do that shows what we “really” want or believe, which goes back to Charlton’s observations about adolescent conceptions of honesty as consistency between feeling and action. This is also reinforced by the very natural human resentment of being called upon to make sacrifices that the person demanding the sacrifice from us is not making himself.)

    I believe that the Devil does most of his worst work by figuring out ways to use our best impulses against us, which is one reason I think reasonings such as Charlton’s (though dead on in many respects) ultimately miss the mark by reducing the issue solely to the need to justify guilt-free hedonism for ourselves. Most totalitarians and PC-niks truly believe (at least when they first commit to the principles) that the end and aim of their philosophy is to eliminate suffering for others (which is why the biggest advocates for the proletariat come from the middle class and why most of the really fanatic PC-niks are wealthy Caucasian Westerners).

    I would not call it moral inversion so much as moral discord: like Melkor in the Ainulindale, the goal is to overwhelm the original beauty of universal harmony with the passionate fury of crude noise, because the (in itself) rightness of not being forced to play against your will is used as justification to reject the subordination required to achieve harmony. A few key notes are set up as the only notes worth playing, and if the resulting music is “loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated… braying upon a few notes”, it is still seen as realer and truer than a harmony achieved only by “subjugation”.

    • Sylvie D. Rousseau says:

      “…reasonings such as Charlton’s (though dead on in many respects) ultimately miss the mark by reducing the issue solely to the need to justify guilt-free hedonism for ourselves.”
      I think Dr. Charlton is right on this as well. He is not doing a reduction so much as an exposition of the roots of PC behavior. Lust is the most widespread and obvious root in the shallow worldview of our modern barbarians and it usually goes hand in hand with power-seeking and greed. I would say it is the more saintly of their reversed virtues: it does not even need to be disguised like the other two.

      In fact, I was struck by how this term of moral inversion and what Dr. Charlton says about sin and guilt and the absence of forgiveness in a secularized society correspond with what our Blessed John Paul II told André Frossard in their 1980-81 interview “N’ayez pas peur” (“Be not afraid”, The Faith, ch. VI) (my translation certainly does not justice to the authors but I don’t have the English text, so please forgive the awkwardness):

      The very notion of sin is linked to human dignity because human dignity requires of man to live within truth. Now, the truth is that man does evil, he commit sins. Those who try so hard to erase the notion of sin from human language just confirm this truth. Erasing the notion of sin is to impoverish man on a point constitutive of human experience. The purpose of eliminating sin is to “liberate” man from the necessity to “convert” (that is, from the necessity of the sacrament of “penance”). However, this process ends in a vacuum, or rather, it burdens the subconscious with the idea that evil is inevitable, normal in a way. Hence follows the necessity not to call evil evil, but good, so that everyone can yield to it up to the most fundamental moral requirements.

  5. KFJ says:

    Savor the irony: liberals are actually about the most hypocritical and judgmental people you’ll ever find.

  6. Tim Ohmes says:

    I was also intrigued by Dr. Charlton’s section on “Fun”.

    Early in my marriage my wife countered my *ahem* dedication to pro football by declaring it a ‘false religion’. During my ‘reasoned’ defense she demonstrated how devotion to sports regularly gained priority over church attendance. She had her point, the Super Bowl at that time was played shortly after noon and mass attendance was very minimal during Super Bowl Sunday; very few attended the evening before either, I was a musician and did all of our masses.

    Since that time I have made observations to confirm her opinion to a larger scale.

    If one understands that a person’s god is determined by what he makes sacrifices for and what is sacrificed, I submit that the god of our culture is entertainment in general.

    It appears to me that the purpose of life in the West is to obtain the greatest quantity of the highest quality of entertainment as is possible. There can be no question that religion is sacrificed first but spouses, children, jobs, family, education, and a myriad other things are sacrificed as well in order to achieve the next highest level of entertainment.

    John, I would think this would be fodder for another of your ‘guns blazing’ cultural posts.

    • Stephen J. says:

      I’m actually really grateful that you made that post. It lets me look on the fact that I haven’t been able to get any decent gaming time in for years, due to family commitments, in an entirely better light.

  7. Pingback: Sylvie D. Rousseau

  8. The_Shadow says:

    I was right there with him until he fingered Thomism as the root cause of all the problems. Oy vey!

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