The Sun have devoted two front pages to calling Russell Brand a hypocrite. The reason? Because he has been campaigning with the residents of the New Era estate against high rents and tax-dodging landlords, while paying high rent to a tax-dodging landlord. Firstly, the charge doesn’t quite work. Brand’s not the tax-dodging landlord. He’s not benefitting from the arrangement. He lives within a bent system, which he is protesting against in solidarity with the poorest people.
That aside, I want to deal with the general charge of hypocrisy. It riles me because it crops up again and again as an argument to disenfranchise people from taking part in debate. It’s pernicious.
I’m not alone in feeling this. Many have taken to Twitter to satirise The Sun’s logic, led by Owen Jones tweeting:
Stop talking about combatting starvation – you have a fridge full of food! Hypocrite!
George Monbiot tackled the hypocrisy charge in one of his columns a few years ago and nailed it. He said that to have ideals is to make yourself a hypocrite almost by definition:
Hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. Greens have high aspirations – they want to live more ethically – and they will always fall short. But the alternative to hypocrisy isn’t moral purity (no one manages that), but cynicism. Give me hypocrisy any day.
Piers Morgan opportunistically and slimily echoed The Sun’s argument in the Daily Mail. To appropriate what Monbiot has written before: you can’t accuse Morgan of hypocrisy because he cannot fail to live by his moral code, for the simple reason that he doesn’t have one.
Russell Brand also previously observed:
When I was poor and I complained about inequality they said I was bitter, now I’m rich and complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite. I’m starting to think they just don’t want to talk about inequality.
Celebrities are lauded for their charitable actions, for showing up at galas and fundraisers, making donations or recording charity singles. Yet if a celebrity, like Brand in this case, seeks to critique the causes of a social injustice, they are attacked. This calls to mind Dom Hélder Câmara’s observation:
When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a communist.