Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Thinking About Hypocrisy

by Sherry F. Colb

In my Verdict column for this week, I discuss protests against the practice within some ultra-Orthodox circles of using a live chicken for the ritual of Kaporos.  The ritual precedes Yom Kippur and symbolically transfers the penitent's sins onto a hen or a rooster, who is then slaughtered.  


Protesters have condemned the cruelty involved in the ritual.  In my column, I analyze the nature of the protests and suggest that they could inadvertently serve to enable and encourage hypocrisy and bigotry by those who daily consume the products of animal torture and slaughter -- the flesh (meat) and the lacteal of ovulatory secretions (milk and eggs) of mammals, birds, and fishes -- but who want to believe that they can credibly rail against the animal cruelty of a small minority of the population.


When I was clerking for Justice Blackmun, the case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Haileah came before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Court had recently announced, in Employment Division v. Smith, that Native American users of peyote for religious riturals had no First Amendment right to religious accommodations from the government in the form of exemption from otherwise generally applicable drug laws (but see a different perspective in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores).  The Court explained in Smith that the Free Exercise of religion protects members of a religious group only from discrimination against them on the basis of religion but not from the adverse impact of a generally applicable law.  


In Church of Lukumi, practitioners of Santeria claimed that a Hialeah, Florida, city ordinance that prohibited animal sacrifice violated their Free Exercise rights because the city, which claimed to be addressing animal cruelty through its ordinance, in fact singled out the petitioners for their religious practice while leaving alone and even affirmatively endorsing other forms of animal cruelty by the general population.  The petitioners prevailed, and the Supreme Court struck down the Hialeah ordinance.


At the time this case came before the Court, I inferred from the structure of the Florida law under consideration that the people of the City of Hialeah were deliberately targeting members of the Santeria faith rather than sincerely trying to protect animals from harm.  After all, if Floridians were really concerned about violence against animals, they would not have entrenched a state constitutional right to hunt and would also stop the daily cruelty of animal farming more generally.  The professed concern about animals was, to my mind, therefore bogus.


Looking back on the Hialeah ordinance now, however, I think I might have partially misjudged the people of Hialeah.  They did, of course, evidence anti-Santeria prejudice, and I would not give them a free pass for that bigotry.  My guess at this point, however, is that the people who created the ordinance in question really did feel repelled by the animal cruelty that they witnessed in the streets, when people sacrificed goats, chickens, and other animals for religious reasons. Most of us do not regularly see animals being slaughtered for any reason, so we (or at least those of us who have not already been desensitized to such violence) would likely find such a spectacle extremely disturbing if we did witness it, and we would find it disturbing in large part because animals were suffering tremendously.


What does this tell us, then?  I think the word "hypocrite" captures well what it tells us.  The word literally means one who is insufficiently critical.  If John criticizes a member of the Santeria faith for sacrificing a chicken, but he then turns around and eats a slaughtered chicken or an egg -- and thereby registers his support for the slaughter of more chickens -- John is being insufficiently critical of animal cruelty. In particular, he is criticizing members of the Santeria faith for their animal cruelty while remaining complacent about his own.


I think it is useful to think of this as literal hypocrisy rather than, say, as an instance of being "hypercritical" (or as "hypercrisy").  If it were hypercrisy, it would mean that John does not actually care about animal cruelty (as evidenced by his consumption of animal products) but that he is being critical of the Santeria practitioners for the sake of being critical or exclusively out of some prejudice against an unfamiliar group.  Under the hypercrisy model, the proper stance for John would be to stop criticizing Santeria. Once he did that, he would have achieved the correct equilibrium, in which he criticizes neither himself nor those belonging to an unfamiliar religious group, a kind of "homeostacrisy."


On a hypocrisy approach, however, we would acknowledge that what happens to the animals during animal sacrifice is terribly wrong but that we must take a closer look at our own conduct toward animals and stop hurting them ourselves rather than exclusively condemning others for their wrongdoing. Invalidating the Hialeah ordinance as hypocritical, then, occurs because the ordinance does too little, not because it does too much (although either under- or over-inclusiveness makes a law suspect under an equality analysis).  


To give a different example, consider the period after Michael Vick was first charged with cruelty for what he did to the dogs in his custody.  People were extremely angry at him, and quite a few people who lived in my neighborhood in NYC at the time approached me with petitions aimed at condemning Vick and urging harsh treatment of him by the criminal justice system.  


Thinking back, I have no doubt at all that the people expressing anger and circulating petitions were honestly and sincerely horrified by the cruelty that Michael Vick had perpetrated against his dogs.  It would be false to say that these people were just looking for an excuse to criticize Michael Vick.  


Yet most of the people circulating petitions and declaring their outrage were simultaneously consuming animal flesh and secretions and thereby participating in violence just as great against animals just as vulnerable and capable of suffering as Michael Vick's dogs.  Such people were accordingly engaged in hypocrisy (for failing to take notice of their own misconduct) rather than hypercrisy (for condemning Vick's animal cruelty at all). 


The remedy for hypocrisy is to look in the mirror and take in the fact that one is doing exactly the sort of thing that one is condemning another person or group for doing.  This is what I found myself taking in when I had stopped consuming mammals but had continued to consume birds, when I stopped consuming birds but continued consuming aquatic animals, and finally, when I realized that being a lacto-ovo vegetarian implicated me in horrific violence against mother cows, baby calves, hens, and roosters.  


Returning to the issue that began this post, I believe that most of the people condemning the practice of using chickens for Kaporos are honestly and truly upset to see the suffering that the ritual inflicts on innocent birds. They are accordingly not hypercritical (or, to use my new word, "hypercrites"), as they have in fact identified something that is morally reprehensible to condemn.


But if they do not simultaneously condemn -- or at the very least stop engaging in -- the violence of animal agriculture, then they are hypocrites, people who are insufficiently critical of misconduct that they most clearly see when they are not personally invested in perpetuating it.  Hypocrites would do best to expand their critique to their own behavior, particularly at a time of year associated with atonement and renewal.  Now would be a most auspicious time for people to undertake the removal of animal products -- the wages of animal torture and slaughter -- from their lives.  If we want a world in which others refrain from violence, committing to becoming vegan is really the least we can do. 

13 comments:

Joe said...

If I look at the apparent two base words of "hypocrite" (hypo + crite) it does seem to "literally" mean something like "under critical" but looking it up, the dictionaries note that the origins are actually something akin to "actor."

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hypocrite

It is true we repeatedly are not consistent. Consistency is personally the reason I became a vegetarian. I was not one at 7.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/dining/when-theres-a-vegetarian-child-in-the-family.html

Good topical example in this context, but of course the lesson can be placed in a wider context.

Paul Scott said...

The biggest hypocrisy here, of course, flows from the shared belief in magic, but with the unwillingness to say so.

There is no substantive difference between Kaporos and the Sacrament. Yes, it is true that the Sacrament does not involve the torture of animals, but what is that next to the will of an omniscient, omnipotent God who defines morality? I mean, once you have that, anything (that God commands) is moral and in fact to do otherwise is immoral - even if, for example, God were to demand the torture and killing of the entire human race.

I think the real truth of this is that the protesters (almost all of whom believe in the same God as those practicing Kaporos) have a religious disagreement about the will of God.

Scalia and Jefferson got this right.

Joe said...

I find the last comment a somewhat limiting idea of "God," but more specifically don't quite get the last reference. Scalia and Jefferson?

Greg said...

I have two thoughts on this, one general, one specific.

On the general side, my experience has been that, under most circumstances, when I engage in hypocrisy, I often find that further introspection usually ends up with my objection not being what I thought it was. Often these views are simply an objection to something being alien rather than whatever my initial objection was, in which case I am being overly critical (hypercrisy), but due to being insufficiently critical of my own views (hypocrisy).

In the case of Kaporos in particular, I believe you have correctly identified the shared value in objecting to the useless or needless cruelty to animals. However, you fail to identify any case where use of animals in Kaporos could be viewed as needless or useless whereas killing of animals for food would be viewed as useful or necessary. I'm not sure that's fair.

I'll start out by saying that my familiarity with Kaporos is somewhat limited, but I think I get the gist of the ritual and its significance. The sins of a person are symbolically transferred onto something of value to that person, and then the item of value is in some way disposed of. In this way the believer is giving up their sins, even though doing so has a personal cost to them*. If I have correctly identified the ritual and it purposes, then the animal sacrifice is inappropriate not because it is inherently cruel, but because the animal has no value to the person killing it.

In an agrarian society, animals had value. They could be killed for food, they provided milk and eggs, and they performed jobs such as killing pests, pulling plows, and fertilizing the land. For a farmer, animals were absolutely things of value, and sacrificing one was very much a personal sacrifice. In modern times, most of us don't raise our own animals, and don't see them as things of value in the same way that a farmer would. Most of us use other means to earn our livelihood. However, it would be impractical (though perhaps appropriately symbolic) for me to use something like my computer or law books in the Kaporos ritual. So, we use the next closest thing, which is money. Money undoubtedly has value, and in appropriate quantities can represent a personal sacrifice to the believer. I would argue that if the chicken is purchased specifically for the Kaporos ritual, then the thing of value (money) is no longer present when the ritual is actually performed on the chicken.

Jewish groups would be in a unique place to put forth an argument such as the one above, as they would be more intimately aware of the ritual than I am, and could better articulate its purposes.

Based on the above argument, I would object to the Kaporos ritual not because it is cruel, but because it is needlessly cruel. It's not that spiritual nourishment is unimportant, it's that it is better satisfied by the monetary alternative than by the animal sacrifice.

Based on this, the apparent rule is that cruelty to animals is acceptable if it serves a necessary purpose and there are no "better" alternatives. In the case of killing animals for food, the availability of "better" alternatives is at least open to reasoned debate.

* NOTE: It's possible that the use of animals in the sacrifice serves purposes other than being of value, in which case the animal sacrifice may actually be better. The most obvious such purpose would be that the horror of death itself is part of the ritual. I reject at least the horror of death argument because in an agrarian society the butchering of a chicken would be seen as mundane, not horrific. However, it is for this reason that legislation is not the correct way of dealing with a practice like this, persuasive speech is.

Joe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe said...

I respect the discussion of the last comment but not sure if that is why exactly it is done.

Animals to my understanding were stand-ins for humans (see Abraham/Isaac), not just "things of value" as such. And, how much monetary value is a single animal? Why not use an inanimate object like a valuable metal? Animals still have monetary value today. Finally, the author above thinks animals have "value" as living things. Does that count?

Also, the ritual like many has value as honoring religious tradition. The original exact purpose of many of them are no longer in place. Many kosher rules probably are of this sort.

... as a sort of p.s., even in an agricultural society, I can see needless killing of animals seen as wrong. And, today there is no consistent horror of killing chickens, including in pretty harsh conditions. A limited use for religious occasions if anything might be the least of our problems.

Sam Rickless said...

We've discussed this before, but I think it needs pointing out that there is a slide from your (true) claim that X eats a killed animal to the (to my mind, false) claim that X is doing the same sort of thing that X is criticizing others for doing (namely, killing animals). If X is doing the same sort of thing etc., then X is killing animals. But X is not killing animals: X is eating parts of animal corpses. So there is no hypocrisy here, literally understood.

Now you say that when X eats the part of an animal corpse, X registers X's support for the slaughter of more animals. This strikes me as debatable. Surely sometimes, e.g., when there is an already dead animal in front of me, perhaps killed by someone else and left in the field, or by a falling tree, my eating part of the animal does not register support for the slaughter of more animals.

You are surely thinking of purchasing parts of dead animals in supermarkets. Even there, it's not at all clear that in purchasing these animal parts, I am *registering support for* more animal killing. What I am doing is buying something, and from this the most that can be inferred is that what I am doing has a marginal impact on the incentives that animal killing companies have to keep doing what they are doing.

patrick welcome said...

Interesting the reference to "vegan" in order to grow enough produce to support a world wide "vegan" population we would have to destroy large tracts of "habitat" thereby directly and subsequently indirectly impacting as many if not more animals.

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