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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Monday, November 26, 2012


One of my favorite quotes is by Francois de la Rochfoucauld: "Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue." In other words, hypocrites make the world go round.

I used to think that hypocrites were the worst sort of sinner. After all, Jesus lumped them in with scribes and Pharisees (you know, the famous whited sepulchres). Dante put them in the eighth circle of Hell, just above Satan and the devils. I still look at a politician and puke. But I'm getting better.

Hypocrites are crucial to fixing things. My particular obsession is of course the natural world, defending it, preserving it as much as we can. Where would our movement be without Richard Nixon (who signed all the great environmental legislation in the 70s, however reluctantly), John Muir (who hobnobbed with Presidents), Al Gore (who has one of the world's biggest houses), Bill McKibben (who burns fossil fuel incessantly as he travels the world), your average land trust board member (with a house or two, a car or two), etc, etc. These are the best kinds of hypocrites, those who know they are and worry about it, those with a conscience - OK, maybe not Richard Nixon - the kind of people who are driven by their shortcomings and work hard to compensate, over-compensate in the best of cases, for their sins.

When next we criticize the vices of cars and big houses and the God-given right to take international vacations on jets, remember the virtues of endless committee work, and big annual donations, and perpetual easements, and weekend fundraisers, and estate bequeathments, and trail construction, and the uprooting of invasive plants, and the long hours of writing and preaching and one-on-one persuasion. They often reside in the same person. If they don't, if the hypocrite in question really has no conscience whatsoever (la Rochfoucauld really should have amended his maxim slightly), then together let's wish him good luck wearing that coat in Hell, the one that glitters beautifully but is heavily weighted with lead. Let's start a list of the candidates.

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