Paedophilia is severely punished by law; but how come hundreds of priests are going scot-free for committing such an abominable crime on the innocent? That’s double standard at the highest level. The French would exclaim helplessly “deux poids, deux mesures.” Here is a definition: “A double standard is the application of different sets of principles for similar situations, or by two different people in the same situation.”
All of us know secretly about it and indulge in it at different stages of our life, but we will hesitate to confess that we practise double standard; if we do, we may be branded as verging on schizophrenia.
Does it serve a purpose? If it did not we would already have got rid of it long time back, resulting in a more advanced, peaceful and cultured society. Since we did not there must be a compulsive force that keeps us playing continuously that double tier game. It is as if a psychological pendulum keeps swinging to and fro in our mind: it makes us scan all the possibilities open to us in every situation, and we ultimately choose the one standard most suitable and comfortable for us (and another for our friends).
Of course, a few of us are more disciplined, and look down at this double standard game as an abominable, inhuman activity to be shunned at all cost. Those few are the respected members of our society; they are stern, no nonsense adherents to rituals but may be immune to good humour. Though if we move with them for a long time we may discover that they also have a hidden facet to their lives.
If on one side we have our ancestors of thousands of years ago who were thoroughly tribal, egoist, self-centred, ready to kill to protect their kith and kin, on the other hand we ourselves have become gregarious, more intelligent, less belligerent, more compassionate. How and when did we achieve this transformation? At some stage during our social evolution we had to start thinking differently, gradually viewing others around us from a perspective different from that of our forefathers, and began social construction. As we became more educated we gave up physical confrontation, but started to indulge in mental and psychological attack and cruelty. After all, the law punishes physical violence more than virulent language abuses.
As long as our ancestors were hunters they cooperated to hunt their prey; they shared the quarry equally because, after all, they were all putting in the same effort in the hunting. But once they had invented agriculture, and become more sedentary, their respective share of responsibility underwent change. The boss of the village, the grain storer and the guards played by different rules than those laid down for other members of the tribe. If I were the chief of the village I would find all sorts of excuses to remain the boss and keep myself away from hard labour.
I would invent a standard for the chief and one for the labourer, one set of rules for my children and another for others’ children. And as we become more moralistic during centuries of culture I would take the habit of preaching good behaviours and conduct to others, but I would find plausible excuses if I myself broke those rules. And that’s how we have ended up with elders who go on smoking while advising their children about the dangers of cigarette. As long as those seniors were the guardians of all knowledge, information and news in the village or town, the youngsters were kept ignorant and at bay. The grandfathers could assume the status of wise old men while indulging in double standards on the sly.
But now, with internet and information reaching the young very early, the double game of the elders is being exposed. This may be the source of the misunderstanding and mistrust between children and parents – and a cause of present social unrest.
All of us will be able to run and play football when we are 12 or 15; yet as we grow older our hearts and lungs get exhausted. We rarely see an old man of 80 running to catch a bus. But as if to make up for our physical deterioration, we develop more complex behaviours. Like the child who invents all sorts of excuses not to go to school we find reasons to justify our actions and beliefs. Modern psychology tell us that we have very intelligent people with very high IQ who can at certain points in their lives act very stupidly. Sometimes we meet people who seem to be very ordinary yet are very successful in life. It seems that this is possible because they are also governed by intuition. This leads them to spin out an escape avenue, such as adopting a double standard to save face so as to survive and squirm their way out of social and worldly embarrassment and difficulties. Of course, this is done under a veneer of respectability and culture.
On one side we have idealism and on the other we have the pragmatism that everyday life demands of us. I would like to claim on the rooftops that all men are brothers – but now and then I would like to favour secretly some people of my own clan over others! We would like to talk of maximum of freedom and democracy for the maximum of people, yet our place at the head of the tribe is not negotiable. This tribal streak of double talk is in all of us and helped during thousands of years when living in tribes demanded lots of survival strategies. Unfortunately this mentality still lingers on.
Double standard is in fact double thinking, different sets of thoughts and actions for oneself and for others. Nowhere is this so evident as when we talk of sex. It is said that a “slut is a woman with the morals of a man!” We men become pensive and even philosophical when we talk of polygamy, but extremely concerned and anxious when we talk of polyandry. Polygamy can exist in a religious state, but polyandry can only belong to a decadent, degenerate society. And the irony is that, not only men most women think so too!
Another area where double standard prevails relates to people in authority, the rich and religious people who wax eloquent about poverty and yet fraud on their tax payments. And yet they’ll have extremely valid excuses to give as justification.
China was once a pariah nation because of human rights violations, but now that she is the second richest nation with atomic strike facilities we rarely hear of human rights infringements level against her. The West will die for the freedom of its people, but will gladly support dictators and despot kings who have a lot of oil reserves — all in the name of some high sounding financial strategy. Double standard is to be found at all levels: some label it successful diplomacy.
Double standard may have helped us to survive in the past, but today we want to build an advanced culture and civilization. We want to be able to depend on all people around us, debate ideas and actions from every quarter so that we can integrate our efforts to remove unhappiness and attain a higher sense of well-being. To achieve this ideal, we need to have more coordinated thinking, less of double standard and less of tribal thinking and biases.
Whether or not we can achieve this only further biological, psychological and social evolution will tell.
* Published in print edition on 9 May 2014