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Politics: Corruption of the less than innocent

May 10, 2009

How many good people have discovered that, in a corrupt place, the only way to conduct business is on terms set by the proprietor?

I arrive here having read Robert McCrum’s nice little piece in the Guardian about Orwell’s last stand and ultimate fall. Shall I express some outrage then at the fresh revelations of capers byour politicians, or merely shrug – a key aphorism expressed through the body language of our times?

For ironies abound; this is the age of minute scrutiny, it’s microscopic focus made possible by technology. It is the age of pervasive irresponsibility in every walk of life. And yet, I cannot remember in the course of my life any time or place when those in the public eye were so unashamedly willing to reveal the guiding principle of modern power: its utter lack of morality.

One one hand we have the captains of industry, looting the holds while navigating the perilous waves. On the other, we may observe the most unedifying sight of those we elect abusing our trust at every turn. Between these venal factions stands the media, whose own corruption is rated in the ABCs of exploitation. Businessmen take their extraordinary payouts without compunction, offering no justification that could possibly be considered acceptable to those less privileged, and certainly not to those who suffer while an industry of Nero-like figures fiddle in terms that are hardly metaphorical. Should we be surprised that the same management practices run like fetid water under every parliamentary seat, through every corridor of power? At every turn, the expedient displaces the proper, courage relegated to the only luxury our great and good cannot afford.

Meanwhile, under the microscope of the media – the digital delivery system where binary states are the extent of nuance both in reporting and the behaviour on which it reports – we watch aghast as it becomes crystal clear that it is no longer deemed necessary to be covert, to conceal self-interest. The Bush neocons and their British counterparts displayed no compunction when they presented information to justify their actions that the most lowly media studies student would have expected to be ruthlessly exposed for fabrications that, for what little guile was used in their presentation and defence, were so blatant and unremitting, not so much unapologetic as indifferent.

We define our times as many ages – the age of anxiety, the age of climate change, the age of terrorism, the digital age, the age of global capitalism. What we do not define is what is missing, the absent component that now seems antiquated and naive. This is the age devoid of morality, where this very notion is consigned to a huge bin bearing the legend “Outmoded concepts no longer required”. Open the lid on this dumping ground for our values, and you will morality languishing with its disgraced companions: honour, dignity, honesty, sacrifice and service. Realpolitik was an expression of abandoned hope, where decisions were predicated on the notion that the only actions worth pursuing were those that benefited the actor, and that no other considerations impinged on decision-making. Change for the better became an atavistic notion, a proposition so unrealistic it was no longer worth the attempt. The only change supported by the new world order is an increase in profit.

There is no such thing as society. In the new world order, only I exist; I have no responsibility for anything or anyone. I will therefore please myself, and do that which best satisfies my desires, irrespective of consequences for myself, for others, for the world and its future. No-one cares for me, and I will respond in kind.

Fukuyama was wrong. History has not ended – it is the future we have destroyed. Our institutions are waging war on hope, and we must fight to reclaim it.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tracy permalink
    May 11, 2009 8:41 am

    Decency definitely seems to be a much under-rated characteristic. Corruption is all-pervasive: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/10/mps-expenses-conservative-party-general-election. So who is to blame? Ultimately, only ourselves. (although the media’s role is rather interesting, since they thrive on scandal and titillation – the more salacious, the better – they can sanctimoniously express shock and anger at the latest outrage whilst squeezing every last photo-op out of it)

    I notice you highlight one of Margaret Thatcher’s most famous assertions, there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families – the subtext of which is I’m all right Jack, so fuck you. Did it start in the eighties, this amorality? Between Thatcher’s loosening of social bonds and Gordon Gecko’s ‘Greed is Good’ (or was it Greed is God?) None of my friends at the time agreed with either tenet – we were all desperately trying to improve this society which was apparently a figment of our fevered imaginations – we were all heavily involved in either conservation or Oxfam campaigns, or both.

    Thatcher was wrong, society does exist. There is hope – some people do believe in individual responsibility. And look where greed has gotten us.

  2. gpwayne permalink*
    May 12, 2009 8:43 am

    I don’t think anybody is to blame Tracy. It is the system itself which is corrupt, and all who engage in it (with very few notable exceptions) fall victim of the self-interest that underpins it. And you ask when it started. I like history and from my limited reading none of this was new even to the Roman empire. That power corrupts is, I think, a timeless observation.

  3. Tracy permalink
    May 12, 2009 3:00 pm

    “And yet, I cannot remember in the course of my life any time or place when those in the public eye were so unashamedly willing to reveal the guiding principle of modern power: its utter lack of morality.”

    Sorry, G, I didn’t mean when it actually started, because, yes as you point out, it began way back in the mists of time – I meant the birth of this current all-pervasive manifestation.

    Yes, the system is undoubtedly corrupt – so we need a new system? (but won’t that also fall prey to the same weaknesses?) What can you do? Work outside ‘the system’ (if you can) or try and work to change it from within (without becoming tainted by it). Guess I’m just too cynical.

  4. gpwayne permalink*
    May 12, 2009 3:20 pm

    Well, I think we can look back to the Thatcher/Reagan period for the death of socialism, which is where the “me” culture seems to start in its modern incarnation. For much of my life, the valuable socialist ideals born out of WW2 still had force and relevance, but by the time Thatcher came along, Labour had destroyed much of its credibility, the unions had become so self-serving they were no longer trusted by many they represented and the likes of Scargill, through extraordinary hubris, played directly into the hands of the Thatcher government at a time when she wanted to prove how tough a leader she was.

    We need a new system? That is my analysis too. I do not believe any but the most extraordinary can work within the existing system, without being corrupted by it. As for finding some new way of living together in an egalitarian global community, by a strange coincidence I have about my person a book I prepared earlier on that very subject… 🙂

  5. Tracy permalink
    May 13, 2009 1:56 pm

    Talking about ‘the most extraordinary’ – what do you think of Barack Obama? – Mr Teflon – despite his Chicago background, he seems incredibly untainted by Chicago politics. He really is extraordinary, all I can do is admire him from afar and hope desperately that the admiration really is justified (I have a deep distrust of ‘too good to be true’ and he almost is)

    Funny you should mention your book… 😀

  6. gpwayne permalink*
    May 14, 2009 9:24 am

    Obama – frankly, I love the bloke. No idea if he’ll do any lasting good, but anyone who invites poets, jazz musicians and authors for a get-together in the White House while dismantling Guantanamo, releasing damning evidence, talking equitably to countries the last administration called the “axis of evil” and demonstrating a sharp sense of humour to boot…well…he’d get my vote if I were eligible to cast it. Lovely family too…

  7. Tracy permalink
    May 14, 2009 4:17 pm

    Maybe I’m just incredibly cynical after over twenty five years of voting in our democracy (Thatcher and Major – aaagggghhh!, Blair, exciting at first, and then we had Iraq and WMD etc., Brown – errrr). Can we have Obama next time if we can persuade him to become a British citizen? – I’d rather vote for him than any of our candidates, at the moment.

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