I found this article quite by accident as I hyperlinked from one website and one article to another. I will now bookmark this website. I share this article because it affects good parents. A good parent wants his or her child to be virtuous and to be a credit to him or herself, to the family, to the society and to the larger ‘world,’ such as it is. A parent wants a child have moral courage. But to attain toward those goals, to struggle to achieve those goals, the parent must know the terrain, the territory and the opposition.
This article is only the most recent in an unending series on the decline, the debasement, the subverting of what was once identified as a moral culture. The point, or a point, is that perhaps it would be useful to parents to have guidelines and intelligent analysis of the forces that subvert culture in order to give them greater tools and confidence to fight those downward spiraling forces.
The title question goes to the heart of the morality of a culture: if immorality is rewarded and in all regards ignored, then those that act morally are disadvantaged. When the incentive to be moral dissipate, immorality—and cultural collapse—follow, as night follows day, as someone wrote.
The article is long. Please read the entire article. The politics are interesting but not the main point or theme.
The Big Loot: The rioters of August 2011 dramatised the collapse of moral understanding in Britain (Getty Images)
The first major shock for the British in our new century is that we have become seriously corrupt. The scandal of parliamentary expenses had hardly died down before we were plunged into the whimsies of an educational system in which examinations rather lost their challenge for students who had been coached in the right answers beforehand. And these shocks were dramatised in the Big Loot of August when rioters and arsonists had the run of large areas of British cities. As if all this were not enough, the very model of moral conduct in sport, namely cricket, has been tarnished, not merely internationally, but even down to county level.
It is these events that have partly given rise to the mistake of believing that capitalism is failing. There might possibly be a case for increased, or perhaps just smarter, regulation of commerce, but there is certainly no alternative to the basic freedoms of our economic life. The rise of corruption among us is essentially a moral collapse and, if anything can be done about it, the solution can only be found in the moral and social sphere. But first we must be clear about what corruption actually is.
In the first instance, of course, the word is a metaphor referring to disease or putrefaction, which should bring a vivid perceptual revulsion against human conduct that might otherwise seem to be no different from lots else going on. Corruption involves both the doing of bad things and the not doing of good ones. The commonest form is when some official will only perform his duty — issuing a passport or a licence, for example — on payment of a bribe. This reportedly often happens in Africa. It has been estimated that the average Kenyan family spends about a third of its income on bribes. In such countries, corruption is systemic rather than — as we hope in Britain — episodic. Every barrel has a few bad apples, but a whole barrel of them is a different thing altogether.
The causes of this are complex, but two are evident. Most states in the world, for all their modish allegiance to institutional democracy in the form of elections and parliaments, have a tradition of despotic rule. In this tradition, success depends on accommodation with power, and bribes or favours are a great help. Secondly, modern individualism is only slowly replacing a society of status structures — in terms of caste, seniority or sex — which can seldom avoid allowing the higher status considerable scope to tyrannise over the lower.
When members of the House of Commons were criticised for claiming absurd expenses, they all came up with the same chorus: “We didn’t break any rules.” In some cases they did not, indeed, but many clearly lacked moral integrity, and it is integrity we need to consider.
Honour began, no doubt, as a claim to superiority by those who fancied themselves superior, but in modern times, versions of it (such as conscience, pride and integrity) have become part of the ordinary equipment of many Europeans. And it depends not on status, as in the so-called “honour killings” in some Asian cultures, but on identity. Doing the right thing may thus come into conflict with doing the honourable thing: it is a matter of identity or, to express this point most precisely, honour is the recognition of one’s duty to oneself. And it is in the morality of acting in terms of duties to oneself that Western life has, at least until recent times, been distinguished from other cultures.
The standard motive given for corruption these days is often said to be greed, possibly because declaring it to be such a vice gives a certain moral cachet to the speaker in question. It also picks up the idea that our whole capitalist system is based on this particular vice. But moral clichés ought to be avoided, and in the case of some corruptions, vices are certainly not the whole story. When teachers go (and pay to go) to conferences on the examining system given by the examiners, motives of interests will no doubt be present on both sides. Schools depend on meeting examination result targets, and exam boards compete for schools to use them. But one clear motive of many people involved is almost the opposite of greed. It is something like decency, compassion, niceness — the desire to help one’s students. The same motive is likely to play some part in the remarkable explosion of students — up to one in three — graduating with first-class honours degrees. Most of these events are not corrupt according to the economic criteria discussed by Ian Senior in his brilliant IEA pamphlet on this problem — Corruption, the World’s Big C: Cases, Causes, Consequences, Cures — but they are certainly corrupt in the moral sense that concerns me.
If we inquire more broadly as to what might cause the rise in corrupt behaviour in Western states, one inescapable consideration must be that it results from a more general collapse of moral understanding. At its simplest level, the mistake consists in taking one’s bearings from nothing more sophisticated than a belief about what other people generally do. A standard instruction to those issuing exhortations or warnings to the public in general is that no message should take the form of saying, “Too many people just throw their litter away, or try to take a train journey without a ticket. It’s a serious problem.” The result of such remarks as these is likely to be that many will take such supposedly common practices as a licence for doing the same.
More generally, the collapse of many conventions about sexual life during the liberations of the 20th century has often been generalised to the belief that all moral judgments are merely matters of taste or “values”. But no one has the slightest doubt about such things as professional responsibility. Nor do we have any doubt that most crimes are also very seriously wrong. Nonetheless, this generalisation from the more relaxed social conventions of our time has created pseudo-moral doctrines such as disapproval of a vice called “judgmentalism”. And it is an important part of this broad spread of moral incompetence that pragmatism has taken such a hold of public policy that the state often controls people by paying them to do what is in one way or another their duty.
Yet to pay people to do what they ought anyway to do is to corrupt them. It suggests that one ought to be provided with incentives to do the right thing.
The most comprehensive triumph of this collapse of any understanding of the moral life can be found in the medicalisation of fault. A public figure recently caught stealing goods from a supermarket succeeded in turning this event into a kind of publicity triumph by apologising, and proclaiming, “I need help.” But reality was already way ahead of him, in the form of a charity called Crisis Counselling for Shoplifters. The very term “shoplifting” is a morally evasive euphemism for stealing. In our public rhetoric, there are very few bad acts that cannot pass for forms of addiction, and perhaps we should not be holding our breath for the moment when child abuse makes the same claim. Corruption is thus flourishing amid a kind of dottiness in Britain that threatens to turn us all into components of the rehabilitation industry.