Saturday, 9 May 2009

Moral morass

I can’t remember a time, except for the Suez crisis of 1956, when people were so worked up and angry about politics and politicians. The recent stream of scandals and smears – the greedy bankers, the clumsy policing of the G20 demonstrations, the infamous ‘smeargate’ tapes, the damp squib of the Manchester ‘major terrorist plot’ arrests, the hyped up swine ‘flu panic, the debate on the blogs (though not in parliament or the mainstream media) about ‘legitimate’ use of torture, revelations about MPs’ expenses claims, and the accelerating decline of the prime minister from Stalin through Mr Bean to Mr Has-been – has induced a growing public mood of disquiet amounting to disgust at how our public affairs are being conducted.

The anger is compounded by feelings of helplessness. People are saying “but what can we DO about it? How can we get rid of them without a revolution?” Clearly the wheels have come off the New Labour ‘project’, but it keeps rolling on under its own failing impetus. It is a government of presumptuous incompetents deluding themselves that they are our indispensible National Nannies who always know what is best for us however loudly we kick and scream and tell them to get lost.

The ex-diplomat Charles Crawford has made an interesting suggestion on his ‘blogoir’ – namely, that the Civil Service should go on strike and refuse to work any more for this prime minister and his team. That would indeed set the cat among the pigeons, and make government unworkable. But it is a moot point whether the mandarin top brass, however restive they are at the sleaze, incompetence, and other shenanigans, have got the bottle to rebel.

What we are confronted with in contemporary government, not only in the UK but also in the USA and in many other countries around the world, is not merely a moral malaise – the collapse of morality, a moral slump, or even amorality: it is moral nihilism. As Craig Murray and others are pointing out, the only issue which concerns politicians, whether over matters of deep import such as launching a war or sanctioning torture, or over trivialities such as their venal attitude to their own pay and expenses, is not whether the thing in question is right or wrong, but whether it is in accordance with “the rules”. If the answer to the latter is ‘yes’, our rulers feel free to sanction behaviour which most ordinary folk find abhorrent and all too frequently dishonest. When they are caught devising excuses for invading Iraq or Afghanistan in the name of the Hitlerian doctrine of ‘liberal interventionism’, for inflicting cruel and unusual punishments such as waterboarding and prolonged deprivation of sleep (which most of us would describe as torture) on captives, or for paying their personal shopping bills out of the public purse, all they come up with is “well, it was within the rules”. There is no consideration of ethics.

Thus, President Obama has excused from prosecution all those agents of torture under his predecessor’s regime who honestly believed that what they were doing was sanctioned by the government – regardless of whether it was right or wrong. Unconscionable lies have been told to persuade the British public that the invasion of Iraq was essential because Saddam Hussein posed a real and imminent threat. The Americans invaded Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden (who may not actually have been there) until the Americans provided evidence that he was responsible for the Twin Towers atrocity of 11 September 2001, which they were either unable or unwilling to do. The MPs currently scurrying around seeking to justify their insatiable greed plead that they haven’t broken any rules, even though the prime minister has repeatedly said that the rules are defective and must be changed.

All these people have completely forgotten the Nuremberg International War Crimes Tribunal's judgement which definitively laid down that following orders was no excuse for committing criminal acts. They deploy the 'Nuremberg Defence' which failed on that occasion, and which decent people hoped had been swept into the dustbin of history. Alas, far from it. We are wallowing in the mire of shameless excuses for wrongdoing. Public morality has collapsed, and until it is restored we shall not retrieve our tattered honour.


Charles Crawford said...


Thanks for the reference.

Aren't you running two or more ideas together here: what is OK within the rules (spirit and letter); and following orders?

No-one ordered MPs to cheat or play fast and loose with the allowances system. If anything this might be said to make their behaviour even worse.

Plus is there not something to be said for stretching the rules in a good cause, as opposed to doing so in a bad cause?

The US-led invasion of Iraq was done for various reasons, many of them unwise or cynical, but among them (I believe) was a genuine and commendable desire to topple one of the most cruel leaders of our times and give the Iraqi people a chance to have some sort of pluralistic future. Our MPs can cite no positive justification at all for their behaviour. One reason why public outrage is so strong and unambiguous?



Bodwyn Wook said...

["When, oh when, are Them God Damn Pet Mazlumes of yours going to invade US and give THESE dumb bastards HERE some choice at a 'pluralistic future' and plus our young girls maybe a choice to put back on THEIR God damn clothes if they want?" (my farm neighbor Judson Andersen over coffee this morning and b 1 May 1919)]

Gosh, Charles, I am all for multicultural diversity right along with the next guy, not least because I get so damn bored with these other white fools all the time, yawn, sigh....

But when pluralism comes to down to a crew of corporate and political thieves and (un!)civil serpents ("Them") breathing and leering and sneering over a social petri dish full of live and dead maggots and germs and fungus ("Us"), then the whole image of The Slippery Slope has gone straight to Hell and now we are all on The Dead Level In A Continuum Of Simon Pure ---!

Actually, Aunty, I don't suppose this mess today is any more rotten than in 2003 (that kind of velocity of decay would be real intersting, in a grim way, to historians!), the invasion year, so I reckon the southern Minnesota farmer line about pain in the ass neighbours, er, neighbors does apply to both the socialwork hocus pocus and foreign invasions:

"The dumb sonofabitch can't even shovel the shit off of his own doorstep, so he's over here telling us how to farm, Jesus Christ...."

anticant said...

Charles, the fallacy in the 'liberal interventionist' policy dreamed up by Bush and Blair and their acolytes is that , whatever Rousseau said, you can't force people to be free. Freedom is an attitude of mind - not a state of affairs. Unless it's home-grown with sturdy roots, you can't impose it on people.

The doctrine was a shameless ruse to circumvent international law and the UN, both of which said that the Iraq invasion was illegal. How does it differ from Hitler's and Mussolini's 'liberating' capers in the 1930s? And if it had any real substance, the most obvious first candidate was Zimbabwe. But of course, there isn't any oil there and the neighbouring African countries would have been annoyed.

Bodwyn Wook said...

The fact is that bullies are a statistical fact and will try to abduct any large human setup for their shortterm thrills. Every time. No exceptions. The sheer persistance is a measure of the sociopathy. This is the critical element that is reading Mr Crawford's type of argument with ill concealed pants and sweating. However, giving them a bureaucratically arranged civil servant's category in which to "do their thing" is about on all fours with trying to wall off some TB germs in a cyst in the lungs. The plunge into the clutches of moral midgets is the common fate of religions and governments of course, as the morale of the population over generations is exhausted. The original cultural impulse always "farts out" and, in the end, you are landed in something depressing, such as the careerist and professianlized state-liberalist situation of to-day:

"Hi, I yam a Public liberal, NuLabour and Bill Clinton sent me, glad you met me...where you got the wimmen and them little kids tucked aweay (leer, sneer, wink, wink!)"

Sorry, the vector of the historical mass /is/ always at the dead level of the common denominator, and one simply cannot breath life into a corpse, and most especially not if first one has tortured it to death....

Actually, to give Mr Crawford his head in this might mean that these botched people would be diverted in a sort of controled way, at least for a little while longer. And, since I perceive that in the West we are now merely fighting a kind of pseudo-Serbian romantic-enough long rearguard, Hell, why not. More torture and other "dynamic action" may even accelerate the emergence at this point forward of our culture-enemies, so that we may FINALLY lay down the God-damned futility sooner rather than later.

(Given the universal bullying, on balance then -- this is a temperamental matter merely, which is what all "diversity" with no other morals must come down to -- I'll take the Catholics and "Them Mazlumes," just because "they gots more nice THINGS, Maan!" That's what happens to US episcopal ladies too a lot after the menopause, when they go whole hog over to Rome, la Blair has an enormous following among these usually pretty cashy females. I believe that a full quarter of them, as are the presbyterians here, are the scions of apostate Jews, the first-generation American-born children of those who escaped from the Polo-Muscovy pogrom swamp of the late 1800s.)

Jose said...

Exactly, Anticant, just spot on. And those on whom this excuse has been imbued with are precisely those who may not have any idea of what freedom really is.

zola a social thing said...

What about the coal miners?

Want them now you do.

Did not support then, you did not !

Wonder why.....

anticant said...

How do you know whether I supported them or not? I did - but not that blithering idiot Scargill, who was about as much use to them as a 1914-18 war general sending thousands of troops to be uselessly slaughtered in the Flanders mud. Lions led by a silly ass.

Ever been down a coal mine, Zola? I have - a fascinating and horrendously exhausting experience. How could I not admire and respect miners after such a memorable day? It was in 1945, when nationalisation was a burning issue, and all the miners and managers I met were having fierce political arguments!


Jose said...

1945, nationalisation a burning experience? Wasn't Sir Winston at the helm then, although for a short time? The Americans and their intervention in depth in the world business come to my mind. Everything that came afterwards was turning consolidated things upside down to American taste, and they still are.
Some were for good but most were for bad, citinzenry-wise.

European corporations learnt.

anticant said...

He was just about to be turfed out by the landslide Labour majority of July 1945, when most of the voters - and above all the troops - opted for the "new deal" of a welfare state plus public ownership of major industries.

The coal owners had an abysmal record on wages and industrial relations - which was odd, as they were largely the same people who owned the steel industry, where management-labour relations were excellent.

My most vivid memory of that coal mine is the young under-manager who escorted me round saying that if Labour won the election he would emigrate to the United States.

An early example of the 'brain drain'?

Jose said...

As you know very well, Anticant, the coal business was a centuries-old one, whereas the steel business was relatively new. So no surprise they had different treatments.

Brain drain in Europe can be likened to the immigration problem we are having these moments, although the former is positive (depending on who analyses it) and the latter negative (also depending on the same premise).

I am afraid the drainage from across the Atlantic was more sucking than whatever drainage Europe could have wielded.

Jose said...

I forgot to add: not in vain emigration was in vogue those times.

As they are now, only that our brains wouldn't contemplate going to Africa or Asia for any money.