20 July 2024 05:39:51 GMT

The Third Rock Forum - Society

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What a topsy turvy world!
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Submitted : 01-11-2013 11:12
Amended : 10-11-2014 12:47
Status : Approved:  
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Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the modern world is mad.  Nearly all the topsy turvyness is explicable.  In some cases, it arises from the best of motivations.  In other cases it is simply the paradoxical outcome of overweening bureaucracy or overbearing legalism.

What am I talking about? Well, here are a couple of examples from the news today.  A fairly senior politician Andrew Mitchell (Chief Whip) was accused in September 2012 of verbally abusing police officers who would not let him ride his bicycle through the main gate of Downing Street.  The police claimed he called them ‘plebs’.  It is now November, 2013 and the incident is still prominently covered in the media.

Now let’s unpick the incident. First, let’s be clear, the police are used to verbal abuse of the most vicious and disgusting kind.  Every Friday and Saturday night, they are vilified by drunken revellers whose verbal repertoire probably doesn’t include the word 'pleb' but certainly includes the ‘c’ word.  How do they respond?  Generally, they take no action at all.  So we can be fairly certain, even if the word ‘pleb’ was used, the police in the Andrew Mitchell case were not shocked and were not traumatised. 

No, the problem was the implication that Mr Mitchell considered himself superior to the police (a patrician to their ‘plebiness’) and this was deeply offensive. I will leave aside the facts that:

  • Mr Mitchell denies having used the word ‘pleb’
  • there is strong evidence that the police involved conspired to bring Mr Mitchell down, lying about the particulars of the incident and enlisting at least one other person, not present at the time, to bear false witness
  • this conspiracy seems to have extended to senior police officers who have persisted in lying about a subsequent conversation they had with Mr Mitchell.

Leaving all that aside, what was the outcome of the incident for Mr Mitchell.  Simple.  He lost his job.  The media frenzy provoked by a senior politician  implying in any way that he might be better than the policemen at the gates of Downing Street was so powerful that, combined with a lack of support from his colleagues, he felt obliged to resign.

Now let’s leave Mr Mitchell and turn our attention to the series of child abuse cases which end with the death of a child.  Over and over again, no one is held accountable.  A large number of individuals, all paid to protect the vulnerable, express regret, promise lessons will be learned, and continue to perform their duties in such a way that we can all be certain more children will be abused and left unprotected.   I have a feeling that, in each such tragedy, every one of these individuals can present a reasonable case that they were not responsible.  Our system of involving multiple agencies in managing each case has the unintended consequence of disbursing responsibility so thinly that in the end it seems to evaporate entirely.  Nevertheless, the consequences are truly appalling.

Back to Mr Mitchell. What were the appalling consequences of Mr Mitchell’s alleged use of the word ‘pleb’?   Well, apart from Mr Mitchell’s fall from grace, none.

What  kind of a world considers a mild word of abuse a far more serious offence, in terms of consequences, than the failure of paid officials to protect a child from torture and death?

As an aside, when I say there were no consequences in the ‘plebgate’ affair apart from Mr Mitchell’s loss of a job, that’s not quite true.   It has exposed the police, on this occasion at least, as guilty of systematically and apparently institutionally stitching up a member of the public.   Many have said, if the police can do this to a senior politician, what hope is there for the average citizen?   What hope is there for a pleb?

OK.  That’s one example of a crazy value system.   Here’s another.

Almost everyday we hear another bank has been found guilty of mis-selling or some other king of financial misbehaviour.   First, let’s be clear. What we are talking about here is fraud.  Mis-selling means inadvertently and/or unwittingly selling a product or service which fails to meet legitimate expectations.  If you sell a product knowing it is faulty in order to extract money from the person or institution you are duping, that’s fraud.   And fraud is a criminal offence.   So what happens?   If the fraudsters are caught, fines are imposed, some of them quite heavy. Sometimes, the offending financial institution is even asked to hand the money back.  And that’s it.   Is that not rather  like catching a robber, and fining him or, in extremis, asking him to return the money he stole?   So, if the benefit fraudsters, when caught,  says, “OK, guv.  It’s a fair cop.  I’ll pay back some or, if you really hard on me, all of the money I took”, we say “That’s pretty decent of you, old chap”. And let him go.  No, we don’t.

Isn’t that weird?  The benefit fraudster steals a few thousands pounds from the benefit system and can go to prison.  Bankers steal, yes steal, billions, yes billions, of pounds, and they either retain their ridiculously over-paid jobs, or walk away with a golden handshake that it would take the average person decades to earn.

I’ll not go on.  I’ve got dozens more instances of a totally perverse value system that, either through omission or commission, is doing enormous damage to our society.

Do I have a solution?  After all, the TRF asks for solutions as well as problems.  Sorry,  I don’t have a solution - unless it is possible to persuade people to think a bit more deeply about such issues, to compare and contrast cases, to identify and challenge inconsistencies, and to stop pretending things are other than what they are.