Not right and left, but right and wrong
Sunday, May 10, 2009
politicalbetting.com » Blog Archive » Who will be the biggest winners from the Expenses Scandal?.
This post from the excellent politicalbetting.com sums up the parliamentary expenses scandal for me. For most people (including most politicians) morality is history. It is "old-fashioned." It is something to profess semi-plausibly to get votes from the moral minority, while winking in a worldly way at everyone else. Tony Blair was a master of this, fooling even the Pope. Gordon Brown overdid it, has a scary "wink" and has been rumbled very quickly. If he mentions his "moral compass" or his clergyman father again, he will be greeted with raucous laughter.
The post captures the zeitgeist accidentally because gambling is necessarily an amoral activity. Probabilities have nothing to do with right and wrong. It's necessary to distance yourself from such matters to gamble successfully. So it's pure chance that, of all I have read in the past few days, this post best describes a modern Britain to which I do not belong. A "non-judgemental" place in which worldliness is the norm and the only question is how to profit from the weaknesses of others (before your own are detected).
Our nation does not now divide as much on political lines as moral. Socialism is a materialistic, worldly ideology. Its adherents tend to be not merely irreligious but anti-religious. On the other hand, since the 1960's, it has been hip to admire alien religions while despising homespun Christianity. Therefore there is some kind of weird consistency in the way that a party which sees itself as "modern" veers between sycophantic "respect" for outré beliefs to delightedly offending those of plain Christians. Of course there are a few drippy and ineffectual Christian socialists, but they have never been mainstream and the hard men of the left have always sniggered. The Tory Party, once considered to be the political wing of the Church of England (rather like the Christian Democratic parties of the continent) is now also determinedly modern and "does not do" religion. Like many among us, it is casting about for other values to replace those it has lost. Hence, perhaps, its adherence to the new faith of which Al Gore is the Messiah and Zac Goldsmith is (at least in Britain) John the Baptist.
Am I confusing religion with morality? Certainly not. As an atheist who tries (and sometimes fails) to live to certain standards, I have no interest in supporting the claim of the religious to a moral monopoly. Baroness Uddin alone is anyway a sufficient disproof of that claim. The problem is that, in a formerly religious nation, with an overtly religious flag, a national anthem addressed to God and the influence of the Christian religion in its institutions, traditions and laws, many do confuse the two. The race from "old-fashioned" religious values has become a race from values per se. Hence the sincere protestations of our politicians who are truly upset to be castigated. They have complied with "the rules" and are puzzled and aggrieved. They genuinely don't see that - even if the rules expressly permitted them to build property portfolios and buy tampons and chocolate with taxpayers' money - if would not be right. Poor, low creatures; rather like a well-trained dog they have no other concept of "right" than compliance.
Some say that such compliance is worthless because the politicians themselves made the rules. Sadly, that is how this scandal will be resolved. The problem is that, once some nominally independent body sets "the rules," compliance really will suffice. The pigs will trough heartily, secure in the knowledge that - however degraded their conduct - it will have been approved by an independent body. Some quango (on which their leaders can sell places) will sell them indulgences and their place in piggy heaven will be assured.
How can we explain to such creatures that it is not enough to follow the rules? That it is never enough? How can we explain to people who, not only do not distinguish between right from wrong, but regard the distinction as quaint? The present scandal is great fun for political nerds. It's delightful to see the sanctimonious "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" brigade exposed as having quite so much to hide and fear. However our fun is turning another generation of moral people off politics and that way madness lies. Even some immoral ones would be an improvement on this amoral horde, but we could really use some moral politicians.
I can;t imagine how to put it better.
Posted by: David Davis | Friday, May 15, 2009 at 02:33 PM
Good post, Mr. Paine - especially the line "The race from "old-fashioned" religious values has become a race from values per se."
It is obviously possible for a person who rejects revealed religion to have a strong moral code. It is, however, also quite easy for those who reject religion to deny that there are any objective ethical values, and to embrace amorality (and immorality) as a consistent lifestyle.
It is, on the other hand, pretty difficult for religious believers to deny the existence of objective moral values. Religious believers may have wrong moral values, or they may fail to live by the moral values that they have, but they almost always believe in moral values.
The question for the future is this: If there an increasing rejection of revealed religion in society, and if there is a belief that religious beliefs should play no part in the public life of society, is there not bound to be an increasing rejection of the notion of objective right and wrong? And is this not likely to lead to greater amorality on the part of politicians?
Posted by: Young Mr. Brown | Monday, May 11, 2009 at 04:52 PM
Quite right Tom, the trouble with society is the way laws and rules are presented. It is not the spirit of the law that is enacted, it is the way its presented and by whom. I have seen blatant cases of bias at tribunals where there was no pretence of justice just a leftist dogma to enact. The lawmakers (legislature) give so much variation to laws so to make it always arguable for whatever desired outcome they wish, especially dealing with themselves. I am totally disgusted with the law, the police, the mainstream media,the EU and most of all the politicians who with a few notable exceptions are filth.
Posted by: Peter Whale | Sunday, May 10, 2009 at 05:21 PM