Home > Regular Features > Weekend reflections

Weekend reflections

March 12th, 2011

It’s time again for weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. In keeping with my attempts to open up the comments to new contributors , I’d like to redirect discussion, and restatements of previous arguments, as opposed to substantive new contributions, to the sandpit(s). As always, civilised discussion and no coarse language please.

Categories: Regular Features Tags:
  1. Marisan
    March 12th, 2011 at 07:14 | #1

    Ethics (Or the lack of)
    Anyone noticed how ethics have nearly disappeared from life?
    Everything is now subsumed to the bottom line.
    Salesmen who actively lie to get the sale. (I wouldn’t which is why I am an ex salesman)
    Customer service reps that won’t let you do what you are entitled to.
    Government Departments that make doing business with them so bloody hard that you give up in disgust.
    The three above are enforced by the line ” If you won’t do it we can find someone who will”

    Newspapers that have such a biased view that they are not worth reading (Yes Rupert, I’m looking at you)
    Business leaders that release announcements designed to follow their needs and have only a passing
    resemblance to the truth.

    And don’t get me started on Politicians.

  2. Ikonoclast
    March 12th, 2011 at 08:02 | #2

    @Marisan

    There was never any ethical “golden age”. If you investigate any age in history, in detail, you find rampant dishonesty at every level in society. What may be happening today is that;

    1. dishonesty is being industrialised and corporatised *
    2. the media and technology for recording and exposing lies is also getting better.

    That is to say, more lies are being organized and coordinated by the industrial-corporate apparatus and more lies are being exposed by modern counter-measures.

    Look at it this way. Why do we make more and more effective guns and bullets than we did in 1800? It is because we have more advanced technology. Why do we make more and more effective lies now than we did in 1800? Same reason.

    If you look at primate studies and human early development studies you will see that learning to lie is an integral part of the socialisation process. Lies give the individual another weapon against other individuals and also the group. Ethics structures are counter measures put in place by those in positions of power and each ethic structure serves to preserve a power base or a status quo. Some power structures are relatively benign and if we gain personal benefits and prtotections from this benignity we tend to subscribe the ethical structure which supports that power structure.

    Ethics do not have any absolute or pure value abstracted from their social context. They are part of the deals we make every day with other people to both gain what we want and yet avoid overall degeneration of the system of transactions (all transactions monetary, social etc.) An individual could theoretically do best in a system where he/she had free range to be dishonest but everybody else eas or had to be honest. The value or efficay of such solo dishonesty is diluted as more become dishonest. Eventually the system of transactions would collapse. Hence, we make deals to accept group curbs on dishonesty. These deals become mythologised into Ethics (with a capital E) or Religion and are imagined to have some greater meaning than their functional context.

  3. Freelander
    March 12th, 2011 at 08:15 | #3

    Although there was never an ethical golden age, I think we are suffering from “Caveat Emptor” having been raised from a practical warning to a glorious justification for bad faith and fraud. The modern approach seems to be that if you were silly enough or powerless enough to let me rip you off, you deserved everything you got (or didn’t get as the case might be).

  4. Scott
    March 12th, 2011 at 08:30 | #4

    Freelander :Although there was never an ethical golden age, I think we are suffering from “Caveat Emptor” having been raised from a practical warning to a glorious justification for bad faith and fraud. The modern approach seems to be that if you were silly enough or powerless enough to let me rip you off, you deserved everything you got (or didn’t get as the case might be).

    Seems about right to me. I thought Canada might be a bit better then Australia on this score, but living here it seems just as bad to me so this is quite possibly a global phenomonon, at least where English is the main language- I’d like to hear what people living elsewhere say.

  5. Marisan
    March 12th, 2011 at 08:38 | #5

    Even New Ltd writers are getting annoyed.

    Access to this blog is free | News.com.au Jack Marx Live Blog

  6. Alice
    March 12th, 2011 at 08:45 | #6

    @Scott
    The only reason caveat emptor has risen to become a populist phrase is that regulation of cheats, liars and crooks in the business world has reduced.
    To Mays list of people in modern business environments without ethics add the following
    * those who raise their fees, commissions, charges regularly by more than the inflation rate annually – eg insurance companies, accountants, managing agents, people who control parking facilities, and many other consultant professionals.
    * those who it is next to impossible to get a firm quote from for their services and being obliged to read through and agree to an extensive contractual document listing hourly charge rates “which we will advise you”, email costs, fax costs, archive storage costs, phone costs at hideous rates eg lawyers, accountants (again) architects, engineers, builders, and various numerous professional consultants
    *people who insert the words “no liability” onto every piece of company paper including their email footers…..

  7. Ron E Joggles
    March 12th, 2011 at 09:36 | #7

    Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me twice, shame on me. Despite believing this in principle, I am occasionally tricked twice, even thrice, because I trust the people of our isolated little community, and I forgive “those who trespass against me”. Not because I’m a Christian (I’m an a-theist) but because not trusting people has its own costs, in relationships with my countrymen and my own peace of mind, and often in the impact on innocent parties, like kids. So I “lend” my neighbour money to buy food for his family, though he has never paid me back. So I’m a mug, but that’s okay.

    What hurts is having someone else assume that I am unethical, even dishonest, without any reason. I found this difficult to understand, until I discussed it with my father. As a result of his activism in support of our Aboriginal countrymen and in opposition to Bjelke-Petersen’s policies, he was slandered in Qld Parliament. I asked him, “Why would people just assume you’ve acted dishonestly?” He replied, “Because that is what they would do.”

    Sadly, there are many working in indigenous affairs who are wasting or even misappropriating funds, and they generally assume that this is what we all do.

  8. March 12th, 2011 at 10:05 | #8

    I’m looking forward to Insiders tomorrow morning when the Murdoch Partiers will blame Bob Brown for the Japanese earthquake.

    Seriously (?) though and distantly related to the above discussion, I attended a NSW election candidates forum during the week where one candidate (admittedly an independent) actually declared global warming a fraud “just like the Y2K computer glitch, you know when everything was going to come to a halt and planes were going to fall out of the sky but NOTHING HAPPENED!”

    It got me thinking about the need to publicly ridicule this sort of idiocy which then led me to thinking exactly why is it that so little satire is actually directed at people like shock jocks, climate change delusionists etc? Very few comedians touch the subject (Tim Minchin excepted) and in the execrable and soporific ABC series Bed of Roses it is the greenie atheist granny who is the main target of ridicule in every episode. Is toxic media now off limits as a target of satire?

  9. Donald Oats
    March 12th, 2011 at 12:10 | #9

    While there has been no golden age of ethics, humans are compelled to aspire to ideals, ideals which evolve over the passage of time. Trust is the most basic commodity we need in others, if we are to deal effectively with each other. Plenty of psychology experiments reveal that qualitative traits such as trust, willingness for reciprocation, empathy, agreeableness, etc, exist in people even in situations where an interaction is with a stranger and has no chance of being an ongoing relationship. While the Murdoch Empire rages against non-economic and non-financial considerations of the human condition, they will one day be a bad memory, like a case of gastro is memorable but thankfully relatively rare.

    We chase ideals at our own peril; most people aspire highly but accept a lower level of achievement, in so far as their ideals reach. Which is just as well actually, for many ideals come with their own extremely negative consequences if adopted in all circumstances. Life is just too full of contradictory problems or ambiguous issues for a set of dichotomous rules (yes/no rules) to prevail, free of exception. Stretch a rule one way to deal with a particular exception and it will break down for another “exceptional case” that is flatly contradictory to the first exceptional case. This happens with everyday issues like abortion and the right to life, for example. Or when is someone dead enough to justify (or not, that is the question) harvesting any viable organs and thus ensuring an irreversible termination of life (as opposed to “dying” and then being brought back by CPR, the electric paddles, prayer :-) , etc). How to deal with non-discrimination of religions (and surely atheism, but no, we atheists do cop it from time to time :-( ) while denying their religious laws which contradict the adopted criminal law of the land. Dealing with the truly incomparable twits that sadly populate the radio studios, and pay-TV talk-back equivalents (Murdoch again), while not infringing the rights of others to enjoy the puerile tripe served up as facts on various excrable TV and radio stations.

    I do feel that we have become more accepting of moral breaches; perhaps as disquieting is the (I’ll avoid mentioning politicians by name today) practice, considered acceptable by a whole political movement it seems, of adopting a righteousness principle of “whatever it takes”, ie of no regards for the rights or wishes of those “not on our side”. In democracies we expect oppositions to oppose, but why do we apparently accept them putting a wrecking ball through election commitments after the election has determined the government composition? This is a contentious principle for it chucks out the notion of fair play; it isn’t a matter of where to draw the line on any given issue under discussion, for the whole point is that no acknowledgement of existence of a line (or even of the pencil) is tolerated.

    Finally, apparently some fine human specimen chose to exemplify my points on Fox today. A religious person of the cloth explained, rather helpfully no doubt, how God doesn’t intervene or create disasters like the Japanese earthquake; instead, God provides people with the ability to rise above their circumstances. You know, like having the will to hang-on until help is at hand. If I was the reporter I would have asked “So, what about the dead ones? Wasn’t their will strong enough?”, or something along those lines. I guess I don’t believe in God full-stop, but postulating a non-interventionist God strikes me as an entirely-too-convenient cop out.

  10. may
    March 12th, 2011 at 14:17 | #10

    the assumption that the word”ethics” somehow presupposes good intent , actions and consequences ain’t neccessarily so.

    one can have the ethics of a pirhana or the ethics of a maggot on the backside of a fly blown sheep.
    being true to such an ethos may not be good for the energy source/victim but fellow ethos holders have no objections whatsoever.

    it’s the same with “sophisticated and charming”.

    both words mean not what you think they do.

    if you ever see me describe some one/thing as “sophisticated and charming” you can be sure it is not a compliment.

  11. Freelander
    March 12th, 2011 at 15:08 | #11

    @Donald Oats

    Yes. I love the way ‘God’ is ‘character building’ in the magnitude and frequency of the disasters he, she or it sends!

    Maybe the Libyans should start worshipping Gaddafi? After all, he has been extremely character building of late. He also seems to have the traditional character traits of a god.

  12. Alice
    March 12th, 2011 at 15:15 | #12

    @Freelander
    I have written a little Ode to the great GFC ( Greatest Financial Con -and other insidious corporate cons that have become so fashionable).
    Ode to the GFC (great financial con)??

    “Caveat emptor!! Our pockets have been emptored!!
    There must be a law surely m’lord?”
    “Nonsense. Its perfectly legal. There isnt a law.”
    “Why not m’lord?”
    “Because no one can write law about things they arent sure”.
    ‘”Then have an inquiry or else there’ll be more”.
    “Its a waste of resources. We have Caveat Emptor”.

  13. Freelander
    March 12th, 2011 at 15:25 | #13

    @Alice

    Yes. I have imagined, since he was convicted, that Madoff is smarting from the inequity of his incarceration. What he did, a Ponzi scheme, seems to me no less fraudulent than many of the fortune making innovations that underpinned the GFC, so why, might he ask, was he singled out for harsh treatment.

    His problem was to use an old fashioned method of parting people from their money. A method developed in the days when people actually made laws against such innovations, rather than, as Greenspan did, applaud them as the driving force of a ‘new’ economy.

    Poor, poor, Bernie…

  14. Alice
    March 12th, 2011 at 21:35 | #14

    @Freelander
    Oh yes Freelander and we are yet to see more than a measly trickle (who else???) of a Madoffs incarcerated. His only mistake? He was self employed and not employed by Goldman Sachs.

Comments are closed.