Wednesday, 26 October 2011

More queer bedfellows: Bankers, rioters, tax evaders and …

"Irresponsibility, selfishness, behaving as if your choices have no consequences, children without fathers; schools without discipline; reward without effort; crime without punishment; rights without responsibilities; communities without control; some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged - sometimes even incentivised - by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.  The question is: do we have the determination to put it right?

"Do we have the determination to confront the slow-motion collapse that has taken place in parts of our country these past few generations?"

(The Scotsman, 15 August 2011)

So David Cameron, PM, is reported to have said on this summer’s riots in England.  Forceful stuff, but take out the reference to fathers and schools, and the same could easily be said about another group that has caused far more havoc.  Yes, the bankers - and I think substituting ‘workplace’ for ‘schools’ works equally well!  After all, why should the burden of upholding such noble virtues as discipline, responsibility and morality fall on just one section of the population?  And it can be argued that those in positions of power, influence and authority have a greater duty to set an example by exercising these virtues even more.

Yet there are those on the right who are quick to excuse the bankers and oppose any regulation of their activities.  Bankers, they argue, create wealth and opportunity and so must be left free from what they see as overzealous supervision.  Moreover, they deserve the incentives of a huge salary and bonus – even, it seems, when their organisations fail and they in turn leave countless people destitute.  Attempts at curtailing their activities and their remuneration packages will, we are told, drive ‘talent’ abroad.  Talent - and said without a trace of irony! 

Sadly, the rioters’ camp is no better, and has its own band of apologists.  Racism and poverty, those old stalwarts, are blithely raised to compare (and so excuse, even justify) the orgy of looting, hooliganism, vandalism and gratuitous murder to the legitimate uprisings against genuine political oppression in the Middle East. (see, for example, Darcus Howe's interview on the BBC – the clip is on YouTube). 

However, supporters in both camps seem to me to be displaying a misguided and blind loyalty commonly associated with patriotism and religion viz. ‘my country, right or wrong’.  Of course, the likes of Angela Knight (spokesperson for the British Bankers Association) is only doing her job by defending her paymasters, but that is all the more reason to dismiss her views as nothing more than lobbyist’s propaganda.  It is to Mr Cable’s credit that he did just that, calling Mrs Knight’s arguments ‘disingenuous’. 

In a similar vein, David Starkey attempted to offer a blunter interpretation of the rioters’ behaviour, but this jarred with many peoples’ (politically correct) sensibilities.  Here is an excerpt of what Dr Starkey said:

 “…The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion," he said.

"Black and white, boy and girl operate in this language together. This language, which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that has intruded in England.”

Perhaps it was the use of “whites” and “blacks” that triggered the hysteria.  Perhaps if Dr Starkey had not explicitly referred to colour and had instead restricted his remark to behaviour, his view might have been heard and considered instead of being shouted down by alleged outrage, calmly disregarding his use of "particular sort of" in the very next sentence. But has political correctness now clouded our own thinking so much that we are incapable of recognising and differentiating a subculture, regardless of its colour, from the larger society within which it operates?  Or are we just as guilty of the very racist generalisations we seek to condemn?  And is this paranoia or forced tolerance to be allowed to prevent any expression of opinion or criticism of certain groups and behaviour for fear of being seen as racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or Islamophobic?  Must we, instead, accept all and any standards of behaviour?

And ultimately this is what is in question: standards of behaviour - whether that of bankers or rioters – and their underlying motivation.  To my mind, that motivation is a combination of greed and an indifference to the rest of society in satisfying that greed - nothing more noble, no matter what M/s Knight and Howe and their acolytes say. 

But amid all the attention directed towards bankers, one can easily forget another group - the tax evaders - who squirrel away their profits and wealth abroad in so-called tax havens, either in their own name, the name of their spouse or other family member(s) or even artificial companies all to avoid paying any tax. Here again we are told that this group must not be aggravated for fear of running away abroad, so conveniently ignoring the fact that it is in fact this country that gives them their wealth in the first place.  If any mention is made of taxes, they argue they have created jobs which generate taxes, so neatly side-stepping why they themselves should not pay any.  They too have no (further) obligation to the larger society, preferring to spend their time away in their tax haven playpens.  If they do live here, it is usually within secluded, gated properties that keep them quarantined and protected from the masses.  As for companies, they blatantly bully and woo a supine HMRC, as evidenced by several high profile cases recently.

In all three instances there lurks Greed, displayed so shockingly by the rioters, but equally prevalent in the more socialised forms practiced by bankers and tax dodgers (individuals and companies).  All three groups have, in one way or another, separated themselves from the larger society; and once conveniently removed, feel no obligation towards it.  They are, in effect, a subculture.  In fact, a subculture just like Jamaican gangster (sub)-culture and like it, seek to bully and threaten to get their own way.

But before the rest of us feel virtuous, Greed is, of course, not a monopoly of just a few groups or classes.  All of us are guilty of it, even if on a smaller scale.  We obsess about how much our properties have gone up in value, want higher and higher returns on our savings and pension fund investment, and more and more goods at ever cheaper prices.  But to achieve this, have we too not insulated ourselves by exporting production somewhere faraway, so that we are conveniently not confronted by the resulting poverty and misery that our greed must inevitably generate?  That same greed that motivates the rioters, the bankers and the tax evaders …

I hope to explore this further in future posts.  In the meantime, I will leave you with what I regard as one of Carl Jung’s most insightful ‘discoveries’ – that of the Shadow.  The Shadow is that aspect of one’s personality that one does not wish to accept (for whatever reason).  However, this ‘rejection’ does not make this aspect of our personality conveniently disappear.  Instead, we tend to project it onto others, seeing in them what we refuse to accept in ourself.  However, it also remains active within our unconscious.  In both instances, it wreaks havoc, either in the form of prejudice and rage or crime, cruelty and neurosis.  Part of maturing (what Jung called Individuation) is to recognise this rejected side of one’s personality and seek to incorporate its positive aspects into our daily life - for it does have a positive side.  That is the first step towards developing a healthy personality - and by extension (to my mind) a healthy society, especially at this time of worldwide protests against "Wall Street" greed.