Today, I saw a person on the TV show “Good Morning Britain”, a person who if I understood correctly represented Wonga.com in some significant way, saying sorry for a series of (to put it politely) historical “infractions”, most of which which appeared to border on the significantly fraudulent:
Payday lender Wonga must pay £2.6m in compensation after sending letters from non-existent law firms to customers in arrears.
The letters threatened legal action, but the law firms were false. In some cases Wonga added fees for these letters to customers’ accounts.
If I continue to remember rightly, the person who spoke on the tele this morning, when asked about who exactly was responsible for the misdeeds clearly committed, said something along the lines of: “We’re not here today to talk about individuals.”
I’m puzzled by this response. When I worked for a large 70,000-people financial services corporation, it was impressed upon us – both in our daily job and periodically through continuous training – that what we saw, thought and imagined had utmost significance for the continued probity of the wider company. Within what you might term the broader systemic behaviours, our own individual perceptions and consequential actions were legally enshrined, inscribed and potentially punishable.
Mind you, perhaps – already out there – there is an unspoken universal law which governs and defines how this focus on individual responsibility decreases exponentially, the greater one’s level of executive power.* It certainly would seem that way; it would explain a lot of what’s happening right now too.
With my own personal interest in political structures to the fore, and even as this is amateur, ineffectual and irrelevant to current practice (my network of influence being absolutely zero, of course), I’d also be inclined to argue that it’s time we stopped blaming political systems for the corruption they appear to generate and started blaming, instead, the corrupting people who are taking advantage. Yes. I know it brings us back to the hoary subject of personal responsibility, many times couched in quasi-religious terms and so consequently abused by those who have specific and unhelpful agendas, but it serves no one’s interests to continue destroying the public face of politics as an ideal, concept and practice by saying the problems are essentially of a widespread and systemic nature almost everywhere you look.
I don’t know about you but I find myself reaching a point of utter inaction on so many different fronts. Even in my day-to-day life; even as I got to the supermarket for the weekly shop. So it is I can neither buy from the Primarks nor the John Lewis of the world; I can neither happily fund charitable drug research nor happily buy multinational cereals.
And as the TechDirt piece linked to above quotes, from the mouth of a person of perhaps quite different times:
[...] Here’s what George Merck, who became president of his father’s eponymous chemical manufacturing company in 1929, said on the subject, as quoted on the Today in Science History site: “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.”
We could substitute the word “medicine” with the word “politics” or the term “financial services” – and the impact, effect and consequences would be pretty much the same surely. The truth and sense of integrity, too.
There’s nothing wrong with our systems which a swathe of people encouraged to be good couldn’t put right. After all, the problem is hardly ever an absence of relevant legislation – rather, far more frequently, an occasionally appalling inefficiency in its application. And this is the case in politics and banking, just as much as it is obviously the case in medical research and food distribution.
Forget the systems, then. Forget that ever-present policy tinkering so beloved of professional politicos. Whatever we’ve got, let’s try and make the best of it. Don’t change the textbook. Rather, give the teachers and students the opportunities to properly engage.
So let’s look in quite a different direction. Focus, instead, on fashioning for the people the environments which serve to generate the confidence we all need – the confidence we all need to speak up in good faith about what resides in our hearts and souls.
To participate; to act constructively; to communicate, collaborate and talk with each other.
About what we all really need and deserve. Freedom from fear.
Ultimately, freedom of expression.
* Maybe we should call it the Stepping-Stone Law, after those who wade in the bubbling brooks of tendentious activity – brooks which finally lead down to the rivers and estuaries of ultimate control and knowledge. (But then again, maybe not …)