Guest Opinion: Amoral From The Top Down
By William Moloney
There was a very small debate recently in Britain over the rights and wrongs of collective responsibility within the Westminster system of government .It was prompted by the mass resignation of the Dutch government a month ago. The Dutch government resigned over a report that stated that Dutch Peacekeepers were at fault in the massacre at Sebrenca during the Balkans conflict. The report found that by their leaving the posts protecting the much published "safe haven", showed that they and the Dutch government were morally at fault for the Serbs actions. It was the Dutch soldiers responsibility to protect the Muslim minority and they failed to for the sake of their own safety.
The government the resigned was , in most part, the same as that of 1991 when it occurred. They took the step of resigning due to the damning of their and their representives actions.
But it is almost unheard of now, especially in Britain and NZ, for a government or a minister to take responsibility in the manner that the (Westminster)system demands. It was once , up to about 1980, that a minister would resign if their department or ministry was seen to fail in its responsibilities. In doing this they would protect the civil service from the Media and help continue the civil services apolitical nature.
Currently Ministers never resign if their ministry fails. They will attempt to "spin" their way through issues. If that means that they must give up the or a civil servant/service to the Media as scape goats , they do. This is witnessed every day here in Britain. Most obviously during the series of crisis that surrounded Stephen Byers, the former Transport Minister. But it can be seen in New Zealand with Ms Clarks fraudulent sale of a painting.
I am neither a supporter of Ms Clark or a naysayer. But to sell a painting as her own even though she knew it was not is fraud. As Prime Minister she must act in a way that is seen to be proper. No one wanted her to resign and the public does not seem to care. She was seen to make light of it, due to this public apathy. She made light of it as if to say " I am sorry, but I was really busy and it is not a big deal. I have paid the man back his money etc...". Would the courts accept the same excuse if hearing a fraud case. No they would not. It is the act that is wrong , which is not made better by an apology. She should have and still should resign. It is her job to lead the people and one part of that is to lead them morally. Even in the face of public opinion. This was a tough decision, the kind that she is elected to make. She got it wrong. She had failed. She is now an example of the amoral society.
The other example is that of the collapse of the murder trail of Damiola Taylor. He was a 10 year old boy who had been in Britain for 3 months. His family moved to Britain from Nigeria so that his sister would have access to the medicines needed to treat her severe Epilepsy.He was murdered in a stairwell on the estate in Peckham where he lived. He was stabbed in the thigh and unluckily the murderer had hit the artery. They then shoved a marble down his throat to stifle any screams.
The estate where this occurred is one of the "sink" estates. That means it is one of the areas that no-one wants to live in, no one wants to talk about and no one knows what to do with. Apparently on this estate, their was a teenage gang, led by two brothers, that terrorised children and adults. They demanded protection money from all.
This gang became the main suspects for the crime. But no witness or residents came forward. We now know why. For this gang had been previously up on charges ranging from the sexual assault of two 12 year old girls, to vehicle theft, to two separate GBH charges. At no point had they been convicted, mostly due to the fact that they intimidated witness' and their "luck" at having cases thrown out. They played the system wonderfully.
The police when investigating Damiola murder came up against the rock ( the fact that no resident felt safe to come forward) and the hard place ( the racial hangover of the murder of Stephen Laurence). The Media waded into the fray offering a £50000 reward.
This £50,000 reward apparently prompted a 14 year old girl to come forward and confess to being a witness to the murder. She became the pivot on which the case would sit. On the stand at the Old Bailey , she cracked under aggressive cross examination. The defence bullied her and it became "clear" that she had a history of lying. Her history of being an attention seeker at school and her arrests for petty thievery were all placed in front of the jury and judge. It also became clear, from the transcripts of her police interviews , that she was "led" into her testimony about the crime and her chance of gaining the reward.
Her evidence was ruled inadmissible by the judge. This set free two of the 4 on trial. Also ruled inadmissible was the testimony of a social worker who "took" a tearful confession from one of the gang leader brothers. This meant that all that was left was the testimony of fellow juvenile remand prisoners that the brothers had bragged of "doing the African boy". Jailhouse confessions are wildly controversial and again the defence was able to discredit all these witness by bringing up their past convictions.
The most telling piece of evidence was that they made phone calls, both brothers, 5 minutes after the "murder" , a mile and a half away from the scene. The police could never account for this, and judge in his summing up said to the jury , if you believe the boys had their phones, then you cannot convict.
The boys never took the stand. Never accounted for their movements. Never did anything in court other than act surely and uninterested. It has been reported that they slept well at all times in custody.
The jury found the brothers not guilty on all counts.
Then we and the jury were told of the boys past charges. Not before as with witness', but after. It is well known that these boys did it.
We are left with a dead boy who was soft and lovely. Who was at the top of his class. Who had done his homework at school the day he died. Then he went to computer club. And on the way home from there was murdered by a gang of teenagers, up to 7 years older than him, who had been excluded from school since they were , on average 13.
We have a murdered boy from a stable nuclear family. Not one of these boys acquitted of his murder has a father figure at home.
The press is now hounding the police and the prosecution service. Asking how they came to "lose" the case. The brothers and their mother have been on TV and radio claiming that they are no angels but they are not murders. They are but that again gets in the way of the spin.
We are left again in a moral vacuum. Where it is not whether is happened but if you can prove it and whether it matters anyway.
The media does not do anything other than pursue the fat, comfortable targets of the police, the prosecution and the government. Apparently they are to blame.
But who I blame is the family. Is the mothers. The mother who told us on TV, " They are no angels but they told me that they did not do it and I believe them". What about the other 6 serious charges, did they tell you the same for that? What about the fact that your boys do nothing but wander the streets all day as they have been excluded from school. Did they do nothing to deserve that?
It is self serving personal morality that it the real killer here. They are not guilt because they do not want to be. They are not guilty because they were failed by the system.
Personal responsibility is not something that these boys or their mother understand. Nor should they , for no one in society is bound by these rules anymore.
I have been reading some really interesting material on emergent societies. These are societies that have no "top Down" rules or laws. Like Ant colonies. They have hardwired simple individual decision making criteria. These create what we see as organisation. But none of the individual actors make high level decisions. None in fact have the ability. They make their decisions by the stimuli that they encounter.
One way to describe it is in a neighbourhood. Neighbourhoods are made up of many individuals making decisions. What to wear, where to shop, how to get to work , what areas are safe etc. These decisions are governed by how they perceived they stimuli they receive from the other individuals. If they see many indivuals wearing ties to work , they may decide to wear a tie as it is normal. Or if they see many people shopping at the local butcher , they may shop there as they assume that the product must be good. They make individual decisions based on what they see, hear and feel.
This has an amazing implication for our society. It means that to have an affect on society you do not need to place "rules" or "laws" on it , you need simply to create environments with which others/all can make their decisions.
If we take a negative example, like the "sink" estate where Damiola was murdered. It was seen that these boys and others like them could do what they liked without punishment. So the individuals on the estate acted accordingly. More of them joined gangs for "protection". None of the individuals would come forward with information , knowing that they would be in danger etc. The negative spiral continues.
If however the reverse was seen to happen, they were convicted. They were held to account the individuals would make different decisions. The situation would be reversed.
I think there are two points to made from this for our society. We need to re-enforce at all times that good behaviour is rewarded and bad is punished. In the case of the Dutch government that has happened. The Dutch people now believe their politicians will not act in their own interest but the moral interest, or another way, the peoples interest. In the case Ms. Clark, the NZ people can expect that our politicians will act in their own interest, not in the moral or peoples interest.
Different stimuli will create different reactions from the individuals involved. In the case of boys, they now have reinforced their view that they can get away with murder. They will be caught sometime and convicted but it will take another crime for it to happen. In the case of the public, they believe now even more, that the police are incompetent and giving evidence is both humiliating and dangerous.
I understand that this idea of emergent behaviour is amoral in essence but it is useful social mechanism. It is a way that we give each other, subconsciously, information which forms how we act. We simply need to harness the mechanism for what we know is right. Not post modern right, nor religious right but socially right. For what is right for our society.