David Cameron has strongly stated that the riots highlighted a cultural problem. Peter Oborne’s bombastic article uses the Credit Crunch and MPs expenses scandal to make the strong case that this ‘cultural problem’ has permeated its way down from the top of our society to the bottom. A country’s moral backbone is important because it influences the laws that are passed, how they are enacted and people’s general behaviour. The old assumptions no longer work. Greed is not good anymore; the state can’t be a nanny; rights cannot exist without responsibility. So what should this new moral code be? My first thoughts on this complex question is that it could be summed up in three words: opportunity, reciprocity and responsibility.
Opportunity: Through talent and hard work can anyone be anything? If someone doesn’t believe that they are going to be rewarded for their hard work then are unlikely to try to get the reward. Recent evidence suggests that social mobility in the UK is decreasing. I can’t help but think that the widening gap in wages is a major cause of social rigidness. Parents who are bankers, lawyers and accountants now have even more motivation to do everything they can to ensure that their children have the best opportunity to fill the limited number of ‘professional’ vacancies. Forget citizenship classes; from an early age lets have career classes where people can learn what options are out there and how they can achieve them. One week of work experience and an overstretched career advisor won’t make a difference.
Reciprocity: Are we all connected and do we understand how are actions affect others? Society is about thousands upon thousands of relationships. Each relationship has a knock on impact on other relationships. It is equally important that we have bankers, bin men, doctors, social workers and so on. All roles in our community should be valued. If you have a job where your actions may have big impact on many others – such as banking and politicians – then you must always put the greater interest first. Benefits should not be viewed as a permanent entitlement and those who receive them should understand they have the responsibility of trying to move off them as quickly as possible.
Responsibility: Do people believe that they will be held responsible for THEIR actions? There is a lot to be said to the old English sporting attitude that it is not the winning that counts, but how you play the game. In the modern macho world the connection between what you achieve and how you achieve it has been broken. I need to get that bonus, it doesn’t matter how. My team needs to win the game, it doesn’t matter how. I want to own some new trainers, it doesn’t matter how. But it does actually matter how we do things. By cutting corners to gain instant gratification people are likely to be creating greater long-term problems for the future.
I would like to live in a society where the answer to all the questions above is a resounding yes.