I have shared my life with many people of many doctrines, beliefs and faiths, some religious and some political. One of the things that has never ceased to amaze me is the moral dissonance that affects so many people, regardless of whether their purported ‘ideological core’ is based on faith in scripture, or faith in science. Society, as it is structured today, seems to have a tendency to nudge people together into groups, and then guide those individuals away from questioning their own lives and their impact on others. Instead, we choose to rely on the group’s upper hierarchy to determine our behaviour.
Once you have embraced membership to a group as a key part of your identity, it is relatively easy to go on to then internalise the groups’ way of thinking and subsequently its way of behaving. But it is not just that, by accepting the group identity as defined by others, one also accepts the group’s status within the greater hierarchy as defined by others. And I am just as guilty of this as anyone. After all, I have grown up in, and live in a society where the church, the state, the education system, the mass media, the economy … and even the internet are all largely singing from the same song sheet. And it is amidst such uniformity, that it is increasingly difficult to keep asking the question, why and to what end? Like many of us, much of my waking life is, and always has been, as an audience member to the incessant self-justifying propaganda of the upper echelons of the hierarchy.
It is not particularly controversial to say that hierarchical societies promote structures and institutions that reflect and perpetuate the overarching hierarchy, even when those same structures’ appear to be pathologically anti-social. What clearly is controversial though, is discussing how the wider hierarchy has a vested interest in making sure that the general public does not ask the existential purpose of these flawed institutions. Time and again, and across the board, many of the major institutions of society are shown to be at best harbouring sociopaths and psychopaths, and at worst actively complicit in their crimes.
Let us not forget the Members of Parliament fiddling their expenses in order to live like royalty, or the mass media hacking the phones of the public to sell newspapers, or freemasons in the police allegedly protecting criminals, or capitalists decimating large sections of society just to accumulate personal luxuries, or of course the church officials protecting and aiding child rapists. Throughout all of these cases, I would argue that the most important questions of all were never asked; How does this keep happening across society, what is responsible and what do we need to do to stop it? Unfortunately, as it so often is, instead of demanding answers we just keep on accepting that same old excuse. The bad apple theory is fine if it is in connection with an aberration … but year after year, from country to country, from institution to institution? After hearing it for the umpteenth time, it just starts to feel like a jaded lie.
By focussing on the ‘bad apples’, public debate is gently ushered away from asking how all these institutions continually repeat the same antisocial behaviours, and why the processes in place to protect us continually fail to do exactly that. The lack of debate around the fundamental nature of hierarchy and power inequalities in society when it clearly keeps failing the majority of us, must be highly controversial because it appears to be the subject that dare not speak its name. Instead, once again, we hear the often repeated mantra of ‘mistakes were made, but we must move forward, and the people in charge are best placed to move us forward’. This particular official response, should have it’s own ticker on permanent loop running along the bottom of all news channels for the consistency with which it is trotted out.
This ‘bad apple from a good tree’ theory is built on a theoretical denial of the interdependence of human relations in society. By continually accepting this excuse, we as a society are colluding with the continuation of this behaviour. Bluntly, we are complicit before the fact. By refusing to acknowledge how these types of things keep occurring, by refusing to analyse the relationships and systems involved in their repetitions, and perhaps most importantly, by refusing to recognise our own complicity in those systems, we share responsibility for them.
I would argue that the problem isn’t that certain types of sociopaths and psychopaths will try to utilise the various institutions to achieve their own goals, it is that society is structured in such a way that a small minority can act without any real oversight or restrictions. A social structure designed to hide and protect economic oppression and exploitation, can be used to hide and protect all manner of abhorrent behaviour. By accepting a system based on inherited privilege, we accept a society where sociopaths and psychopaths are protected by the institutions of social control established for the protection of that very hierarchy itself.
I don’t think that we get the government we deserve. But I do think we get the society that we demand. If we want a better society then we must demand it. But if we are willing to let the sociopaths decide what kind of society we live in, then we shouldn’t be surprised when they give the psychopaths free rein.
As always, I am taking this opportunity to post up an old article. This time it is a review of the superb documentary, March of the Penguins. It’s release reignited a centuries old debate. Rather than marvel at the wonders of existence, and recognise our role in destroying life on earth, instead the fanatics started laying into each other over who has access to the ‘universal truth’. And ten years later we are still torching the planet.
The Morning Star were kind enough to publish it on 7th December 2005. Unfortunately it seems to have now been archived. To read it here or to download a .txt version please click through to the page.