Friday, 7 June 2013

The slippery slope

Just how corruptible am I? I like to think I'm honest and decent, but if I found myself in a situation where I could bend all the rules and get away with it, would I yield to temptation?

If I were an MP and I knew I could fiddle my expenses outrageously, and I knew most MPs saw it as normal behaviour, would I join in? Or would I resist the trend and keep to the straight and narrow?

If I were a high earner and I knew I could fiddle my taxes and not pay what I ought to pay, if I knew I could salt money away in a secret account, would I bury my scruples and scoff at the public interest?

I'm not likely to be in any such situation, given my humble employment, but I sometimes wonder if my self-righteous objections to such immorality are truly sincere.

After all, I'm corrupt enough when it comes to the petty everyday rules I happily cock a snook at - ignoring speed limits, dodging bus queues, embellishing my CV, squandering fossil fuels. Would it take very much to up the ante a notch or two, to be a bit more ambitious in my misdemeanours?

Actually I think it would seriously go against the grain. I'm not cut out for badness. I believe in social rules, I believe in personal responsibility, I believe in fairness and justice. Large-scale, flagrant screwing-the-system is not in my nature. I would feel too guilty, too selfish, too degenerate, too shifty. I would feel like the infamous used-car salesman. And how low-life is that?

No, I shall continue to look down my nose at those who are willingly corrupted, in the full knowledge that were I in their shoes I wouldn't be so decadent. I would be the steadfast goody-goody refusing to join in and despairing of the weak-willed suggestibility of the human race. I would sit tight and leave them to it.

30 comments:

Roses said...

My step-father, a book-keeper and straight-down-the-line gave me some pretty good advice.

He said, if you're going to do something illegal, make sure what you do is worth it.

So, paying an £80 fine for nicking a £5.00 lippy, is obviously not worth it.

Over the years, that's made more and more sense to me. The only crime I've ever seen that I thought 'yeah, that'd be totally worth it', was in the late 80s. A woman got caught swindling £21m from an oil company (I think, it was definitely a large company).

Yeah, I'd be prepared to go to jail for £21m. But definitely not interested in doing time for any less.

Also, I don't have any access to £21m in my day-to-day life and I'm not likely to either.

So my life as a career criminal ended before it even began.

Bijoux said...

I can't stand cheaters, whether they cheat on their taxes or their significant other. People like that always think the rules (whether they be unspoken or legal) apply to everyone but them.

Ursula said...

Luckily I am more pliable and bendy than Bijoux.

I don't set out to cheat the system. But if it cheats itself I gladly partake. Put it another way: If I go to the corner shop and am being given too much change I will give it back to them. It's a matter of honour. If I go to one of the big supermarkets and they give me too much change back I will walk away with glee and think to myself that there is divine justice after all.

By the same token - only happened a few days ago - I dropped a ten pound note. It was my last ten pound note for the day and can't say I was best pleased with myself, particularly as I hadn't paid for my shopping yet. Still, the thought that I'd made some bastard who found it happy (and who isn't happy when given a freebie) made me smile. Swings and roundabouts.

And let no one but no one tell me that you don't take paper clips and rubber bands, maybe even the odd ream of photocopying paper, from your office. If your boss does so will you. Management by example. Call it a perk.

A friend of mine (I was once married to him) - he is not short of money but tightfisted - observed that if he could rob a bank without being caught he would. So would I. So would anyone. And don't tell me otherwise. I won't believe you.

Other than that I swear by generosity and giving freely. Yes, really. To the despair of all those who know me I am perfectly capable of giving my last 50 p to some god forsaken down and out sitting in a doorway. To then ask [all those who know me] if they can lend me a fiver.

U

Nick said...

Roses: "If you're going to do something illegal, make sure what you do is worth it" That's certainly good advice. No point in risking a draconian penalty for some trivial offence.

Not sure I'd be willing to go to jail even for £21 million. Jails are pretty grim and soul-destroying places. Though if it was one of those laid-back jails like the one Chris Huhne went to....

Nick said...

Bijoux: I don't like cheaters either. Depends what you mean by cheating though. If an insurance company pays me twice after it has been messing me about for six months, and I keep the money, is that cheating or justice? (yes, it happened!)

Nick said...

Ursula: I agree with you about the extra-change scenario - I wouldn't cheat the corner store but I would gladly cheat the big-name supermarket.

I work in a one-person office, but I never take anything because it's a voluntary organisation and their budget is tight. As for the past, my lips are sealed....

Would I rob a bank if I knew I wouldn't be caught? Yes, definitely. If the executives can walk away with obscene amounts of money, why shouldn't everyone else?

Mike Goad said...

Hi Nick -- I prefer to act on the side of caution. I, too, like to think that I'm honest and decent.

Most of that is because of the values I learned as a child. Some, though, is simply self-defense.

I'm not going to do anything that would land me in jail or get me fired if caught. I'm not going to play the game of "what if I knew I wouldn't get caught." With technology advances and changes in society (social media, internet, etc.), getting away with the unethical seems harder and harder. Security cameras and personal cameras are pervasive -- and tinier -- and people share what they snap. You can't make the assumption that someone isn't going to figure it out.

When I'm working, I don't take office supplies. I'm not going to say that it has never happened. It's just that for some stuff, -- pens and post-it notes, for example -- I prefer my own rather than what's stored in the supply closet.

I don't ignore speed limits -- I just limit myself to no more than 10% over the limit and often -- gasp -- drive at or below the limit. Just 2 speeding tickets in over 40 years of driving.

On the other hand... a big box store neglected to charge me for a video recorder/player several years ago -- good for me, bad for them.

So far as Roses' lessons from a step-father -- if I'd taken the examples of my step-father when I was a teen, I wouldn't be where I am today. I remember the time when we broke into ... oh, never mind.

If I did something wrong or unethical, I would never talk about it or share it... ever.

Jenny Woolf said...

I reckon we are most of us more corruptible than we think, at least when it comes to taxes. I do not want to pay more tax than I need, even though I agree with social justice. The reason is that I don't really trust the govt not to waste it on some idiot scheme like that computer system for the NHS that cost billions, or aid given for political reasons that they know full well goes into the pockets of corrupt dictators.

Nick said...

Hi Mike! Excellent point about the pervasiveness of the social media, internet, cameras etc, and the increasing chance that someone will catch you out.

I break speed limits all the time, but on a very familiar route where I can judge the possible danger and I know where the speed cameras are. And I've only had one speeding ticket in around the same time period!

Oh yes, there are certain things I did in the past that I would never disclose as well.

Nick said...

Jenny: The tax issue is a thorny one. Yes, I feel I should pay whatever taxes are levied from me as part of the social contract. But no, I don't want my taxes to be wasted on all sorts of unethical, inefficient and stupid schemes. But we have little choice about where our money goes.

Liz said...

I would hope I'd be like you - and have gone to great lengths to correct mistakes in my favour - but I wonder. As Husband pointed out, we too pay as little tax as possible by using the system.

Nick said...

Liz: Do you mean you try to reduce your tax liabilities in any legitimate way you can come up with?

Grannymar said...

I confess.... I stole away from here this morning without leaving a comment. I would blame a phone call if only I could remember back that far. I often came home from work with bracelets that I was not wearing when leaving home! They were rubber bands that held bundles of case files together. As I removed them to work on the files the easiest place for them was on my wrist!

My car likes to travel at speed and I really have to keep her in check to stay within the limit.

Thus ends my confession!

Wisewebwoman said...

Gosh I wasn't going to comment and I will plead the fifth for past behaviour and can swear, but not on a bible, I've been a very very good girl for a long time now.

And I firmly believe today that ill gotten gains do the receiver absolutely no good. I've seen it.

XO
WWW

Cheerful Monk said...

Bad behavior in the past? Too old to remember. Bad behavior now? Too busy playing with my toys (my blog, Photoshop, etc.). Other people find me a lot more boring than scandalous, I'm afraid. :)

Nick said...

Grannymar: Why, you little rubber-band thief! What shabby goings-on!

www: I suspect you're generally right, that ill gotten gains do the receiver absolutely no good. Even if they aren't found out, furtive secrets can do a lot of emotional damage.

Jean: Too old to remember indeed. A likely story.

e said...

I refuse to comment further on the grounds that I may incriminate myself...

Nick said...

e: We have ways of making you talk....

Leah said...

I notice an interesting theme in these comments: big corporation, government taxing body, those entities that we perceive as fucking us over on a regular basis, well, we might bend our moral/ethical rules when it comes to the "fuck-back."

And Bijoux, life is a hell of a lot more complicated than you make it out to be.

Leah said...

P.S. I'd probably not rob a bank, even if I knew I wouldn't get caught, because bank robberies often involve scaring people, and that is my one area of absolute. Now, a bank heist, well, I'll have to get back to you on that.

Nick said...

Leah: Yes, that seems fair enough to me! Why should we be short-changed?

You're right about life being more complicated. Who hasn't cheated on someone in one way or another? Maybe we just kidded ourselves it wasn't really cheating....

I agree too about scaring people. People are scared enough already about all sorts of things. What entitles us to scare them some more?

Nick said...

Leah: And sometimes I think it's actually necessary to cheat on someone. For your own sanity. For your own emotional well-being.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Everyone has their own personal ethical lacunae - areas where they will be dishonest - and yet are aghast at others' if they don't line up. Human nature, I guess.

But what the hell does "cock a snook" mean? Sounds obscene.

Nick said...

Agent: True, people are very contradictory when it comes to morals/ethics. We all have our own personal exemptions, based on absolutely impeccable reasoning!

Cocking a snook means to ridicule or ignore. The origins of the phrase are obscure, no idea if it has an obscene connection!

Ursula said...

Leah, I agree with you about scaring people. Or, heaven forbid, laying so much as a finger on anyone. That is, most definitely, not part of the game. And that's all it is: A game we play out in our imagination. I like casting myself in the mould of the cat burglar - middle of the night, security in a slumber. Naturally, knowing my luck, I'll knock something over and make a frightful noise.

U

Nick said...

Ursula: I think my own pet fantasy is not so much burglary as blowing up some hideous building I've driven past a thousand times and would love to see the last of.

Rummuser said...

We start our lives in India by learning to bribe our Gods. If you bribe them, they do things for you. With that value firmly established in our psyches, baksheesh is an accepted as normal expectation and no moral turpitude is attached to it. Unfortunately for me, I have never been in any position where I was either God or in a position to do something in exchange for a baksheesh. I have however been on the giving end and though I do not directly dirty my hands, I use agents who specialise in fixing our very baksheesh oriented system,

Does that make me immoral?

Nick said...

Ramana: I guess if it's a universal routine that virtually everyone goes along with, then you can't really describe it as immoral. Immorality after all is a relative term and always depends to some extent on the context.

bonsaimum said...

We see ourselves as honest down to earth folk---so needless to say we will never get anywhere!

Nick said...

Bonsaimum: Unfortunately it's often the honest, down-to-earth folk who get into powerful positions and then succumb to the temptation to enrich themselves....