Monday, May 23, 2011

Rant: "Of Course They're Moral, Upstanding People!"

Me: So, when are you two going to skip out of here for a night of wild drunken sex?
GF of Project Co-Worker: I'm the Children's Librarian, I can't do that!
Me: Hey, as long as you don't invite your customers, I'm not going to say anything...
For the record: this was at a post project party so it's not like they were at hand.

Anyways, there's this strange expectation in society that you can take a normal human being, give them a certain job title, and all of a sudden they start, nay, need to be a paragon of society: infallible, perfect, lacking in all human fault or sexual interests. This is, of course, completely wrongheaded but it's the lie we like to tell ourselves so we can go to sleep at night with that warm fuzzy feeling that none of the people we trust to do certain tasks are going to damage us or those we care about.

The reality is that every one of these "Sacred" positions - the priesthood, military, teaching, politics, policing, fire fighter... I could go on for pages... - are staffed by people and therefore potentially subject to every single vice or failing that every other person on the planet is subject to. Trying to maintain the illusion that they're not is when bad things happen because that's when we start burying bodies with backhoes:
"Priest's don't molest kids... this must never be known! Shift him elsewhere and quiet the family! Oh, and don't tell the next parish head about it either...",

"Cops don't beat people... whitewash this and assign him a desk for a few weeks until it blows over..."

"Teachers don't sleep with their students... resign... everyone will sign NDA's... and this all goes away quiet..."
All these decisions and more have been tossed out in the past as sops to maintaining the illusion of professional "morality" and, meanwhile, the trouble gets shuffled along and the victim count rises.

Whenever something questionable comes up, or just morality is raised as an issue, there's always one person who likes to think there's some sort of "morality" test that being applied to prevent these kinds of issues. But, reality hinders this twofold: firstly, true psychopaths are scarily effective at reading what you want to hear from them in response to calm your fears and, secondly, whether or not someone will take advantage of a situation is a factor that's least likely to show up when they know they're being tested. So, instead we rely on "feelings", be they right or wrong, because as long as our own "feeling" of "security" about someone is on a the positive side, we can get through the day (Bruce Schneier has a great TED on this "mirage", you should watch that).

Now, this is not to say that all people in these professions are secretly raving maniacs just waiting to implode: what I am saying is that they're all people and expecting any of them to not act as such at any point in their life often causes more problems than it prevents. Especially in the case of politicians: we don't treat the winners of Idol like they're the world's greatest musician or that they haven't lived before they stepped up on stage so why do we sit back and worship people selected through the exact same process - right down to the gleeful pandering for votes - as if they're the worlds greatest leaders and always working in my best interest? Doubly so if they're from the party I voted for. When we adopt this position - that moment at which we start turning a blind eye to what's happening and, instead, turn politics into the Great Sporting Event at which anyone who talks badly of "my team" is wrong, despite all evidence to the contrary, and should be beaten with my giant foam finger - is when we end up with bad governance as the people have given up their role of ensuring it by holding their representative(s) accountable.

Finally, the problem with expecting your definition of "morality" from people is that morality is entirely subjective. While there is likely to be overlap, what you find "moral" is not necessarily what the guy next door finds "moral". (Also note: there's a difference between moral and criminal and just because you don't like it doesn't mean it should be, or is, illegal.) Even more importantly, while I've provided some of the top end examples of "moral failure", a good percentage of traditionally "immoral" acts are so common in reality (take premarital sex from my opener as an closer to baseline example or, my personal recent favourite, the sports writers who found a picture of 19 y/o Brett Lawrie downing a Molson's on his Facebook Page and tried to spin him into sport's upcoming bad boy), that whether or not someone follows your arcane rules is often of less importance than whether or not they're actually good at their job.

As long as the "immorality" is not an impediment nor risk to the profession at hand that's what we should really be more concerned with.

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