How to explain the moral rot in our institutions?

Liars, liars everywhere and shameless ones at that.  So many of our institutions are now run by liars and the ethically challenged that it has had a numbing effect on the rest of us. It is now simply normal and expected – reflective of that wonderful line from Bruce Cockburn’s song, “The trouble with normal, is it always gets worse.” And we adapt because we can’t think of what to do about it.

The truly disgusting case of the RCMP murder Robert Dziekanski, is so unnerving and offensive to the human spirit that people just reel from it. They don’t want to   be reminded of it because it is so far removed from what we thought Canada was that contemplating it shakes our faith in everything else. But at the same time, the phrase ‘the banality of evil” comes to mind. These four cops and their equally corrupt superiors are not brilliant conspirators, plotting our demise. They are little men, in every sense of that term, with no character or sense of self-worth: apparently able to be raised in this country, attend our schools, observe everyday life and the imperative to be ethical in that life, be trained as “peace officers,” and yet be capable of casually telling the most transparent lies – that is, as professionals whose calling is literally defined by higher standards, not lower ones. Moral cowards incapable of taking responsibility for their actions – and obviously encouraged to do so by their superiors, and their lawyers.

And the provincial government and its prosecutors? They all know what we know – that these four criminals should be charged with manslaughter. But they all go home at night to their families apparently at ease with their consciences despite being complicit in the crime.

And now we have the equally repugnant case of Bishop Raymond Lahey a man so profoundly corrupt that only the corruption of the Catholic church itself can challenge him. The church and the police knew twenty years ago that this man was unfit to be a priest, let alone a Bishop. The church is irretrievably corrupt – a mountain of evidence proves they simply have no grasp of what it means to be moral. Like the cops, contempt for the broader society is at the core of their institution. Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying he “..was shocked and angered by the allegations against Bishop Lahey, and added he doesn’t think it’s fair that Bishop Lahey is now being tried “in the court of public opinion” before his case has gone to trial.”  When you have contempt for the public, you have contempt for its opinion.

And then there are the various government bureaucracies run by those who have also managed to reach adulthood with not the faintest notion of what ethical behaviour might look like. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada itself are now dedicated not to Canadians’ health and safety but to corporations’ right to profit from their businesses. Drug companies now pay the government to test their drugs and the government treats them as clients whose expectation of quick approval is the new standard for protection of the public interest.

What is the source of this moral and ethical decay? In the 1960s and 1970s when government was still seen in a positive light by most, people joined the public service because they wanted to dedicate themselves to the public good (there was a federal agency to which all who wanted to work for the government had to apply and write an exam). Government departments can now hire directly out of MBA programs or Public Administration schools which teach you how to dismantle government in the interest of the marketplace. The new public morality is thus the morality of capitalism, which is to say, no morality at all.

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