The analogies for moral decline can be many and a gradual spreading of rot is quite a good one. Damp dripping into, say, a wooden window frame, if untreated, becomes mould and then rots the wood and window panes fall out. The news that Barclays Bank has admitted ‘rigging’ a key mechanism for deciding interest rates, the Libor rate, means rot in the financial sector really has penetrated deeply.
What the public and businesses assumed was an objective measure of interest rates, reflecting current conditions, was in fact fiddled by investment bankers. At the same time businesses were being sold insurance policies against rising interest rates by the bank which was busy keeping the rate down, a non-violent mode of Mafia-like protection racket. We know that Barclays is but one of several other banks at work behind the scenes so that the world outside was deceived and suffered financial loss on the basis of information that was deceptive. That is a shock. And businesses, desperate for good loans to keep their firms going, were in effect being milked – the banks were exploiting the businesses under false pretences: that seems to be the burden of what is unfolding.
It is an irony that even our so-called satirists, comedians who mock the bankers for their greed and dishonesty, turn out themselves to be on the take and on the make. Jimmy Carr’s now notorious tax avoidance arrangements putting his ‘official’ income at minimum wage levels was unmasked to hilarity and cries of hypocrisy, and no doubt other comic righters of wrong, exposers of the dishonest rich, could also be found. Our ‘satire’ industry is in a sorry state, and at a time when we desperately need real probing comment on the fakery going on throughout the UK. We might say that satire itself now seems to be ‘rigged’, whereas we need successors to Gilray and Hogarth all the more.
We are also reminded of falsity in the language of so much discussion on an EU referendum by politicians who have no intention of granting the plebs a plebiscite at all, and who have wriggled out of firm election pledges. We are getting used to distrusting the official surface and suspecting deception behind it.
A Christian might well say the spreading rot of dishonesty, where not too long ago we could trust officials and bankers, is just part of the costs of de-Christianisation of the UK. A basic Christian virtue, honesty, is a fading cultural norm. Lying seems to be bedding in, like a mould, throughout all dimensions of public life and in the private sector. Yes, individual Christians were not perfect at all, but the social norm or ideal, a product of the Judaeo-Christian ethic, was embedded as an expectation. As Christianity is systematically levered out of public and private practice and culture, it should be no surprise that dishonesty is filling the vacuum, a quick and easy way to make a fast buck at the expense of your neighbour.