AS the world grows madder every day, Agromenes longs for an Institute for Common Sense. Hands on knees, secret visits to Netanyahu, Cayman Island vehicles, ‘no-gun’ shootings— there’s hysteria, hype and hypocrisy on every side.
If only we had an organisation that could apply the insights of the past and the experience of people who can recognise rubbish when they see it: a set-up that would contribute balanced insights instead of the halfformed judgements of the attention-seeking journalists and circulation-obsessed media owners that now dominate public discourse.
It would be about context and proportion, facts and properly based figures; it would consult experience and learn lessons from the past. In other words, it would be all that the Britain of 2017 is not.
Here is Agromenes’s imagined examination paper on current affairs and logic for its MA in societal ethics and applied common sense.
History section 1) Which 19th-century Prime Minister do you believe would survive an investigation into his private life by a current Cabinet Secretary and why? 2) Oscar Wilde was a great and enduring dramatist, but he also—by modern judgement— abused under-age boys. Does his art excuse his behaviour or would his prison sentence be even longer were he prosecuted today? 3) Lord Halifax was a man of irreproachable moral character. At a time of national emergency, however, he was overlooked for an inveterate gambler owing the equivalent of £300,000 in tax, who had other debts totalling more than £1 million and had burned through £5 million of inherited money. That man was Sir Winston Churchill. With hindsight, how would you justify the appointment? Inappropriate-behaviour section 1) How would you justify referring a minister for investigation by the Cabinet Office for breaches of the Ministerial Code when the alleged breaches took place long before he was a minister? 2) How do you balance the rights of a victim with those of the person they accuse of sexual impropriety when it’s almost impossible to verify —or judge—the particulars of what happened? 3) What would be suitable sanctions were a chief constable to seek to protect himself and his force by refusing to admit that he had no real evidence to justify a case against a distinguished public servant and that he had wasted significant sums of public money in pursuing it?
4) It is a given that nonconsensual sex or abusing a position of power are unacceptable and particularly reprehensible in a public figure. Otherwise, what issues in a man or woman’s private life should be anyone else’s concern? Should their privacy be protected? 5) Discuss the moral issues raised by a media owner who arranges his affairs so that he doesn’t pay tax in the UK, but allows his newspapers to pillory public figures who invest in legitimate companies through foreign-based vehicles while paying full UK tax on any earnings.
‘If only we had an organisation that could apply the insights of the past
Simply raising these matters and demanding rigorous intellectual consideration of the ethical issues involved should begin to raise the standards of public discourse. It might also mean that decent people could consider that a life of public service would not expose them and their families to unwarranted and wounding intrusion from media moguls who are themselves protected by the principle that dog doesn’t eat dog. If only we had an Institute for Common Sense.