One of my photos

Cognitive ethical failure

June 24th, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 1 Comment · Politics

I have been dwelling on that phrase ‘cognitive ethical failure’  that I wrote about the other day.  Is that a reasonable part-explanation for the expenses mess?   And does it mean that there is a form of institutional corruption?    And would that mean that those flipping moat-owners are not bad, but are just victims of a bad system?It occurred to me that cognitive ethical failure or the influence of a certain culture sounds very feasible when you look at it a certain way.  Consider these two things:

  1. Most of the general population who think about such things seem to think that there is something unreasonable about claims for second houses that are above average size/quality/cost for most people’s first houses .  They feel that these second homes and some other claims are larger than they need to be.
  2. Almost without exception, the MPs questioned about such apparently inflated claims say the same thing “it is within the rules”.  Even when returning money to the Fees Office they maintain they did nothing wrong.  Some, like our friend Francis Maude, even go so far as to say that their third home is within the spirit as well as the letter of the rules.

How to reconcile the two opinions which are so different and yet almost unanimously held by the two groups of people?  The cognitive ethical failure theory suggests that when MPs say that £1500+ a month in mortgage interest is perfectly reasonable for somewhere to crash it is because they actually believe it.   So if the typical opinion of somebody who has been an MP for ten years or more is the opposite of the typical opinion of somebody who has never been an MP it could point to a system that changes people’s attitudes over time.

Alternatively it could just mean that the sort of person who becomes an MP is not representative of the general population. Another explanation could be that when they say that they have done nothing wrong, they do not actually believe what they are saying.   Remember this is not just one or two any more – it looks like at least a third of all members have gone so far as to pay money back.

It has got to the point where, if an MP says they have done nothing wrong, and anything they have claimed is within the letter and spirit of the rules, I’m no longer sure if it is more of a concern if they are just saying that or if they actually believe it.

It is not all doom and gloom though: all the revelations may indeed point to a a rotten system, but isn’t it encouraging that it arouses such strong feelings in the public?  It shows that we do expect better, that we still cling to some old-fashioned ideas that public representatives need to be better than us.  I can think of some countries where the sort of nwes we have been getting would just be greeted with a collective shrug from the public because that is what they expect from their politicians.  It is quite touching that we do expect more, despite the general decline in political engagement.

Or is that just clutching at straws to find a silver lining?


One Comment so far ↓

  • Richard

    “Cognitive Ethical Failure” ?

    Cut the psycho-babble crap.

    We’ve simply lost the plot with our lack of moral intelligence – and dangerously & pitifully unaware of it.