Colin's Cornucopia

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21st November 2011

Dear Sir,

One day last week I was pottering in the garden, literally potting winter pansies. My next-door-neighbour came out and shouted at me to come to the front of the house. I hurried to the street to find him confronting two men in a car. There was a pile of rubbish on the pavement and some wet dark stains around two broken bottles. I had cleaned the street only an hour before when it had been pristine. One of the men sheepishly picked up some of the rubbish and took it to a nearby bin out for collection day.

My neighbour fetched a broom and ordered one of the men to sweep the pavement. He refused. My neighbour swung the broom at him and the man took off down the street with my neighbour in hot pursuit. I picked up most of the remaining litter and threw it through the open door of the car. I picked up an open bottle of some horrid liquid and took it to his car. Logically I should have thrown it all over the inside of his car just as he had covered my pavement with broken glass and foul liquid. But I did not. I could not breach the fundamental courtesy which had been an integral part of my upbringing. Even though, at that moment, I thought this man to be the lowest scum I had ever had the misfortune to meet, I could not bring myself to assault him. I placed it carefully on the floor of his car. Even this scum could not destroy my basic courtesy.

The driver could not understand why I should be angry. He was well dressed, probably well educated, he spoke well and was totally bewildered that I should be offended by his action. “It’s a public street” he protested implying he had a perfect right to dump his rubbish in public. He clearly had not the faintest idea what he had done wrong. I educated him rapidly with a few well chosen words and then slammed the door of his car with a firm and clear instruction to leave.
Both my neighbour and I were quite upset by the whole thing and I thought about it for some while. We are used to idiots driving past and throwing half eaten meals out of the window but these men were clearly well educated and were not yobbos. But still they had not the faintest understanding of how they should behave. I asked myself how is it that a man can go through thirty years of parenting and three or four stages of education without learning basic courtesy?

The answer is, I think, that courtesy is the prime recognition of rights. Rights belong equally to all men and any philosophical or political system that does not recognise that fundamental premise is doomed to failure. Every man must treat every other man as equal and the way we do this in practice is through courtesy. I do not throw my rubbish on my neighbour’s property because I recognise his right not to be so assailed. So it is, and must be, with all matters of association in a free society.

The banker who gambles with his depositor’s money and destroys the bank while walking away with a multi million pound pension is guilty of discourtesy to his customers. They trusted him and his recognition of their rights demand that he look after their money with great care. His actions breach that trust and breach the fundamental human rights of all his customers. His action is immoral and should be illegal.

The politician who makes promises he knows he can never keep is guilty of deceiving his constituents and all those who are entitled to believe that all his actions will be in the interest of his constituents and of the parliament and country. Those politicians whose main aim is to stuff their pockets are being discourteous to their electorate and breaching the fundamental premise that all men are equal. Their actions are immoral and should be illegal.

The head of a multi-national corporation is betraying many people when he buys a thriving company and exports its production facilities abroad. He is betraying the workers and suppliers and by his discourtesy depriving them of their rights. He is also betraying the workers in the distant country to which he takes the work because he makes sure to hire them at much lower rates of pay even to the extent of instituting slave labour. He is acting extremely discourteously and depriving all around him of their fundamental right not to be assailed by him. His only motive is his bonus. His actions are immoral and should be illegal.

It is then, perhaps not surprising that my assailant had no understanding whatever of his folly. The ethic of this world demands that self comes first regardless of the consequences. The fundamental concept that the demand for exercising my rights bears with it the recognition of the equal rights of others has been deliberately destroyed by modern moralists. Damn you and damn yours is the morality of our current system. It is not surprising that it is currently coming apart at the seams. Starting at the top, men deny others courtesy and thereby deny their human rights. They do not understand rights and therefore have no use for courtesy.

The man who assailed me had a very short sharp lesson which he will not forget in a hurry but I wonder how long it will take us to teach those who crave and misuse power what they must do and, indeed, what we must do to put them in their place.

Adam Smith wrote ‘The Wealth of Nations’ in 1776 partly as a reaction to the depredations of the East India Company. It had a very chequered history and should have been a lesson to us all on corporate criminality. The wealth of Nations is held up as a fundamental treatise on Laissez Faire capitalism but Smith ringed his story round with many caveats which have been conveniently forgotten. His system was very clearly intended to be subservient to a sovereign state which it served as a producer of wealth for all the people of the state. The present system he warned against and would have horrified him. Similarly Keynes would not commend the present system. Eisenhower warned against it and Roosevelt fought it.

The present political-economic system is clearly at fault and the reason is that it denies most of us our fundamental human rights. For several centuries our forefathers successfully pursued the notion of freedom and developed the nation state as the best means of securing the rights of man. We have now abandoned this quest and seek only mammon and the bottom line of the company report. We have become an extremely rude and discourteous lot – and the reaction shows in the camps and riots of disaffected people throughout the world.

I suspect that the 'Arab Spring' is not a reaction against bad local government but against the total lack of truth and honesty in our worship of the Bottom Line which our multi-nationals have foisted on the largely Muslim countries. Do you wonder at their anger?

Yours sincerely,

Colin Walker.

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