Posted: June 21, 2012 in Opinion piece
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‘Culture’ is an interesting term. We generally understand culture as a concept defining the arts and other areas of particular creative and intellectual interest, though another use is of course to describe patterns of behaviour.

If one person in a community decides to wear a teapot on their heads, it is a unique mannerism. If most people in the community also do this, it becomes a culture. We see this in its most positive form when Native American, African or other such regional fashion or art is replicated or interpreted elsewhere in the world. But what about the more negative possibilities?

Crime is always an emotive discussion point. Our laws are put into place to keep us as safe from the threat of it as possible, whilst simultaneously providing a deterrent for any of us who should impinge them. We all break the law from time to time, either knowingly or unknowingly. Tossing a crisp packet from a car window; failing to clear up dog mess; not noticing your expired MOT for a few days. The important thing is that we all live in fear of the consequences of felonious behaviour, somewhat. Depending on our background, motives and community, that is. A couple of errant delinquents vandalising and causing a nuisance is not a big problem. A gang of young men, possible armed, terrorising their estate, is a big problem. The difference is usually the old axiom about “bad apples spoiling the bunch”.

Most human behaviour is predictable; it is heavily influenced by peers and those we admire. If a couple of kids feel like they are above the law, their influence can spread, and we are left with a ‘culture of crime’. There are many advocates of the ‘broken window’ theory, which suggests petty crime left unchecked will inevitably lead to a feeling of invincibility amongst the perpetrators, who will in turn go on to commit more serious crimes. But this much is surely self-evident, and the police force is specifically entailed to be on top of any long and short term anti-crime strategies.

The more worrying cultures developing are those that are not criminal, though immoral at the same time. Members of parliament claiming excessive and sometimes farcically self-indulgent ‘expenses’ or needless second homes did not number a handful. It was endemic; a culture. Not criminal, but, to any person with a strong moral code, unacceptable. Tax avoidance by the very rich is another issue that has become a culture. Whether or not someone very wealthy thinks a particular tax rate is fair is beside the point: we live in a democracy, and we pay the rate we are set. We can campaign all we like against it, but we contribute our fair share until the rate changes. Whether we deem ourselves more important than others is again beside the point. It is not down to the individual to determine how much tax they are willing to pay. And yet, the state has unfortunately colluded, in allowing individuals to do just this, and as some have done, others have followed. Another unpleasant culture has evolved.

In short, if something is not condemned or punished adequately at source, it is an unfortunate facet of human nature to push the boundaries for self-advancement, and of course another facet of human nature is to imitate those we aspire to be like, either in a positive or negative way. Once the majority of the crowd behave in a certain way, it is tacitly accepted as natural behaviour and imitated with little shame. No matter how we paint ourselves as models of virtue, doing what is morally right in any given circumstance, we will always be tempted when there is little perceived reprimand for dubious behaviour. If the gains appear to outweigh the likely potential losses, of course a majority will go with it. This, after all, is essentially how the economic crash of 2008 occurred, when regulation had been removed to such an extent that potential consequences seemed minimal, compared to the mind-boggling personal gains on offer.

‘Criminal culture’; ‘benefits culture’; ‘tax avoidance culture’, they all speak to the same overarching ‘culture’ of greed, which was nurtured with relish in the 1980s and even proclaimed in the country’s interests, rather than simply the individual’s. Bending a few rules and societal conventions to further oneself; keeping more of what’s yours; sticking it to the system. Is it any wonder it has permeated all social classes and generations in the years since?


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