Fine-Grained Morality

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A lot of the news and commentary I read is left-wing or liberal. But one blog I read which often throws up the other side of the argument is "Inspector Gadget" on the Police Inspector Blog. The anonymous writer is a police inspector in the "Ruralshire Constabulary". He's intelligent, expressive and brutally honest about the conditions in which he and his men have to work, and he often makes points which are...disconcerting.

They're disconcerting because they sound a lot like the morality we hear spouted in pubs, on daytime TV shows and of course in the tabloid newspapers every day. Dole scroungers and criminal underclasses on the estates, immigrant mafia, and a "liberal elite" trying to stop him doing his job of locking up the bad guys. But the inescapable fact is that, while his opinions may be almost diametrically opposed to mine, he reports the facts as he experiences them and references his statements well.

In the G20 London riots, my political leanings would place me firmly on the side of the protestors. But quite honestly, I can't see what good they could possibly have been doing. How is seeing blank-eyed teenagers with beards stuttering in front of the news cameras “Well, it's like, we've got to show them we won't take it any more!” going to inspire anyone to change this (admittedly appalling) system? And what change are firebombs going to bring, except further animosity and labelling of political activists?

When we choose political/social "sides", attaching ourselves to this wing or that, or using (and accepting) labels like "liberal" or "conservative", we are oversimplifying the vast and intricate world of human understanding. We accept a coarse-grained framework which tries to split the world into a small number of simple relationships, and place them on either side of the oldest artificial division of all – right vs wrong.

I feel we owe it to ourselves to question every assumption we have inherited from our upbringing, our political framework, our religious history, our peers, and discover for ourselves the fine-grained, shaded model of right and wrong that fits the complex and often paradoxical world we live in.

Mark Hewitt is a writer, techie, foodie and philosopher. You can read more of his work at

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Yes, one can't but agree with what you say, but it almost seems to be a recipe for doing nothing but watching and waiting. One shouldn't ask "what good can they possibly be doing"? but "what else can they do"? and, "is it a teeny bit better than doing nothing"?

See "The Green Custard Attack"

What's Better than Demos?

That's a very fair point, and while I used that example to make a point rather than exploring all the ramifications, I've got to admit a personal tendency to sit back and be a critic without really doing as much as the people I'm criticising.

If I had to answer the question "What else can they do" - I personally believe that change to our system is going to come out of new democratising forces which change the incentives in the political system to push towards honesty and accountability rather than deception and greed.

Politicians are just people, and right now the incentives for politicians and lawmakers are not towards good democratic behaviour but towards protecting oneself and grabbing what you can while you've got the chance. Initiatives like, by making information on our democratic representatives available and accessible to everyone, are forcing politicians to be accountable and the public to be aware, which has got to be a good thing - those kind of projects are where I think real manpower and resources should be put if we're going to make things better.

Good God this turned into a long reply :) Thanks for the question, made me think!

Great piece Mark. I wrote a

Great piece Mark.
I wrote a comment earlier, but it seems to have vanished.

Hi Graham, glad you enjoyed

Hi Graham, glad you enjoyed it and thanks for making the effort to comment again!