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AUSTRALIA’S BANKS ARE WOUNDED, BUT NOT SLAIN

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The Royal Commission into the banking and finance sectors has uncovered damning evidence of inappropriate conduct among Australia’s top banks. The Commonwealth Bank was found to have charged fees to a client despite knowing that they had died in 2007. Anthony Ryan confessed that AMP had essentially stolen client’s money by charging fees for no service (a practice the Commonwealth Bank was also found to have engaged in).

And then there were the instances of dishonesty, the falsification of documents, and the handing out of irresponsible loans uncovered by the Commission.

As one may well imagine, the fallout from the Commission has had a largely negative effect on the banks. AMP has rejected criminal charges. But their CEO, Craig Mellor resigned in the middle of April, and they have replaced their Chairman, Catherine Brenner, with David Murray. Similarly, the Commonwealth Bank agreed to pay twenty-five million dollars in legal settlements after ASIC brought legal action against them over bank bill swap rates.

Analyst Morgan Stanley expressed concern over the outlook of the 2019 financial year, according to a report by Business Insider. Mr. Stanley has argued that the “negative stance” on the major banks reflects a more bearish economy.

Similarly, Financial Review reported that foreign investors had taken a negative view towards Australia’s banking sector, and the financial services firm AMP. The Chief Investment Officer of Credit Suisse Private Banking in Australia, Andrew McAuley commented that “our intel is telling us that banks are being shorted by overseas investors.”

And, by extension, there is a clear and present danger that Canberra will act in a knee-jerk reaction and vote for more stringent regulations on banks. The kind of regulations that will make it harder for the banks to operate effectively.

Despite all this, it would foolish to write off Australia’s top banks. The finds of the Commission, though damning, does not change the fact that banks play an integral role in Australia’s economy. Banks provide a place for people to store and protect their money, facilitates loans, and helps people invest their wealth. And in a culture that seems more interested by which overgrown monkey will kick the most goals in a football game, or which brain-dead contestant on The Bachelor will break down into tears first, it is very likely that the banking scandal will be forgotten rather quickly. Australia’s banks may be wounded, but they have not been slain.

The Qualities That Build Society

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Everyone versed in culture and politics understands the truth in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s (1792 – 1822) argument that creators of culture are the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Our view of the world is derived from our religious beliefs, the stories we read as children, the movies we watched, the cultural customs we become accustomed to, and so forth. It is not that culture constructs the physical edifices of civilisation per say, but that culture forms the values and philosophies upon which civilisation is founded.

In the west, the prevailing cultural narrative champions wholesome virtues: kindness, compassion, love, fair-play, and so forth, as being the only way to achieve prosperity and success. The individual must avoid combat with others, and be polite, civil, pleasant, and diplomatic to all. To be seen using aggression or wanting power leads to social isolation. This has certainly been the message in culture. In Shakespeare’s Richard III, the title character is a corrupt, twisted, and Machiavellian prince who schemes his way into power. By contrast, the future Henry VII is seen to be fair and humane. By the end of the play, Richard dies hated even by members of his own family, whereas Henry is celebrated as a noble hero.

This worldview bears little resemblance to reality:

“The manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself with the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself; since anyone who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything, must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential for a prince who wishes to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not to use his goodness as necessity requires.” (Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532, Chapter 15, page 114)

Bubbling just below the surface are the real, amoral virtues which foster prosperity and success. In Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) puts forth the following proposition:

“Suppose nothing is given as ‘real’ except our world of desires and passions, and we could not get down, or up, to any other ‘reality’ besides the reality of our drives.”  (Beyond Good and Evil, page 59).

Maybe we aren’t as driven by morality and Godliness as we like to think we are. Maybe we are driven by lust for power, material wealth, and sex. (This, of course, brings forth the possibility that the purpose of wholesomeness is to temper our real desires).

Even though we loathe having to admit it, all of us want power. Power gives us greater control and makes us feel more secure. But since it is socially unacceptable to be seen wanting power we are forced to rely on subtlety. We are forced to become honest on the one hand, and duplicitous on the other, congenial yet cunning, democratic yet devious.

In chapter twenty-one of the Prince, Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) wrote: “Nothing makes a prince so well thought of as to undertake great enterprises and give striking proofs of his capacity.” Our civilisation was built through ambitious and power-hungry individuals. Not by the wholesome virtues presented to us.

MORE INFORMATION ON THE CHARLOTTESVILLE TRAGEDY

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Americans are recoiling from the tragic events that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday. The tragic succession of events, which saw violence between the Unite the Right protesters and counter-protesters and culminated in a vicious car attack,  left nineteen people injured and thirty-two-year-old Heather Heyer dead.

On Monday, President Trump bowed to pressure to name and shame those whose ideology inspired yesterday’s hate crime.  Trump stated:

“Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK,  neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as  Americans. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry strike at the very core of America.”

Political reactions have been swift and damning. Michael McCaul, Republican Congressman from Texas and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, tweeted:

“We must condemn the hate fueling the violence in #Charlottesville. It does not define us as Americans. Those affected are in my prayers.”

Republican Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, meanwhile, has called for the Department of Justice to investigate the events of Charlottesville as an act of domestic terrorism. Cruz stated:

“It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed.  Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in  Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably,  but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society. The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies,  bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car  deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately  investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.”

At a press conference on Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas claims police had planned to move the Unite the Right protesters to the rear of Emancipation park. The protesters had originally agreed to cooperate with police. However, police were forced to alter their plans when protesters began entering the park at different locations.

The perpetrator of the attack, James Alex Fields, Jr., a self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler, has been charged with second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and failure to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in death. He has been denied bail.

SELF MASTERY

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This week for our theological article, King Alfred Press will be exploring the quest for self-mastery and its importance in living a pious life.

For years, “living in the moment” has been popular advice among self-help gurus. No need to learn from history, no need to think about the consequences of your behaviour, the only thing that matters is satisfying present desires.

However, there is a fundamental problem with living in the moment: it causes you to act impulsively.  You become a slave to circumstance. You end up becoming the sort of person who engages in unhealthy, short-term relationships, you become the sort of person who spends without thought and rack up massive credit card debts.  Compulsive eaters have been known to literally eat themselves to death, and there is little need to discuss the relationship between crime and the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

The rational antidote, then, to living in the moment is to orientate yourself towards self-mastery. By doing so, we can live pro-active, Godly lives. God expects us to be diligent with what we have and where we are before we move forward with our lives.  As it is written in the Gospel according to Luke (chapter sixteen, verse ten):

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are
dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities”

Self-mastery helps you achieve mastery of your own emotions, affections, likes, and desires.

So, how do you go about achieving self-mastery? Well, I cannot pretend to have the answers. However, it is eminently obvious that changing your daily habits is a good place to start.

First, engage in daily prayer. It will help you quieten your mind and communicate with God.  Read your Bible or Torah. Remind yourself every day of what God expects of you. Second, practice self-denial. Third, do things deliberately, with purpose – act as though everything you do matters. Fourth, don’t lie – especially to yourself. The only way to overcome your problems is by being honest about them. Fifth, take care of your mind, body, and your surroundings. As Professor Jordan B. Peterson famously advises: “clean your room!” Keep your workspace clean and tidy, put everything where it belongs, make yourself orderly.