Open mic: All you can get, when you can

While it can be universally agreed one shouldn’t take more than he or she needs, who among us doesn’t need more money?

Last month’s local Philosopher’s Café discussion posed whether one should: “Take all you can get while you can get it?”

The question derived from a statement made by an employee literally “stealing away” from a company I’d founded.

And it’s timely insofar as each revelation from the Mike Duffy Senate corruption trial reiterates my fear that firmly adhering to principles leaves one out of step with society at large.

Points made by the 30-plus forum participants (ranging from teens to octogenarians) include: human nature derives from our species ability to survive; feast and famine cycles; dog-eat-dog capitalism has, thus far, proven the best means to increase living standards overall; patronage is endemic to every system of governance that has ever existed; globalization has lessened the need for an allegiance to community life; technology has allowed such an abundance of perspectives that any conclusion is now, arguably, just a different shade of gray.

Thus we have Senator Duffy, an Ottawa based political TV reporter who shamelessly badgered first Liberal and then Conservative governments to anoint him a Senate Poobah. Prime Minister Stephen Harper did so, it seems, on the premise Senator Duffy would become a steadfast Conservative Party apparatchik. And when the ‘Honorable Chamber’ oriented incoming Senators Duffy and Wallin (another TV celebrity turned Conservative Party grandee) the guideline suggested to them in writing was there are essentially neither rules nor oversight about what they could charge to the taxpayer.

Now despite absolutely none of this being unknown practice, suddenly everyone is shocked.

While it can be universally agreed one shouldn’t take more than he or she needs, who among us doesn’t need more money – even if only on the rationalization that we will then do good with it?

Next factor in a lack of consequences – B.C. Liberal ministerial aides pled guilty to corruption charges (related to a $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization) and .received probation, government payment of their $6 million in legal fees, plus re-election of their Liberal Party partners. If citizens and the legal system are too dumb or ignorant/or lazy or biased to protest public resources being misallocated, why not belly up to the trough every chance you get?

When one of the tenets of right-wing politicians is government needs to shrink, what better way to hasten that process than by taking so much as to make cutbacks inevitable?

Principles? Former NDP Premier Glen ‘Socialist’ Clark carved out a career in the private sector upon leaving office whereas, Gordon ‘Free Market’ Campbell safely ensconced himself in a comfy government sinecure.

The point I am trying to rally against is that idealism doesn’t seem to pay as well as selfishness. And while it’s easy to spout that money can’t buy happiness, these days it can at least buy lawyers, public relations flacks and silk sheets to enable a great night’s sleep.

After all, the Golden Rule can be either, “Do unto others as you would have done to yourself,” or, “He who has the gold makes the rules” – depending on one’s needs.

All of which is not to regurgitate Michael Douglas’s “Greed is Good” catchphrase for the 1990s.  Nor is it to admonish voter apathy – this fall’s federal election will, in this regard, be pretty much a choice between ‘We weren’t corrupt’ vs. ‘We won’t be corrupt this time’ vs. ‘We won’t be corrupt when it’s our turn.’

Maturity is understanding opportunities need to be seized whenever and however they present themselves. To the extent a conclusion is available from such discussions, a key message from the above forum was that self-interest is nothing to be ashamed of.


• By Mike Shields, who grew up locally and hosts SFU’s Philosopher’s Café Sessions at the Maple Ridge Act Theater, 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month.