Monkey business

One of the things I am most enjoying in what is laughingly called semi-retirement is the distance it allows me from what was once all-consuming. I am no longer a lawyer, and have nothing to prove: I have been there, done that and worn the t-shirt for far too long. Instead, I feel I have much to achieve still, and the energy to do it – and I no longer have to climb the hierarchy. The struggle up the greasy pole is a thing of the past.

I have been reading Dario Maestripieri’s article The Origins of Power in the RSA’s Summer Journal. I liked the section in which he considers the different social strategies of male rhesus macaques. He describes the problems for ‘challenger immigrants’ – “young, strong and impulsive, and [with] no patience for waiting in a queue”, who are not always successful, and then goes on,

In larger groups, despotic alpha males have built a system of alliances to protect their status and privileges. When ambitious males join one of these groups, their best bet is ‘challenger resident’ strategy. Challenger residents do not immediately confront the alpha male. Instead, they start out as low ranking and concentrate on building alliances with other males. Only after they have identified the strengths and weaknesses of the alpha male, become familiar with social dynamics within the group and established political alliances with other males do they launch an attack on the alpha male. Given their knowledge and strategic ability, challenger residents are often successful in defeating the alpha male and taking his place at the top.

Sound familiar? Simply substitute lawyer for macaque.

The arrogance of power

Catching up with a week of feeds after a hectic few days, my eye was caught by John Naughton’s post in Memex 1.1 Inside the bunker, linking to the FT’s piece about life in Number 10 (and perfectly juxtaposed with Naughton’s subsequent post, Hitler: the remix. When will someone do the same for Gordon: I would, if I had the IT skill: the Lisbon Treaty, Henley, Wendy Alexander etc.).

Now, this morning, Willem Buiter’s post in his FT Maverecon blog, Manners matter – especially for powerful individuals and institutions. This is Buiter’s conclusion on the Treasury, so long the home and fiefdom of Gordon Brown,

Politicians and others in positions of power should be judged not only on the quality of the decisions they take and the choices they make, but also on the manners they display in their public and administrative roles.  The arrogance of power manifests itself in unnecessary brutality and cruelty – sometimes born of ignorance or indifference, sometimes deliberate – toward those whom it considers ‘disposable’.  As the most powerful government department, the Treasury displays contempt for and nastiness towards those whom it considers to be obstacles to the effective pursuit of its goals, more frequently and with greater intensity than other institutions.

Even when the goals of the Treasury are aligned with the public interest, there is no presumption that these ends will justify the means used to achieve them.  This is true even when these means are necessary; it is true a fortiori if the means are unnecessary ‘bad manners’ add-ons.

In practice, even the goals of the Treasury can be in conflict with the committed pursuit of the public interest.  They may represent no more than the opportunistic pursuit of party-political or other sectional interests.  To use gratuitous nastiness in the pursuit of the wrong objectives would be the nadir of public policy.  Regrettably we see this too often.