Thursday, April 14, 2011


High Grant has suffered at the hands of the paparazzi and celebrity journalism and has paid back in an article in New Statesman.

On one level it simply feels like payback - a topic on which I'll return to in this post.

But while he's used the tools of payback by secretly recording the conversation he has used the interview to skillfully reveal the moral question at the heart of this. As Hugh Grant says his job is acting not being a celebrity, the intrusions cannot be justified on the grounds that his job is being a celebrity.

The former journalist's other defence is based on the wealth of the celebrities - which feels like it is some kind of "social interest tax" argument. It is the same kind of distorted morality that I outlined in an itNews story on copyright.

As I'm want to actually spend time considering morals, this is an opportune time to consider the theory of "payback".

The biblical adage of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is often used as a justification for an approach to justice that extracts direct revenge. As first introduced in the bible at Exodus 21:24 it reads just like that, that the punishment is to be exactly that.

But it is interesting to note that the verse before basically carries the instruction that (in a case where a woman miscarries due to being injured) the victim (well, being patriarchal, the husband of the victim) can set the penalty.

In this context then Exodus 21:24 can be read as an instruction on the MAXIMUM penalty that can apply. That is, you should not exact two eyes for an eye (or cut off the hand of a thief, etc).

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount used the text in one of his "you have heard it said..." pieces. He repudiates the general tenor and introduces the concept of "turning the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38).

Justice is not retribution. Justice is not about the psychological gobbeledy-gook of "closure" nor about "victims rights". Justice is about the process of getting everyone to follow the rules and having appropriate consequences for not following them. The twin biblical invocations are that the punishment should never be more extreme than the crime, and that the punishment should not be motivated by revenge.

This is the version of "judeo-christianity" that has been successful in building the modern democratic market economy state. But to get there you have to accept that you need a system of rules. That's what the newspapers and their staff in the UK seem to have completely forgotten.

Finally, we return to the question of Murdoch. I've noted the weazel words that News Limited has used thus far. The question remains "did Murdoch know"? If the answer is "yes" he needs to be far more direct about owning up and admitting the error. If the answer is "no" he needs to explain the failure of governance in the corporation and what he is doing about it. But he can't just stay silent.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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