When we talk about poverty, we need to talk about justice

In the UK, governments have discussed poverty and anti-poverty strategies for many years. They set targets and talked about the economic and political programs to reduce poverty. When the targets are not met, the governments redefine the target or the delivery date. The debate often focuses on how to measure it. Most officials and experts agree on four methods to measure poverty: relative, absolute, material, and social mobility.

  • In relative terms – This is measured against other incomes. The measure describes the income needed to participate in activities seen to be normal by society. The measure is at 60% below average income.
  • In absolute terms – does a family’s income supply them with the means for subsistence? This is measured at 60% below the median income in a particular year, not adjusted for inflation.
  • In material terms – can and do families access the material goods and services to participate fully in society?
  • In terms of social mobility does a person or parent’s income determine their life chances or their children’s outcomes?[1]

What these have in common is that they are all based on measuring poverty in economic terms.

If it can be measured it can be managed.

Poverty is often, but not always, reduced to an economic issue. As an economic issue, it becomes a technical issue and not an ethical issue. When a target is not met, the government can claim it has improved its chances” at meeting the target. The target becomes a symbol of commitment rather than a goal. A decent government is committed to reducing or eliminating or alleviating poverty. The challenge is to turn that goal into a practical programme that will deliver it. Yet, the focus on delivery targets often comes at the price of the political question that poverty creates: the question of justice.

We will always have the poor which is why we always need politics and justice.

Poverty is a political question because its source relates to the nature of the society we want government to create and protect.  In that sense, poverty may not have a solution and remain a permanent question for all governments. As Jesus said, we will always have the poor.[2] People will always make choices that lead to consequences. As a result, in any society, there will be people of different outcomes and different talents. Christ’s statement may force us to understand that poverty reflects the nature of the society we want and have. How do we deal with the poor?

Can we create a just society with or without a revolution?

A decent society that promotes the common good is one where the poor are able to participate in the system not just live on its economic or political margins. When the poor lack access to justice it reflects the type of society we have.[3] When the poor are denied justice or an active participation in society, they cannot receive justice. Without justice, poverty cannot be addressed. Therein we see the political question that governments want to avoid. Justice, in that sense, produces a political problem that cannot be reduced to an economic target. The reason is that it requires a view of the common good, which runs contrary to the preferred approach to handling poverty. A government can focus on the symptoms of poverty, its material outcomes, to avoid the question of what type of society it creates through education and laws.[4] Unless we are prepared to discuss justice, we cannot begin to talk about poverty. Perhaps, this is the lesson we have yet to learn from the debate over austerity and its effect on poverty.

[1] http://www.cesi.org.uk/keypolicy/child-poverty

[2] Matthew 26:11

[3] An interesting approach to this issue is the Centre for Social Justice. They have pursued the idea of putting social justice at the heart of British Politics. What we find though is that despite their best intentions, they too, soon revert to an economic solution view of the issue. If we had the right policies and programmes in place we would deal with social justice. Instead, they need to look at how society understands social justice and what is needed to change that view of social justice, and justice generally, to improve social justice for dealing with poverty.

[4] Here is where we rarely see politicians or groups connecting the overall policies and procedures across education, criminal justice, welfare, and economic policies to consider the society that they want to create. One can find it only by default, by what is not being done or said, rather than what is intended. Moreover, one rarely finds it specifically mentioned except in platitudes or platforms. To put it another way, who is for poverty? Who is for ignorance? Who is for unemployment or family breakdowns?

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Getting beyond the Rotherham Scandal Headlines

Rotherham Station in 1840

Rotherham Station in 1840 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we are to understand the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation scandal, we have to move beyond the headlines and the news stories. We may wish to stay on the surface of the issue and accept uncritically the journalist’s view or the politician’s view. For most of us going about our business, this is all we need. However, we need to go beyond the headlines if we are to understand the issue. Other people will have their own agenda in promoting various parts of the story and are unlikely to report the stories with the same interest or enthusiasm. If we accept their views, we become captives to what they want us to believe.

I raise this point for two reasons. First, it illustrates what went wrong in Rotherham. The scandal occurred in large part because the officers and the organisations accepted the surface view of the issue. They focused on the symptoms without understanding the problem. They did not ask critical questions and try to get to the root of the issue. They remained on the surface even when outside agencies, including journalists, tried to get them to think about it.

Find the evidence to hold public power to account.

Second, if the public hope to hold power to account over the wider institutional child abuse across the UK, they will need to go to primary sources and look at the evidence. If the public rely on the journalists or the politicians to understand the problems, they will be captive to what the establishment want them to think about the issue. The public need to look at the evidence and decide. By looking at the evidence, they can make a critical judgement about what the journalists and politicians are telling them about the child abuse inquiry.

If you follow the evidence you can understand the issue.

The Rotherham Scandal offers us an insight into what the UK child abuse scandal may look like. In that scandal, a number of stories or myths emerged that have shaped how the public understand the issue. Many people accept uncritically the twin argument that only white girls were being groomed, exploited, and abused and the victims were only girls rather than boys and young men. What we find when we read the Jay report is that ethnic minority girls were also exploited. We also find that boys and young men were abused.

Institutional abuse of power is often away from the headlines and the limelight

If we look at what is happening away from the main headlines, we see institutional abuses of power. The original reports and statement by the Home Office researcher who was ignored by the Council and the Police, we see a bleak and damning picture of how institutional power can be used to silence critics. Unless we look at her testimony and the evidence provided to the Home Office, we miss the story. We need to see the detail to understand the story. Even though journalists pursue stories, they are less interested in uncovering or creating documentary evidence for others to explore. They want people to read their stories, which they are paid for, and not for developing research sources.

Some links and sites to provide context for the Rotherham Scandal

To understand the Rotherham Scandal, I have compiled a list of sites and documents. I do not claim the list is complete or without some intrinsic bias. I have relied exclusively on official sources. However, I think these documents and these sites are important because they will help readers and researchers who hope to explore the topic.

Start with the official record to know how the story is understood by authority

The first place to start is always what the official record is saying. The Parliamentary Committee are a good starting place for written evidence and testimony by witnesses and experts. However, these are limited because they will only ask the question that interest them and are within the committee and the chair’s remit. Moreover, their work is always limited by their ability to ask questions. As I have written previously, poor questions soon turn a Committee meeting into political theatre.

What is particularly useful for the Parliamentary Committees is that the sessions are recorded. The reader can compare body language and tone of voice to the written evidence in the published transcripts. Transcripts of the hearings are posted a few days after the sessions.


Home Affairs Committee


What is useful is that the documents contain links to the Parliament TV. Here is how the transcript is introduced.

Home Affairs Committee Oral evidence: Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming: follow-up, HC 203

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 9 September 2014.

Watch the meeting


The Communities and Local Government Committee


Rotherham Borough Council

Another site is the Rotherham Borough Council page with the list of the documents.



Here are some key documents in the Rotherham Child Sexual Exploitation Scandal.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 – 2013 (The Jay Report). http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1408/response_to_alexis_jay_report

This report contains the best analysis of the problem to date showing the attempts by the Council and the Police to deal with the issue. It also catalogues the limited success of each organisation to deal with the problem for a long time. What is encouraging is that the report was commissioned and the situation appears to be improving.

The Council’s response to the Jay report. http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1408/response_to_alexis_jay_report

This response is the Council’s official response. For the most part, it reiterates the positive points from the Jay Report. However, it has an interesting point on paragraph 9.9 where the Chief Executive explains that unlike the past, “Professional curiosity is encouraged and this supports staff to raise issues and know they will be taken seriously.” Perhaps this best summarizes why the Council and the Police failed to address the problem even as they dealt with symptoms.

Home Office Researcher’s written testimony to Home Affairs Committee.


The sworn testimony presents a depressing picture of how the Council and the Police behaved when they faced criticism for their handling of child sexual exploitation. As a trained and experienced solicitor working for an outside agency, the Home Office, one can see why she would have the fortitude to stick up for her research and for herself. However, even she admitted at the end, she could not sustain the fight against the institutional pressure. One wonders how a junior officer in either the police or the council would even dare to speak up especially if they lacked the same skills, job prospects, and independence of the trained solicitor. The testimony presents a sad and sobering reminder of how vicious employees can be when they abuse the power of their organisation and how reputation management can be used to justify such abuse of anyone who dares to question them let alone challenge them.

When challenged all the Executive officers expressed surprise and claimed they were unaware of such behaviour occurring in their organisation. We need to avoid the easy dichotomy that they were either out of touch with what was happening or they were complicit. Such a dichotomy does not help us understand the problem. Instead, we need to focus on the culture they were responsible for when mid-level officers can act in such a way with impunity or believe that they are serving the organisation (and the public) in acting that way.

Chapter 4 of the Pilot Report.


This is the report that the Home Office Researcher prepared and which upset the police and council officers in 2002 when it was written. When you read it, one has to wonder what they were as concerned about as it contains muted criticisms. The criticisms are based on the observable evidence, which indicates that personalities and egos were bruised rather than organisational interests being damaged. The response shows just how unwilling and unable the organisations were able to accept criticism at that time.

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The banality of institutional ignorance: Rotherham and child sexual exploitation

When people first heard the news about Rotherham Council’s child sexual exploitation scandal, they may have thought the Council and the Police were incompetent.[1] Some may have compared it to Haringey Council’s failure to protect Peter Donnelly (Baby P) and thought that as long as someone was sacked or people resigned, that should be enough. Such a surface view will keep us from understanding the problem. Why and how did Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police fail to identify the source, scale and scope of child sexual exploitation?

What is the problem that lurks beneath the scandal’s surface?

On the surface, we can say that Rotherham Council had a flawed corporate culture and focus on the personalities.[2] All this does is reward the same practices, focusing on the symptoms, without understanding the problem that created the scandal.[3] Another view on the surface is the claim by politicians that the problem was a dereliction of duty.[4] Yet, the report shows the officers were doing their duty and did, for the most part, try to act conscientiously within their understanding of the problem. Others stay on the surface by blaming someone or something in statements like “It is society’s neglect of children” or “It is class prejudices, racism, or sexism”, to explain the problem. These sound good, give a reasonable explanation and they are wrong. They forget that society does care. Society has created institutions to look after and protect children when their families cannot or will not.[5] These approaches deal with the symptoms of the problem but miss the heart of it. The problem was institutional ignorance. The organisations and the officers stopped thinking. What we find is the banality of institutional ignorance.

Institutional Ignorance a refusal to think about the problem

The banality of institutional ignorance is related to Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil”.[6] She coined the term to describe Adolph Eichmann’s unthinking behaviour to implement the “Final Solution” to exterminate Jews and other enemies of the Nazi state. He was not a grand, malevolent figure. Instead, he was an unthinking bureaucrat, which explains why evil was banal. Evil is rooted in thoughtlessness, an inability to think critically, and remaining on the surface of the issue.[7] Eichmann never questioned the purpose of what he was doing or what was being done. A good person would have thought about the problem and realized it was wrong and would not have participated. Instead, he worked to improve the system. As a good bureaucrat, he acted as though the system and obeying the system was what was important. The system provided a moral framework. As a result, the institutional ignorance reinforced and encouraged unthinking behaviour.

Institutional ignorance encourages the suppression of questions.

Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police demonstrated institutional ignorance. They, and their employees, were ignorant of the scale, scope, or source of the problem. Unlike Eichmann, though, they were not evil because they did think about the symptoms. Moreover, external organisations, through inspections, did try to provoke them to think.[8] However, all the main organisations involved and many of the officers did demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to understand the problem. They stayed on the surface of the symptoms and rarely thought critically about the problem’s scope or scale. What is striking from this scandal is that officers were discouraged from asking questions and thinking. When people did ask questions, they were either dismissed or suppressed. In one case, we have a credible allegation that an officer was intimidated for questioning the approach to the problem.[9] Senior managers dismissed these claims by suggesting the evidence was exaggerated. In one case, we have testimony that indicates that questions were actively suppressed.[10] Questions would force the organisations to “think” and take responsibility to understand the problem. The system kept anyone from thinking critically about what they were doing or failing to do.[11] When officers stop thinking, they stop being moral agents. They can avoid moral responsibility for their decisions and transfer accountability to the system. In turn, the system absolved them of a responsibility to think about the problem.

If the organisation refuses to think, why should the officers?

In the Rotherham scandal, we see what Arendt saw in Eichmann except on a smaller scale. The system worked. The organisations had processes and procedures in place to help deal with child sexual exploitation. The police could point to their commitment to deliver the community’s priorities, which were vehicle crimes and burglary. If the community was not interested in child sexual exploitation, why should the police be curious about it? They did not have to think, they had to follow. We must remember they were not idle men.[12] What they lacked was curiosity. The senior officers had higher priorities and they made sure the frontline staff understood and followed those priorities. In turn, the frontline officers could justify their approach to the issue. They shared the same belief as social workers that it was acceptable for a teenager to be in a promiscuous consensual sexual relationship with an adult. The social workers and their managers could justify their work. Their professional judgement indicated that a child could make a “lifestyle choice”[13] to engage in a promiscuous consensual sexual relationship with an adult male. As Sonia Sharp, a former head of Children’s Services, explained, it was normal for the social workers and the police to believe that a vulnerable child could consent to sex with an adult.[14] In all cases, officers and their managers could point to a system, procedures, policies, and partnerships to deal with the issue.

Why question something when your superiors tell you what to think about it?

Why should officers question the system or what they were doing when the system does not encourage it and senior managers are willing to “put it in context”?[15] What junior officer is going to challenge a corporate director on that view? The senior officers and Members had an agreed institutional reputation to defend. Why should they challenge it or encourage anyone, in particular junior officers, to question it? The senior officers modelled the unthinking behaviour as they did not question evidence, challenge assumptions, or try to understand the problem. We see a senior officer testify that she never questioned why no one listened to her reports. She simply passed her reports up the chain of command and for her the system worked. It was not for her to question the system. She provided her reports to the Lead Member for children’s issues.[16] In turn, he testified that he endorsed the officer’s professional recommendations.[17] In one case, he doubled the budget. He never challenged their arguments, evidence, or assumptions of the problem. He lacked curiosity about the problem and followed or amplified what the officers recommended. The Scrutiny Committee never challenged the organisation or the officer’s assumptions on these issues. They seemed to accept almost uncritically, what the officers were doing.[18] Officers and Members did their duty, they made the system work, they just never thought about it.

When you stop thinking, you stop acting morally.

The institutional ignorance also explains why whistle blowers never emerged.[19] A whistle blower would require someone to know the scale or scope of the problem. As the council and the police clearly lacked a candid culture where challenging questions were encouraged, why would someone try to find out enough to blow the whistle? Whom would they tell?[20] From the report, we can see that the cultures discouraged challenging questions or curiosity. We can see this in the way senior police officers reacted to Parliamentary questions. If a senior officer is willing to respond aggressively to an MP in a public forum, how are they going to behave with a junior officer inside the force?[21] Would they encourage challenging question in the force? As they were at pains to explain, they tell their officers their priorities and officers will follow those priorities.[22] We have no evidence that senior officers asked frontline officers how they understood those priorities. Obedience rather than thinking appears to be what matters.

Professional curiosity should be mandatory, not recommended.

The Chief Executive’s response to the Jay Report shows us clearly that institutional ignorance existed. He made the apparently unremarkable statement that “The council now encourages professional curiosity”.[23] How many organisations have to reassure the public that officers are allowed to ask questions? What we see in all bureaucracies is a focus on secrecy that limits information on a need to know basis. These characteristics inhibit questions. When the Chief Executive has to say publicly that staff are now encouraged to think, you know you have a problem. However, we have to remember that throughout the scandal, the system and actors did what was asked of them. They remained institutionally ignorant of the problem and thus could not be responsible for it. If no one was responsible, then no one can be guilty.[24]

What needs to change to encourage ethical thinking?

For Rotherham Council to change, it has to look at the whole organisation. If it focuses on Children’s services or Safeguarding, it will miss the forest for the trees. A curiosity culture across the council is needed. Officers have to be encouraged to think and act ethically across the organisation to change it. Senior officers and Members will model the desired behaviour. The following are some steps to create a curiosity culture.

First, they need to demonstrate a culture where bad news can be discussed and acted upon by the organisation collectively. Bad news is not left to a service or a senior management team to manage. The organisation has to demonstrate how it has engaged in the problem.

Second, they need to create a candid culture. The culture will encourage critical upwards communication so bad news is welcomed and addressed with publicly accountable outcomes.[25]

Third, they need to train staff in ethical practices. They need to use scenarios to raise awareness of how institutional factors can discourage critical ethical thinking.

Fourth, they need to publish standards of behaviour. The senior officers and political leaders have to model the standards

Fifth, and most importantly, the organisation officers will be required to explain how they understand a problem’s scale, scope and source. The officers will report that understanding to Members. The Members, in particular, will need to demonstrate how they have challenged the assumptions and evidence.

[1]“Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013) http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1407/independent_inquiry_cse_in_rotherham (Hereafter the Jay Report) p. 25 paragraph 3.44 (accessed 7 September 2014).

[2] The Jay Report deals specifically with culture in chapter 13 paragraphs 13.61-13.69. The problem with looking for personalities or persons to blame is that it misses the point that the organisation was the problem and it requires an organisational response and not a focus on a few officers or a few members. The whole organisation needs to be scrutinized and not simply for its culture.

[3] It would be easy to say that Rotherham Council failed because it pursued single loop learning and not double loop learning. Single loop is focused on dealing with the symptoms and not with causes. See the HBR classic article by Chris Argyris. http://hbr.org/1977/09/double-loop-learning-in-organizations/ar/1 The view is correct, but it does not explain why the council lacked the curiosity or courage to pursue double loop learning.

[4] Theresa May has made this claim and others have repeated it or echoed it. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/09/02/uk-britain-abuse-may-idUKKBN0GX1UU20140902 (accessed 7 September 2014)

[5] The LSE blog makes a related argument. Institutions and the banality of evil: Learning from Rotherham and Savile (Dave Richards and Martin Smith) (Accessed 12 September 2014) They appear to misunderstand Arendt’s book as the believe that impersonal forces, sexism or classism explain the scandal. Arendt rejected impersonal forces as an explanatory device because they do not provide a solid basis for justice because the revert back to determinism. Instead, as the Jay report that explains that minority girls were also being groomed and targeted for sexual exploitation. (See chapter 11 paragraph 11.14) Boys and young men were also targeted. (See Jay report paragraphs 4. 16-4.19 and 7.15, 7.18 and 10..22) Finally, while class may have played a role, it is not clear that it determined the response as people still tried to help them. If class was a factor, it was not a determinative one and more a sufficient one rather than a necessary one. What they appear to miss is Arendt’s focus on “thoughtlessness” and the failure to think. What they focus on is normality without understanding that the failure to think is what makes Eichmann and Rotherham appear so normal.

[6] I am relying heavily on, but not exclusively on, Judith Butler’s excellent article Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann (Guardian Online 29 August 2011) last accessed 7 September 2014 and Elisabeth Young-Bruehl’s The capacity for evil can spread like an epidemic (Guardian Online 19 August 2011) last accessed 7 September 2014. I have referred to Arendt’s work Eichmann in Jerusalem: the banality of Evil (2nd Edition)

[7] See Bethania Assy Eichmann, the Banality of Evil, and Thinking in Arendt’s Thought https://www.bu.edu/wcp/Papers/Cont/ContAssy.htm  The problem raised by Eichmann and Rotherham exists within all bureaucracies and societies. The individual is caught between being too thoughtful, to the exclusion of humanity (see Martin Heidegger as an example), or thoughtless to the point of evil (Eichmann). Bureaucracies favour thoughtlessness because they thrive on routine and procedures rather than curiosity and critical thinking. http://arigiddesignator.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/villa-on-arendt-on-thinking-and-judgment/

[8] The Council had inspections nearly every year from 2003 onward. (Se Jay Report Chapter 3)

[9] Reference to statement to Parliament from former Home Office Researcher.

[10] The Council and the Police failed to act on the reports despite being widely circulated to middle and senior managers.  http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1407/independent_inquiry_cse_in_rotherham p. 83 (accessed 7 September 2014)

[11] We can see in the Jay Report very little reference to lessons learned or clear lines of accountability. See Chapter 7 paragraphs 7.51-58 for lessons learned. Problems of shared accountability see paragraph 7.24.

[12] See Q252 Meredydd Hughes testimony to Parliament Select Committee http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/child-sexual-exploitation-and-the-response-to-localised-grooming-followup/oral/12521.pdf (Accessed 20 September 2014)

[13] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/11066244/Rotherham-is-not-an-isolated-incident.html

[14]Nine years ago, our greatest challenge was to change the predominant view that these young people were ‘promiscuous teenagers in consensual relationships’, rather than victims of child abuse.

“I regret every case of exploitation of vulnerable girls that was not prevented, but feel strongly that our collective efforts led to gradual but essential improvements in the situation for many young people.” http://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/news/crime/ex-rotherham-council-boss-backed-by-new-australian-employer-1-6811109 (Accessed 3 September 2014)

[15] Consider that in 2014, while the report in the scale of the abuse was being documented and after years of attention, with criminal convictions for the exploitation, a senior manager at Rotherham can say that the agencies need to maintain a sense of proportionality about child sexual exploitation.

“One manager was reported in a recent minute of the Child Sexual Exploitation sub-group as saying that ‘agencies need to retain a sense of proportionality with regard to child sexual exploitation, as it only actually accounts for 2.3% of the Council’s safeguarding work in Rotherham. Although it is a very important issue, child neglect is a much more significant problem’. This is not an appropriate message for senior managers to give.” P. 30 paragraph 4.8 (Jay Report)

[16] See Joyce Thacker’s testimony Q417-424 http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/child-sexual-exploitation-and-the-response-to-localised-grooming-followup/oral/12521.pdf

[17] See Sean Wright Testimony on doubling the money q550 on endorsing the officer’s professional judgement see q546 and q547 http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/child-sexual-exploitation-and-the-response-to-localised-grooming-followup/oral/12521.pdf

[18] The report, in chapter 7 points out that on some of the committees the work lacked scrutiny and challenge were lacking. See paragraph 7.35 and more specifically chapter 13 paragraphs 13.54-13.56 where it suggests that the Scrutiny was simply ineffective in challenging officer evidence or holding the Executive to account on this issue.

[19] One has to note that the current Chief Executive has stated in his 3 September 2014 response to the Jay report that a whistle blower policy has been created. See paragraph 9.3 http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1408/response_to_alexis_jay_report

[20] See reference to HBR

[21] See the testimony of Meredydd Hughes in particular his response to q277. http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/child-sexual-exploitation-and-the-response-to-localised-grooming-followup/oral/12521.pdf   It is important to see the body language of the speaker the testimony can be seen on Parliament TV. http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=16005

[22] See how the Chief Constable explained that “there will not be a single person in the force who is not convinced that this is top priority” see response to q259 http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/child-sexual-exploitation-and-the-response-to-localised-grooming-followup/oral/12521.pdf

[23] One must note that in the Chief Executive’s response to the Jay report, paragraph 9.9 he claims that the organisation now encourages professional curiosity. “Professional curiosity is encouraged and this supports staff to raise issues and know they will be taken seriously.” http://www.rotherham.gov.uk/downloads/file/1408/response_to_alexis_jay_report

[24] The report makes this point directly and in doing so reiterates the same problem that Arendt saw at work with Eichmann. “An issue or responsibility that belongs to everybody effectively belongs to nobody” (Jay Report paragraph 13.57 and Arendt Eichmann “And one can debate long and profitably on the rule of Nobody, which is what the political form known as bureau-cracy truly is.” p.289.

[25] See the work of Denis Tourish for critical upwards communication Denis Tourish Critical Upward Communication:: Ten Commandments for Improving Strategy and Decision Making Long Range Planning Volume 38, Issue 5, October 2005, Pages 485-503 doi:10.1016/j.lrp.2005.05.001 https://openair.rgu.ac.uk/bitstream/10059/190/1/LRPpaper1.pdf  and work of HBR on candid culture.

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Ferguson and the death of the American idea



At the heart of the American idea is that belief that self-government is possible. Self-government is one in which there is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can flourish. The laws are made democratically, by the people, and most importantly the people obey the laws they have made as they serve the common good not the good of a group or an individual. In essence, this is the idea of self-government. We obey the laws we have made because they apply to everyone equally. This idea based on a belief is fading. Obedience to the laws is no longer the dominant civil religion within America. The belief that underpins the American idea is dying and we can see this in what Ferguson has revealed about America.

To distrust the government is to distrust ourselves

The seductive desire to disobey the law has been growing over generations. The distrust of the government growing since 1968 has started to become an outright hatred for the government.  Could a government dedicated to the proposition of self-government be possible?  In 1863, Lincoln explained that America was fighting a bloody and vicious civil war to answer this question in the affirmative. He fought the war to save the Union, a Union that was based on the Constitution. Without the Constitution, a set of laws made by the people and obey by them, self government was not possible. Yet, the government that no longer serves the common good, but serves a group, cannot be considered one that allows for self-government.

Each generation must answer the call to renew America

Lincoln understood that the civil war did not settle the matter. He knew before the war that America’s political institutions had to be renewed and strengthened by each generation. What would destroy America would never be a foreign emperor leading a conquering army. Instead, he warned in his Lyceum address (1838) America would be destroyed from within its borders. He feared lawlessness and a disregard for the laws by American citizens would be the cause of America’s defeat. What began as lawless in spirit would become the lawless in deed. For those who were lawless in spirit, the government would represent their greatest constraint to their “freedom”. They would destroy the government to be “free”.

“the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation”

We can see those prophetic words coming to life in Ferguson. The police used arbitrary power to enforce the law. Then the public encouraged to be lawless in spirit from the lack of justice within their community, attacked the symbols of the law. In turn, outsiders travelled to Ferguson to fan the flames of violence, disorder, and destruction. These strangers were not interested in justice, or the common good, they were interested in destruction, the lawlessness in deed. Yet, that lawlessness in spirit is not limited to the street, it occurs in the corporate suite and city hall. In those places, the American idea becomes something to be used to further the corporate or political interest. What Ferguson revealed is that America is in danger of becoming a country that is for one group, by one group, and of one group. When that occurs, then the common good has disappeared.

Without a common or shared vision of justice, we are but a gang of robbers

For America to survive its people have to remain attached to the government as the common expression of the law, and in turn, justice. The people have to be faithful to the idea that it was a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, when the people lose faith in the government, they lose faith in themselves. If Americas did not reaffirm their faith in the American idea, that self-government is possible, then ruin was certain.

“I know the American People are much attached to their Government;–I know they would suffer much for its sake;–I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.” [1]

Is America no longer a country that can show reverence for the law either in the street or in the city hall? If we cannot sustain the democratic experiment, who will? Citizens seek their own good and pay no heed to the common good. The logic is “As long as I am ok, it doesn’t matter what happens to you. You had your chance and made the wrong choice.” Such a view expresses the corrupted idea of what self-government now means in America.

Our individual lawlessness devours the common good

We are not talking about a political debate over the size of the government. We are not talking about whether government spending should be reformed. We are not talking about how regulations stifle capitalistic freedom. We are talking about a dislike, distrust, and even an outright hatred of the government. Let us not confuse this with an esoteric debate that seeks to parse the nuances of a government as an agent separate from the people. The government at all levels has becomes a legitimate target of hatred and destruction. The hatred has as its target an idea. The idea is that the individual has to accept that their self-government is bound up with obedience to the laws.

Without obedience to the laws, self-government is not possible. .

Self-government is not a right, it is a not a certainty, it is not permanent. It is a proposition that must be answered every day by each citizen. If Americans are to live together as one people, they have to understand that it is as one people, united and expressed in the common good. The government express our common belief, our common good that we can live together under the law. Instead, it has become the idea that we can only live by own rules and the government is a tyranny.  We can only be “free” if we are rid of it. What is forgotten in that belief is that self-government was our last best hope to avoid a government of arbitrary violence.

Ferguson has shown us what it means when the government no longer serves communities with equal justice. The American experiment begins to fade for these communities because the law is something imposed on them. When the government no longer serves all communities equally, does America have justice? Even without the death of Michael Brown, we can see a similar injustice in Chicago where it is alleged that the Police Department, under political pressure to improve the murder statistics, reclassified homicides as non criminal deaths.[2] The reclassified murders are nearly all black men and women. In Chicago, the communities with the highest murder rates are the black communities. When the police reclassify the murders, the government stops working for these people as they are excluded from the common good that the government is for the people. It does not work for their community. They are left with lawlessness. The  other Chicagoans enjoy the “common” good.

The lawlessness has grown over the past two generations.

America’s disbelief in the principle of self-government has not occurred overnight, but over generations. Over generations, the people have lost their understanding of what is good for the country. As citizens have lost that understanding, the country has suffered. The illness does have a cure. It is to reawaken our belief in the common good and the responsibility to hold ourselves to account for we have done for the common good. What Ferguson has done is show us that the common good is tenuous. The black community live with injustice and violence unknown to the rest of America.

Can America still claim to know its common good?

The law is founded on a belief in the common good, something larger than the individual and something more than a cynical transaction between the citizen and the state. The only way we can reignite the hunger for self-government is if we educate our young to be citizens, to obey the law because it is good and it serves the common good. In turn, we have to ensure that the law serves the common good that no one person, no institution, is above the law. Either we return to the idea of self-government that is based on an idea of the common good or we prepare ourselves for its alternatives:  anarchy or tyranny. In Ferguson, we have seen what happens when the common good is neglected and the law appears as an oppressor rather than as something that reflects the community.

[1] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/lyceum.htm

[2] http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/May-2014/Chicago-crime-rates/


Posted in Government, justice, statesmanship | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Beyond Contempt: Does Money Buy Justice?

English: First issue of News of the World, Oct...

English: First issue of News of the World, October 1, 1843 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Jukes has written an important book. The book is important because of what it reveals about UK politics, media, and justice. The case connects these areas. Too often people hear “important book” and immediately think that it is boring. This book is exciting, well written and scary. It is important because of what it reveals about the UK justice system. In the book Mr. Jukes quotes Justice Saunders at the start of the trial that British justice is on trial. While many may not accept the verdicts; many will understand after reading the book that the prosecution was lucky to get the few convictions it did.

Three books within one

There are three books in this book and each is worthy of a sequel. They cover the trial, journalism, the corporate culture. The first book is about the trial that Mr. Jukes live tweeted. The book is based on the tweets he sent while he attended the trial. In itself, this makes the book an interesting read. Although he is quick to admit, there is nothing new in this approach. What is new is the way that he combined the live tweeting, with the fund raising (crowd sourced) and the way the work was collected and maintained by Gabrielle Laine Peters, J Claire Pollard and Jon Lippitt. The effort to create the book suggests a possible future for journalism and open justice. The process to get to the book is worthy a book in itself if only as an instruction manual or a how to guide. As Mr. Jukes notes, there are some parallels to other open source investigation sites like Bellingcat.

Money may not buy justice, but it helps you stay out of jail.

The book covers the trial well and despite being present for nearly every day of the trial, it does not bog down into burdensome detail. Mr Jukes keeps the narrative flowing with the specific set pieces that mark the high and low points for the prosecution and the defence. As Justice Saunders pointed out British Justice was on trial. At one level, this is always true. Any trial puts British justice on display, but this trial was different. The power ranged against the state was awesome. In this book, we can see where justice is served and how the trial unfolds. Mr. Jukes is a talented writer with an eye and ear for personality and performance. His writing skills shine through as he captures set pieces as well as emotions. He describes well a fundamental problem of UK justice. In this case, the defence outgunned the prosecution. In a democracy, this is worrying as an individual (or a corporation) could mount a defence against the state, the will of the people, and render it incapable of pursuing justice. However, people have always been of the view that the average individual and even the well off individual could not muster this level of resources. However, the justice system is not well prepared to deal with corporations. As Mr. Jukes writes, there were 6 QCs working against the prosecution’s one QC. The imbalance of resources had a direct outcome on the trial. The imbalance of power has parallels in the OJ Simpson case in the United States where his legal “dream team” took apart the prosecution’s case point by point.[1]  However, the issue is not money or “buying” justice.

Can corporations be brought to justice?

The trial was fair within the constraints set by democracy. It was a display of corporate power to protect its own. The difference for the corporation and the Crown is that the Crown can do this indefinitely, so long as the public interest remains, while corporations will eventually run out of money. With that knowledge, justice is often served as most settle rather than continue the cost.  This trial shows the weakness and strength of UK justice in particular circumstances. If you have enough connections and enough resources you can argue the state to standstill, which is what News Corp did on behalf of its officers. The issue is something beyond the court’s control and reflects the UK political culture and the way democracy expects or understands justice. The Courts have no say over the resources a corporation can bring to the table. Can corporations be brought to justice?

Is a tabloid newspaper an extension of the entertainment industry?

The second book is about journalism. In this Mr. Jukes makes interesting points about journalism’s culture and business. Journalism, especially investigative journalism, and investigative journalism in a tabloid, is a rough business. There is no way to hide that fact. The competition for stories and sources is fierce. The journalists were not secretive simply because they were doing something illegal, they were secretive because rival papers, or rival journalists, even journalists from their own paper would steal their story. The problem, though, is the web and social media are changing journalism. The web opens up information faster and more effectively than the phone hacking can provide. The idea of celebrity is also different as the web creates different sources for promotion and publicity which would have made the News of the World vulnerable. In the trial, we see some of the ways in which phone hacking corrupted journalism and undermined the journalists, especially investigative journalists’ best instincts.

The book also reveals the way tabloid newspapers has become an extension of the entertainment industry. The symbiotic relationship is successful even if it is dysfunctional, as the fall of Max Clifford indicates. Curiously, Rebecca Brooks was sent early in her career to negotiate with Max Clifford and later negotiated a secret deal to avoid unwanted publicity through litigation. How entertainment and celebrity fuelled the NoTW needs to be understood to put the competition and the phone hacking into context. The phone hacking started for celebrity stories and began to drift into other areas such as politicians and the Royals which led to the downfall. The relationship of entertainment and journalism within this murky world is worth a separate book.

Corporate culture reflected how they conducted their business

The third book is about the corporate culture. In this book there are insights we can draw from the relationships Mr. Jukes describes. Here I found his skills as a dramatist gave the book something beyond court reporting. He did not try to make these insights like a soap opera. Instead, he showed how the company’s culture was like a soap opera. The corporate culture of News of the World and News International was toxic. The competition within the newsroom and the boardroom did not make this a nice or happy place to work. One can see this in the way that Mr. Coulson had to say, despite the evidence being presented, “I am not a bully”. You know you have a problem when you have to reassure people you are honest, friendly or not a bully. Though never present, Rupert Murdoch haunted the case. As News International is a family firm one has to consider the corporate culture as an extension of the family culture. In this view, Rupert Murdoch sits like an aged King looking at a crumbling, yet still effective, empire.

Rebekah Brooks is that skilled, which is why she was acquitted

As a back story to the trial, we can see Mr. Murdoch like King Lear pining after his Cordelia (Rebekah Brooks). After the trial and related revelations, Mrs Brooks is too toxic to return to News Corp and the other Murdochs would not allow her to interlope. They and others underestimated Rebekah Brooks’ ability to find her way into the inner circle because they do not possess her uncanny ability to find power and seduce it. Access is what works at the corporate level and Mrs Brooks’ talent was to understand power so as to obtain access. Her skills remind me of President Lyndon Johnson who also has an uncanny ability to find power, pursue, and ingratiate himself with it to bend it to his will. Unlike Johnson who often did with a scowl, Rebekah Brooks seems to do with a smile. Their methods may have been as different as their goals, but both understand power. This is why many people underestimate Mrs Brooks. They believe that she is either directed or protected by someone, like Mr. Murdoch, or that she only succeeds because of her female charms. Neither holds true, but for many it is hard to accept. Her success in Murdoch’s kingdom was due to her skills. Although Mr. Murdoch is only a shadow over the trial, we can see why Mrs Brooks was considered so valuable in her ability to survive the cross examination from Mr. Edis and to emerge unscathed from the trial. I think that Mr. Murdoch understood her value and why she was his priority in the case. In many ways, her downfall is worse than the alleged betrayal by his wife. He can get another wife; he cannot create another heir to his empire.

A book that needs to be read in context to appreciate its value

Despite my praise, I have to say that this is not a perfect book. It is not a definitive guide. As it mainly covers the trial, it needs to be read with two other books Hack Attack by Nick Davies and Dial M for Murdoch by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman. Beyond Contempt does suffer slightly from the speed at which it was written and put together. There are places where the narrative is not smooth and the logic seems to have gaps. However, these are only minor distractions and the overall tone, pace, and skill of the writing is excellent. A second edition that expands on the context would provide more details for some examples that are only mentioned rather than explored and fill the minor gaps.

On the whole, I recommend this book to those who followed the Leveson Inquiry or who follow the ongoing saga of Murdoch News Corp. The book will also be of interest and use to general readers on media, journalism, and UK justice.

[1] News Corp paid the defendants legal expenses.

Posted in censorship, corruption, good writing, Government, justice, privacy, transparency | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Israel’s strategy in Gaza; creating liberal democratic tendencies.

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,...

English: Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. president Bill Clinton, and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Česky: Izraelský premiér Jicchak Rabin, americký prezident Bill Clinton a předseda Organizace pro osvobození Palestiny (OOP) Jásir Arafat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many observers argue that Israel lacks a strategy in Gaza. If it has a strategy, it is bankrupt because any success does not stop the attacks. A related view argues Israel’s tactical advantage cannot be turned into strategic victory. By contrast, critics argue that Israel’s strategy is genocide, ethnic cleansing, or both. They make this argument either simplistically or with a complex nuance. The simple view is that Israel settlements to push out Palestinians. In the nuanced view, Israel foments state of crisis to destroy Palestinian society.

I believe both are wrong. We need an analytical device to understand Israel’s strategy. Without it, the debate and the conflict remain sterile. The analytical device is Liberalism. Liberalism reveals that Israel’s strategy in Gaza is familiar to the Western approach to similar issues. Israel’s strategy is similar to England’s strategy in Ireland, Scotland and Wales[1]. It is similar to the United States of America’s strategy in North America.[2] Liberalism explains why Western protestors recoil from Israel’s activity in Gaza. They have forgotten what was required to create their peace, stability, and prosperity.[3] The non-Western states resent Liberalism and resist it because it threatens their identity. They see it antithetical to what they want to achieve.

Israel is trying through violence and political engagement to encourage the Palestinian Government (PG) to become a moderate. If the PG becomes moderate, they become an acceptable political partner. They demonstrate that liberalism is the mechanism for change when they ask the classic liberal questions. Will you recognize our right to exist? Will you renounce violence? These questions are at the heart of liberalism. As Frances Fukuyama’s book End of History[4] argued they are the questions that when answered in the affirmative demonstrate the end of history. However, to the extent that Hamas answers no to these questions, they remain firmly within the Concept of the Political. Carl Schmitt’s critique of this liberalism in Concept of the Political explains why the conflict continues.

Fukuyama or Schmitt: The choice that animates Gaza’s future

Israel’s strategy is immediately problematic for the Palestinians and any Palestinian government (PG). The Palestinians will see this as an attempt to dilute or destroy their identity. Their identity is bound up with being immoderate, and thus unacceptable, actor. In the Israeli strategy, they face an existential threat. Do they want to be Western and accept liberalism? The other path is to remain immoderate and reject liberalism.[5] Yet, they cannot create a state without assimilating the liberal tendencies of the state system. If they accept liberal tendencies (renounce violence and recognize Israel) what is their identity.[6] If they do not change, then the fighting has to continue. All truces are simply a time to reload and resupply. The fighting will continue until one of two outcomes occurs. The first is that Palestinians reject Hamas with ballots. The second is that Hamas bankrupts itself with the bodies of Palestinians.[7] How long can the Palestinians accept a government that will fight to the last Palestinian for a goal that they could achieve without the violence and sacrifice?

Despite this extremism, the PG is slowly becoming relatively moderate. For nearly 40 years, the Palestinians had only one leader or face–Yasser Arafat. When he died, Hamas was elected to lead the Palestinians. Although they were not less moderate than Arafat, they had a crucial advantage. They were democratically elected. The election gave them some legitimacy. However, with legitimacy comes responsibility. Hamas predictably used this irresponsibly. They continued their immoderate illiberal path to destroy Israel through violence. They rejected the moderate approach to assimilate with liberalism. Hamas built tunnels and trained fighters. They did not build hospitals and train teachers. They sought war. The violence and dead Palestinians sustains Hamas’s legitimacy as a radical or illiberal group. To build hospitals and train teachers would require them to accept liberalism and display liberal tendencies. They could not do that. However, a PG after Hamas may find that they can. They may seek a moderate path if only because it allows them to live longer and to retain their legitimacy longer.

The more moderate the PG becomes, the more a two state strategy becomes viable. However, elements within Israel do not want that two state outcome. They will create situations that reduce the PG’s ability to become moderate[8] entity. Is Israel willing to accept a moderate PG? The question cannot be ignored nor can an answer be assumed. The more Israel resists it by equating moderate liberal and immoderate illiberal Palestinians, they encourage the problem they wants to avoid. No, this does not mean that Israel has encouraged Hamas or brought the attacks on itself. Instead, it is to argue that the Israeli attacks and strategy has to be focused on a liberal democratic entity, a moderate entity. If they are not pursuing the goal of liberal democratic tendencies, then we have to consider the alternatives. Is Israel’s goal to remove Palestinians or simply to absorb them into Israel? Neither is a viable strategy. If Israel rejects a PG with liberal democratic tendencies, then it will be as illiberal as those it opposes.

The liberal democratic trajectory within Islamic states (and Israel).

At the same time, Islamic states demonstrate liberal tendencies in their intent or trajectory. For this reason, illiberals want that to stop them and any rapprochement with Israel.[9] The liberal tendencies of the relatively moderate Islamic states suggest why they do not support Hamas as they might have previously. Even though they are marginally less illiberal the extremists, they are now vulnerable to their own extremists. Even a state like Saudi Arabia (or North Korea) has liberal democratic tendencies. It wants to be recognized as a legitimate state within the state system to that it has to show liberal tendencies. In this way, Israel and the PG share a similar trajectory.[10]

Israel has faced the same questions of identity and assimilation with liberalism. They have answered them; to the extent, an answer is possible with an Israeli state. They have assimilated themselves into the liberal state system, even as they retained the faith of their fathers. However, they understand that their assimilation presents an existential challenge to their identity.[11] They may delay that challenge for a long time but they cannot avoid it.

Israel was on a long journey to statehood. It took them 2000 years to get to a state and they have had it less than 70 years. If Israel’s strategy is to succeed, they have to find a way to foster liberal tendencies in the Palestinians. So far, Israel has worked hard to suppress the illiberal tendencies. Can they demonstrate the same skill, ingenuity, perseverance to generate liberal tendencies?

If this is not Israel’s strategy, what is it?

[1] The same process, albeit on a longer time scale, can be seen in the way that England assimilated others into its control. One could say that the UK I flirting with its own “two state solution” with Scotland. The longer historical process can be seen in the reasons why Wales has so many castles and why Berwick upon Tweed, which was one of the wealthiest towns in the world in 1295, is now a relatively sleepy town. One could call Berwick’s fate self-defence, as Scotland had made an alliance with France, which was a strategic threat to England, but that misses the deeper historical process. The same historical process that animated England’s relationship with Scotland explained the process by which the Empire was transformed into a commonwealth. The evolution of that approach can be seen in the issues around the torture files from Kenya and the way that the Scotland’s proposed independence is to be settled by ballots rather than bullets. America’s assimilation strategy through liberalism has been no less robust in its own way. These are not wars of imperialism so much as wars to extend the liberal mandate and assimilate its opponents into the system or destroy them. The rise of the state system and the way it assimilates those who aspire to statehood into it reflects that historical process.

[2] The strategy is the process by which liberalism assimilates the “other”, in the Schmittian sense. Carl Schmitt, the Nazi era legal scholar and philosopher proposed the idea of the concept of the political that said the basic political issue was to distinguish friend from enemy. Schmitt argued that liberalism could not overcome the tension between the two and that its attempt to do so was undesirable.

I borrowed the idea of assimilation from sociologists in the United States who sought to explain the way immigrants are encouraged to join a society. Consider the article by Peter Skerry Do we really want immigrants to assimilate? http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2000/03/immigration-skerry (accessed 9 August 2014)

“More than just realism, Park affords us a sense of the tragic dimensions of immigration. William James, one of Park’s teachers, once wrote that “progress is a terrible thing” In that same spirit, Park likened migration to war in its potential for simultaneously fostering individual tragedy and societal progress.

As in war, the outcome of the immigration we are now experiencing is difficult to discern. And this is precisely what is most lacking in the continuing debate over immigration—a realistic appreciation of the powerful forces with which we are dealing.” [Emphasis added]


[3] It took England 900 years to become a unitary state with decades of brutal wars and occupation to achieve the peace, stability, and prosperity it has today. Israel by contrast has been trying to do the same in less than 70 years in a context that constrains their actions more than anything does, including Christianity, ever placed on the ruthless actions of the English monarchs.

[4] Although this essay acknowledges Fukuyama’s article and his argument from Hegel via Kojeve, his argument is flawed. To put it directly, Harry Jaffa was correct in his 1991 review of End of History, because Strauss is right and Kojeve is wrong as suggested by their debate regarding On Tyranny. To understand this point, consider the belief in modern natural science that haunts Kojeve and by extension Fukuyama’s argument. See (End of History and the Last Man (Avon Books p. 85 footnote 5.) When we work through the footnote to its originating thought, we arrive at Nietzsche-Heidegger understanding of technology and the choice between Strauss and Kojeve. See the recent essay by Mark Blitz Understanding Heidegger on Technology in The New Atlantis. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/understanding-heidegger-on-technology (accessed 22 July 2014) In the essay Blitz reviews the recent publication of Heidegger’s other essays around his Question Concerning Technology.

[5] The choice is this blunt which is why the stakes are so high. This is not simply a struggle in which civilians are killed for a tactical or strategic military goal or even a political goal. The question is an existential one that cannot be avoided or finessed.

[6] Hamas showed a shrewd political sense when they offered in 2006 to renounce violence and recognize Israel as they courted the Palestinian vote. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/jan/12/israel?utm_source=&utm_medium=&utm_campaign= (Accessed 10 August) The problem for Hamas is what is their identity once they accept those liberal tendencies? Can they justify the sacrifices and martyrdom that has fuelled their support? Unlike Nixon who famously used his conservative anti-communism as a strategic device to justify the opening to China, Hamas cannot leverage the deaths of Palestinians in the same way. The question Hamas or any radical Palestinian Government has to answer and defend is “Did Palestinians have to die so you could recognise Israel?” In this regard, the Western propaganda actually works against Hamas because it raises the stakes to a point where they cannot negotiate because it undermines the Western protests and propaganda done on their behalf. Hamas might justify the sacrifice in a way that Kojeve would understand as Hamas would have to suggest something akin to Hegel’s idea “The wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind” (Phenomenology of the Spirit p. 407 #(669) www.scribd.com/doc/30409033/hegel-Phenomenology-of-spirit (accessed 12 August 2014)

[7] Hamas has to make sure that the Palestinian people suffer from the violence so that they have a sunk cost in Hamas’s legitimacy. If Hamas fought and they suffered then their suffering would not have meaning. They would only be dying for Hamas not for Palestinian state. To the extent that Hamas’s goals are shown to bankrupt, that is Palestinians want to become even slightly less radical than Hamas, then their sacrifices has been for Hamas’ benefit and not theirs. In other words, in that moment, the interests of Hamas diverge from those of the Palestinian people. Hamas has an overriding interest in linking Palestinian identity to Hamas’ identity and thus the Palestinian people become hostage to Hamas.

[8] The PG is not going to be a liberal democratic state overnight. Instead, the best that can be expected is a state or entity with liberal democratic tendencies. We have to accept this provisional goal. The region lacks a liberal democratic Muslim state to act as a guide. The reason, of course, is that to be liberal democratic is to reduce the role of religion to a secondary institution, which is why the UK is not a liberal democratic state, even though it makes a strong claim to that title.

[9] The liberal democratic tendencies also explain why the issue in Gaza (and the ISIS existence) is not a clash of civilizations. Despite Samuel Huntington’s arguments, the Middle East is not on the cusp of a Caliphate to create an Islamic civilisation to challenge the West. http://www.svt.ntnu.no/iss/Indra.de.Soysa/POL2003H05/huntington_clash%20of%20civlizations.pdf

Islam has not been a coherent civilisation for about 400 years. Moreover, the advent of the nation state system, with the benefits and constraints it brings, has fostered the liberal democratic tendencies. Although Islamic states are riven by tribal and ethnic issues, these, in themselves, do not give rise to a civilizational crisis or conflict.

[10] No, this is not a subtle moral equivalence between the Palestinian Government (Hamas) and Israel. The point is that as Palestinians search for statehood and create an entity with liberal democratic tendencies, they share a similarity in that process Israel followed to create a state to protect its interests. The state it created had to have, at a minimum, liberal democratic tendencies. To be sure, Israel has more than liberal democratic tendencies as it has a robust and vibrant liberal democracy.

[11] Baruch Spinoza is still excommunicated.

Posted in Government, justice, philosophy, statesmanship, strategy, war | Tagged , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

A night at the Symposium: St. John’s College Post Graduate Research Symposium

English: Doorway to St John's College, Durham.

English: Doorway to St John’s College, Durham. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Thursday the 7th of August, I attended the Post Graduate Research Symposium at St. John’s College in Durham.  The Institute for Advanced Studies hosted the event and Dr. Mark Ogden chaired it.

The event had 10 speakers over 2 sessions. The format was 15 minutes for presentation and questions from the audience.

The speakers were a mix of graduate students and post-doctoral students and the topics ranged from sharks to the Old Testament and the Phenomenology of Privacy to the ultra-cold world of atomic physics.

The first speaker was Rosalind Jelf who presented her MA thesis: Generational Memory and Photography in Post War German Literature.

The paper looked at the way four writers used photographs to create memory and protect memories. The writers dealt with the way the previous generation was involved in National Socialism. Through the photographs, the writers could explore a point of view intrinsic to the photograph and the photographer, which was accessible to others. The photographs became memories as well as triggers to evoke memories that others could access, which raised the question of how photographs can transcend language or culture and yet remain embedded in them for their meaning.

As it is easier to manipulate photographs, the memories that rely on them can be manipulated, which is why it is important to understand how they interact. Her paper offers a way to understand how photographs shape memories and the reciprocal relationship between memories and photographs.

Xia Yiqing’s paper Some Explorative Thoughts on the Effect of Competition in the Health Care Sector was next. It was a timely reminder of the historical context for the current debate on the NHS. His paper discussed the ways in which the industry would be regulated by introducing competition and, in turn, this created a wide series of changes within the sector that occur beyond the headlines.

During the break, we discussed how the NHS is a model that China is looking at in developing its health care sector. Even though one would not expect China’s health care sector to have the same concerns about competition, which one often associates with a capitalistic or market driven economy, the Chinese health care sector has to resolve the gap between supply and demand. As China has to deal with a larger demographic shift than the UK, the future of the NHS can have significant lessons for China and his paper offers a starting point to understand the possible lessons of the impact of competition regulation for China

The third paper was cold, very cold. Alistair Bound presented his research on atomic physics. In Ultracold and Very Small: An introduction to Atomic Physics, he took the audience to a very small and cold place. By capturing atoms at a moment just above absolute zero, the research allowed a better understanding of precise time measurement and quantum computing. The work has the potential to improve services that rely on precise location or times such as GPS monitoring or space exploration. The ability to capture atoms and hold them in place also had practical application for quantum computing, which allows faster computing processing. The wider application is the potential to improve computer encryption.

The fourth paper let us float down a river. Sophie Tindale presented her doctoral research on water management.  Her paper Catchment Connections: new perspectives on Stakeholder involvement in Catchment-Scale Management of Water Resources looked at the way agent based models could help to create better water management. The presentation reflected her first year of work on her PhD. She explored how agent based modelling can be used to improve stakeholder engagement to resolve disputes over the resource and to generate knowledge of the catchment.

Water is an important commodity and natural resource that cuts across different communities. Her research will be useful for those who need to negotiate its use and access by different communities and find an equitable solution.

The fifth paper by Ben Douglas was taken from his PhD dissertation. The paper The Phenomenology of Privacy in UK Law will be of interest to privacy researchers. His use of phenomenology helps to understand how the individual presents or represents themselves in a community and the way the law reflects representation. He looked at the way Naomi Campbell had presented herself as drug free and the newspapers wanted to change that representation by revealing that she was attending counselling sessions associated with drug dependency. His use of phenomenology to explore this tension offers a way to explore the way privacy is developing and the limits to it within UK law.

After the Interval, another set of papers were presented.

The first paper in this session was on sharks. Catherine B. Salter presented her MA thesis Evolution and Phylogeography of Mustelid Sharks. She provided the audience within an insight into the typology and classification of the shark. The presentation highlighted the challenges of working with DNA processing to identify the genetic markers needed to classify the shark. She also highlighted the plight of sharks as millions are harvested from the oceans and many are in danger of extinction. Without a proper classification and understanding of the shark’s genetic structure, it would be difficult to protect them.

Andrew P. Corkhill’s paper on Yugoslavia’s disintegration into war was next. His paper When Europe Failed Yugoslavia: How the Actions of NATO and the European Union after the Second World War Contributed to Conflict in the Balkans provide a view into the challenge of security within the EU and the limits of EU power. His historical analysis looked at the way that the EU’s security choices, which were heavily influenced by the United States of America, limited its ability to deal with the Yugoslavian crisis. As a result, the EU’s response was insufficient and it revealed that they could not act, even on their doorstep without the USA being directly involved.

One area to explore with his research would be the way the EU deals with challenges to dissolution within its own borders. The way that Scotland seeks independence from the UK presents a stark contrast to the way that the breakup of Yugoslavia descended into war. The contrast between the choice of ballots over bullet, which reflects the history of the relationship, would be a rich source of comparative research. Do democracies break up differently?

The final papers from the evening, which I could not attend, were

Madison N. Pierce

Just as the Holy Spirit Says Hebrews 3.7-4.11 and the Spirit’s Promise of Rest

Jane Berry

Simply Sweet—a Synthetic Route Towards Graphene-Based Membranes and their Potential Application for Water Purification

Jonathan Berry

Designing 3D Sound.

Dr. Mark Ogden chaired the event, introduced each session, and provided context for each presentation. The event offered younger scholars the chance to present their work and it sparked stimulating discussions. The event is a credit to St John’s College as it shows the depth, breadth, and variety of the scholarship at the college.

I enjoyed the event and look forward to future ones. Although I am not involved in academic research, I found the event interesting because it allowed me to interact with people I would not normally meet through my work. The presentations and the scholarship gave me a different perspective and provided an opportunity to talk with a different audience.

I would recommend future events to anyone interested in the college’s work and a chance to see younger scholars present their work.

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A possible Putin strategic apology



English: TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at...

English: TOKYO. President Putin on a tatami at the Kodokan Martial Arts Palace. Русский: ТОКИО. На татами во дворце спортивных единоборств «Кодокан». (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some commentators suggest that Mr. Putin is in a difficult position and will find it impossible to explain this event or save face. See for example Tom Nichols excellent piece Panic in Red Square.[1] I believe that reputation management can provide a possible approach to his dilemma.[2] For any avoidance of doubt, I condemn the attack on MH17 and here are my public views on Mr Putin’s leadership.

After his statement supporting an international crash site investigation, Putin could use a strategic apology statement to deflect attention. He could say something like the following.

“You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem with the downing of MH17 in the disputed territory of Donetsk.

We have found that separatist forces operating in the area used our equipment inappropriately to fire the missile that brought down the plane.[3]

We regret the loss of life in this tragic mistake. The separatists are under constant threat from the Ukrainian forces and made a mistake.[4] Initial reports indicate that they believed the aircraft to be a legitimate military target. We find the loss of civilian life unacceptable just as we find unacceptable the loss of Russian lives from fascist forces.[5]

To find out what happened, we will launch an investigation. We will invite representatives from the Dutch government to participate. We also ask that he UN nominate a suitably independent candidate for this investigation. We expect the Russian laws to be upheld as befits a sovereign state of its stature and with a tradition to law and justice.[6]

The Russian Federation is a sovereign nation that honours its international obligations. We regret the loss of civilian life. We will find out what happened. If the investigation finds that compensation is required, we will meet our international obligation. In all matters, we will uphold Russian law. We ask the international community join with us and condemn the threats to our patriotic brothers, which contributed to this tragic mistake.[7]

Please note that this advice notice is simply for illustrative purposes. It is not professional advice nor should the Russian Federation or Mr Putin construe it as endorsing a course of action.


[1] Unlike Professor Nichols, I do not believe that Mr. Putin is in a box on this issue nor do I believe that this will unravel Russia’s support for the separatists. We must remember that Mr Putin understands judo and he is skilled at using Western principles against the West. We must remember how he stage managed the Crimean annexations and then caught the West on the back foot when he called a snap election to ratify it. In this, he showed how he could use western democratic principles, elections and “popular” sovereignty, against western critics.  This is not to say that his approach is or was legitimate. Instead, it is to show that he has demonstrated an ability to escape obviously bad situations.

[2] For an example of a strong apology letter to repair corporate reputation consider the example from Tesco a major UK retailer that suffered scandal over horse meat. Please note that I am not equating the Tesco scandal with the MH17 crime. I am pointing out that reputation management follows principles that can be applied to any situation.

[3] Putin will know there is no value in denying the obvious as that hurts his position. Instead, he will seek to twist this into something else like a tragic mistake.

[4] Here Putin will be able to explain this in the context of the Ukrainians taking action against the separatists. By doing this, he can show that shooting down the plane fits within a context of a military conflict and that reinforces the underlying reality that he has tactical and strategic military superiority in the region.

[5] The statement will be one that links the “terrorism” that it has suffered against the West’s rapid condemnation of a “tragic mistake”. He will want to show that Russia is as much a victim as others in fighting the scourge of terrorism.

[6] The goal will be to invite an international representative to give the cover of international legitimacy and it will invite the Danes in the belief that they can be cowed into whatever the Russians find. The Russians will also insist on Russian laws so that they can control the outcomes and remind the world of their robust obedience to law and pursuit of justice.

[7] Putin would want to remind the audience that the separatists were defending themselves and would work to suggest that they were provoked.


The situation is not 1975 and Russia has a number of plausible scenarios to pursue to continue its efforts to pressure Ukraine over Donetsk separatists. Even though the MH17 crime puts them on the back foot and hurts their claims, there is no evidence that the order came directly from Putin or can be linked to him. Having survived as a KGB officer, he will understand the principle of plausible deniability and will be an expert in bureaucratic warfare needed to keep his fingerprints from appearing on the decision. He would have succeeded within the United States government where senior bureaucrats and service secretaries survive and succeed by their ability to avoid leaving any fingerprints on failures despite being nominally responsible. I doubt Mr Putin will be toppled by this issue. He may have to take a different tack on Ukraine and it will limit his ability to influence it in the short and medium term but unless the West finds a way to leverage this into a change on the ground, it will simply become bad publicity, which is something that Russia has traditionally been able to withstand.






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How Snowden’s naivety has harmed the NSA in his own words.

English: Aerial view of Osama bin Laden's comp...

English: Aerial view of Osama bin Laden’s compound in the pakistani city of Abbottabad made by the CIA. Italiano: Vista aerea del complesso di Osama bin Laden nella città pakistana di Abbottabad realizzata dalla CIA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many people, the NSA’s arguments against Snowden appear hollow as they lack a smoking gun. The NSA has not provided any evidence that the leaks have damaged their ability to collect intelligence and deal with terrorist threats. For some NSA defenders, this has been problem. They want to defend the NSA but to do that they would need to disclose classified material, which would simply add to the Snowden fiasco.

Snowden’s interview with the Guardian changed that situation. In that interview, he demonstrated how his revelations have harmed NSA capabilities. At the same time, he demonstrated a frightening ignorance if not naiveté about intelligence and counter intelligence.

Here is his quotation.

What about the accusation that his leaks have caused untold damage to the intelligence capabilities of the west? “The fact that people know communications can be monitored does not stop people from communicating [digitally]. Because the only choices are to accept the risk, or to not communicate at all,” he says, almost weary at having to spell out what he considers self-evident.

“And when we’re talking about things like terrorist cells, nuclear proliferators – these are organised cells. These are things an individual cannot do on their own. So if they abstain from communicating, we’ve already won. If we’ve basically talked the terrorists out of using our modern communications networks, we have benefited in terms of security – we haven’t lost.” (accessed 20 July 2014) (emphasis added)

On the surface, this appears plausible. The bad guys know they are being monitored so they will stop talking on the web. The problem though is that they may stop talking but it does not follow that they will stop trying to kill people. It just means they will have to find another way to do it.

When we look at the statement closely, we see the stupidity and naiveté. This is obvious in three ways.

First, the 9/11 attacks were planned with limited technology. The NSA and other intelligence agencies only caught whispers but not enough to investigate. The signals intelligence they did find was helpful, but the well-disciplined cell structure made it difficult to see the full picture. Osama bin Laden planned for this approach and understood the need for technological stealth. His use of face-to-face communication and cutouts was a major reason why it took the United States 10 years to find him.[1] Even watching the film Zero Dark Thirty would show this.[2]

Second, the bad guys are not going to stop communicating. They are going to stop using the web, or a system that might be compromised by the NSA. This means the NSA will not be able to track them or find out what they are saying. They will not stop communicating; they will use methods that are difficult to break or take more time and resources, which increase the cost to the NSA. As intelligence, like sushi, is best if it is fresh, this has an immediate effect and cost.

One way that terrorists will continue to communicate is face to face. They will arrange to meet. As they have gone off the electronic grid, it will be harder to know the content of those meetings. As a computer analyst, Mr. Snowden probably does not realize how hard it is to break into an ethnic network based on foreign language dialect. Even if you have translator, you still need to penetrate the network. First, you have to recruit someone into that network. That takes time and they may turn out to be a double agent. The CIA found this out when they lost seven agents in Pakistan trying to find Osama Bin Laden.[3] The Al Qaeda group used a double agent to kill them. Again, Zero Dark Thirty explains this point.

The Guardian knows this because they admitted that Greenwald and other reporters have to spend more time meeting face to face rather than relying on telephone or email to communicate. Alan Rusbridger explained this in his 19 August 2013 article.

The Guardian’s work on the Snowden story has involved many individuals taking a huge number of flights in order to have face-to-face meetings. Not good for the environment, but increasingly the only way to operate. Soon we will be back to pen and paper. (Accessed 20 July 2014)

Third, if you have an advantage, you never want to give it up. Intelligence is not a sporting competition where there are rules and parity is virtue. If you lose, you die. If we were to use a sports analogy, you never tell your opponent that you know their weakness and explain it to them. In poker, the opponent’s weakness is their tell. If you want to win, you never tell your opponent their weakness. In the world of the NSA and CIA if you lose, people die so any advantage is always protected. Again, Rusbridger should know this he would protect any source from being revealed for the effect it would have on the source and his own business. Yet, he seems unconcerned with the same situation facing the NSA.

America’s greatest advantage and the terrorist’s greatest weakness was technology. America has a near unassailable advantage in terms of technology. The signals intelligence gave it and its allies a clear and consistent advantage. Now, that advantage is gone. Not only has Snowden stolen the secrets of that advantage, but Greenwald and the Guardian have published them. The terrorist’s tells have been revealed. To regain that advantage, more America agents and assets are going to be killed. America will now have to work harder to track and penetrate those networks. The CIA will have to use agents and assets, rather than technology, to gather intelligence. The United States relies heavily on technology because it values human lives highly and it has a comparative advantage with technology.

Far from being a win, Snowden’s revelations have been a gift to terrorists. The average citizen never had to worry about these issues and never had to worry about them because they were never going to be a NSA target. Even if the NSA collected their information, it was incidental to finding the hard targets. The targets are now harder to find and that will cost both money and lives.

The interview and the consequences from publishing the leaked material tell us a lot about Mr Snowden and Mr Rusbridger. Mr. Rusbridger appears better suited to running a newspaper rather than an intelligence operation and Mr. Snowden has a dangerously limited understanding of the Machiavellian nature of intelligence work. Perhaps like Candide Mr. Snowden will wake up to the brutal Machiavellian world of politics around him. If only Mr Snowden distaste of politics had kept him from making the political decision to steal and disclose America’s secrets. Perhaps Mr. Rusbridger could reflect upon his decision to publish those secrets and be able to explain why it is in the public interest to help terrorists avoid the NSA because the leaks do not help the public do that.


[1] Also, consider the murder of Philip Welsh. He had no electronic signature in his life, which makes it much harder for the police to solve his murder. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/philip-welshs-simple-life-hampers-search-for-his-killer/2014/05/05/1fd20a52-cff7-11e3-a6b1-45c4dffb85a6_story.html (Accessed 20 July 2014)

[2] I refer to the film only as a common cultural artefact that suggests the problems of using technology to find someone off the grid. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/12/richard-brody-on-the-deceptive-emptiness-of-zero-dark-thirty.html (Accessed 20 July 2014) see also http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-cia-veteran-on-what-zero-dark-thirty-gets-wrong-about-the-bin-laden-manhunt/2013/01/03/4a76f1b8-52cc-11e2-a613-ec8d394535c6_story.html (Accessed 20 July 2014)

[3] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34687312/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/t/al-qaida-double-agent-killed-cia-officers/#.U8xBReNdUQE (Accessed 20 July 2014)


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Privacy and the political good.

English: Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press ...

English: Reporters Without Borders 2009 Press Freedom Index world map. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is missing from the debate on privacy, in general, and the debate over state surveillance, in particular, is the question of the political good either defended or promoted by constraining surveillance and protecting privacy. What is the political good that privacy advocates want to achieve? Is it to be let alone to control one’s person, even in the public domain, and exercise autonomy? Is it to be free from government surveillance to create an identity beyond its reach? Is the political good it serves free expression that supports democratic politics, as any surveillance that invades a person’s privacy is believed to chill their free expression? We see articles that ask and explain what privacy is for, yet these appear to fall short of explaining the political good that privacy serves except to suggest that it is good for freedom of the individual within liberal democracy.[1] These articles return us to the original question: what is the political good that privacy serves or enables?


If our goal is to be let alone, to be “digitally private”, that is to have autonomy in the digital domain, what is a person or a citizen in the digital world? A citizen or a person is a related being and to be a citizen or a related being means to be known. To be known means that the state and our friends will know us and relate to us for good or ill. If in the digital domain we understand and pursue autonomy as the being expressed by a reduced sense of relatedness, we have to consider whether that starts to challenge how we relate in the physical domain. If we want a digital identity that we can control and keep unrelated to our physical person, would our digital “person” become a separate entity. In this view, an individual make themselves private only to the extent that they stop being part of the state, in the extreme, leaving it or living so far away from society as to be a solitary hermit. In such a view, the good that is served is the individual’s good, but not the society’s good and in an extreme view severs the relationship between the individual and the community or state. However, what remains is that an individual still exists within the state framework as their decision to remove themselves is not binding on the state. They have a name and personal details registered with the state. However, most people do not attempt or want that level of privacy (or autonomy) because they understand privacy is to serve an end to which they want. Eventually they have to exist as a person because they are a related being they are the child, parent, or relative of someone. To paraphrase Aristotle, if they live beyond the walls of the city, thus remove themselves entirely from that relationship, they are either a beast or a God. Man is neither even though he aspires to be both at times.

The problem of autonomy leads us to consider a second good that privacy is supposed to serve: a reduction or removal of the government’s surveillance in our lives, in particular, our digital lives.

Bureaucratic shadow

If privacy is a way to reduce government surveillance so that we can control our person (digital or physical), we must consider that we remain part of a society. As part of a society, being a citizen, we have a bureaucratic shadow. A bureaucratic shadow follows all citizens and consumers in the physical and digital domains. We leave a record of our existence through our transactions. No citizen lives without a bureaucratic shadow. Everyone has records and documents they need so that they can establish their identity and their rights within a state or community. This is why privacy by design will only ever be a partial solution to the problem of privacy. If we want to avoid government constraints, to reassert our privacy, we would need to understand our bureaucratic shadow is as much, if not more, of a constraint as any government surveillance or intrusion into our digital lives. Our desire to “control” our digital “person”, if not our physical person, is constrained by the bureaucratic shadow, which reminds us that we are more a creature of the government and institutions than we would like to admit to ourselves. In this political good, we see that privacy becomes a proxy or measure for what the state or community will allow us. In that regard, privacy is a function of the community or the state and it is the space that it allows an individual to act as an individual. Within that space, we see the third potential political good that privacy serves—free expression.

Free expression

If privacy is needed to protect free expression from surveillance, we need to understand how surveillance “chills” free expression. When we look at the causal relationship between surveillance and chilled free speech, we find that it is riddled with ambiguity and contradiction as it simply confuses chilling with anything that we perceive to be limiting our “freedom”.[2] If people listen to a speaker on the bus or the train have they put the speaker under surveillance? If a writer publishes opinions on a social media network are they under surveillance? If the speakers on the bus refrains from speaking on certain topics because they realize people are listening, have they been “chilled”? If no one listens to the speaker or reads the writer, have they been censored or silenced? When we work to connect privacy to personal freedom, we begin to discuss its political good. We return to the first order question of whether privacy is even necessary for freedom and freedom of thought. Privacy by itself does not create freedom or tolerance nor does privacy require tolerance.

When we ask what is the political good that is served by privacy, we demonstrate that privacy is not an end in itself. Privacy is only something that enables a primary good. Privacy appears refers to a space within the state that is not public. The digital domain presents a further difficulty because it can exist beyond the state yet it is dependent upon the state or a corporation for someone to access it. Such an approach to privacy reveals the extent to which it is as an epiphenomenon of the modern state. Privacy, to the extent that it exists, appears as a by-product of the modern social contract as expressed in the modern state’s relationship with an individual or a consumer with a corporation. To put it differently, but directly, the state allows us privacy we do not have it by natural rights.[3] We cannot speak of privacy without reference to the state or even to public opinion. They demarcate the space within which an individual has “privacy”. Yet, that shows the ambiguity and a deeper problem for privacy. If the individual follows public opinion or is shaped by public opinion, the individual is only understood in contradistinction to or in relation to public opinion or the community. We believe we have a private sphere, separate from the public, in which the state cannot intrude. Yet, that belief is based on the state’s respect for it rather than an intrinsic part of the individual. In the digital domain, this dependent relationship can be seen in the necessity of a system administrator who has access to your accounts. In your own home, though, you do not have a system administrator. The system administrator shows the tension or difference between the nature of the two realms and their offer of privacy. To the extent that the private sphere exists, it is limited by public opinion. Public opinion though plays a greater role than the state in an individual’s private life. The individual is only private to the extent that they can escape public opinion, which is not something they can do immediately by leaving the public domain.

The tension between the public and private domains is something that Hannah Arendt discussed in her book The Human Condition. There she discussed the idea that for the Ancient Greeks the citizen was only fully alive or fully human when they participated in the public space.[4] In the public space, the life within the community, the citizen can reach their fullest potential. By contrast, the private domain was a limited space cut off from or dependent upon the public domain. Consider the case of prisoners, who are cut off from the public realm because of their crimes. In prison, they lose their political rights and in that sense their access to what makes them fully human. For the duration of their sentence, they live a sub-human life. They are not living an inhuman existence nor are they less than human. They cannot be fully human because they cannot participate fully in the public domain, which means they cannot participate fully in the community. The difference between the public and the private realm was expressed clearly in a tyranny. In a tyranny, only the tyrant was a public person. Everyone else was private. Only the tyrant could act publicly as those subject to the tyranny could not participate in a public life except through the tyrant. In a tyranny, there is no public space as there is in a democracy. Artificial spaces may be created in a tyranny and these serve to remind those who participate that they exist only at the tyrant’s dispensation.

Does this suggest that privacy is only important as a correlate to the public domain? The modern idea of privacy seems to argue against this point as the public domain has been drained of meaning and it is not a place where the individual finds their fullest potential. Instead, privacy advocates want to increase the private domain even further. They want to reduce the public domain to such an extent that everything becomes, for the lack of a better word, publicly private. They want to act on a public system, such as Facebook, but retain privacy controls. They do not want it public in the sense that it is controlled by the government, or owned by the people, in the sense of a public park or a public library. In this desire, they demonstrate liberalism’s success in paving the way for an autonomous individual at the expense of the public domain. The citizen no longer finds their fulfilment in the public domain where they participate to shape the laws that guide the way they live. Instead, they find it in the private domain where as an individual they can exercise their autonomy and find their fullest, if still limited, expression as a human.

If we extended the Ancient Greek idea to the modern world, it would mean that only elected officials or public officials could act publicly. They participate fully in the public domain when they debate, create, and enforce the laws that shape the way they (and others) will live. However, the modern political system allows more citizens to participate indirectly through representation in the way the laws are made. In the current political system, the indirect participation through representation also changes our understanding of the private realm even as it increases the potential for public participation. However, it also means that a citizen’s interests are diverted into other areas. As the public domain is reduced, or rendered less important by the appeals of other areas, the private domain becomes a place to find fulfilment. Unlike the ancient world, the freedom of the private sphere today depends on the modern state’s technological capacity to sustain a public domain without the public’s direct involvement and create enough opportunities, such as fame and fortune, to maintain the citizen’s interest in the private sphere. The public realm one could argue exists to sustain the private domain. In the private domain, we see the political good that privacy serves.

Privacy’s political good is hedonism.

The arguments about privacy are extended and exaggerated in the digital domain. In the digital domain, which is hybrid of public and private, the individual appears to have a different relationship with the state and the community. In the digital domain privacy does not appear an end itself and it is hollow of meaning until it is filled by someone’s intent. In many cases, the intent is often to remove the user from the public’s gaze or the government’s gaze that represents the public. The desire to escape the public gaze reflects the intent of the author of the modern idea of privacy: Thomas Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes developed the idea of the private domain within the commonwealth as he distinguished that he public opinion must be sustained for public safety, which allowed private opinion to remain. He did this in part because he had learned from the English Civil War and the problems associated with religious belief being the basis for persecution. Even though his views on the state mean is often considered an absolutist, his work sets the foundation for the modern idea of privacy in which the public domain supports and protects the private domain. The pursuit of pleasure is what drives the private domain. In this, Hobbes was a political hedonist. The individual wanted their own good. We see that hedonism is the political good that privacy serves. Unlike Hobbes’s age where virtue was a strong constraint on the pursuit of hedonism at the cost of society, the modern era is marked by the pursuit of private pleasures. One could argue that the demand for privacy, especially in the digital realm is an attempt to give private pleasures and practices public protection, which would invert Hobbes. Hobbes believed that any private pursuits or pleasures had to be subject to or restrained from the public domain. Instead, the idea that Spinoza introduced, when he took Hobbes one-step further, was that the state had to protect the private sphere no matter what it pursued, is now inverted. In the digital domain, privacy enables private pleasures and the political system is to be adjusted to protect those private pleasures either digital or physical.[5] The demand for digital privacy is reflects a pursuit of digital pleasures as if they are political or public acts and protected accordingly. Political hedonism means that the public domain is drained of any meaning except to the point where it expresses our private pleasures. The political good that privacy serves is hedonism. The demand for digital privacy now reduces the public realm to serving our private pleasures.

Even as we ask “Is this the freedom we have sacrificed so much to achieve?”, we must remember that without surveillance we would be unable to achieve it for the extent of our freedom is the limit of the modern state to protect and promote our private pleasures as a public right.



[1] See Julie E. Cohen, What is Privacy for? Harvard Law Review vol 126, 2013 http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2175406  (accessed 6 July 2014) The challenge is that contrary to Cohen’s argument, liberal democracy does rest upon a surveillance structure. In an important way, as set out by Hobbes and never refuted by liberal democratic theory, is the need for the state to conduct surveillance sufficient to protect and promote the citizen’s right. Moreover, privacy has never been necessary for innovation. The individual needs to be free to associate and innovate; however, that freedom is not the same as privacy. People innovated before there was a modern state that created the idea of privacy and one cannot assume that innovation is always a heterodox position.

[2] Public opinion has a stronger ability to chill free expression than state surveillance. The power of public opinion to create conformity is nearly unparalleled in its long-term effectiveness. http://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/surveillance-conformity-and-censorship-the-reality-and-the-myth/ (accessed 6 July 2014)

[3] The European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations conventions of Human Rights are based on positive rights. They do not derive their power or authority as natural rights. There is an argument within Locke that man has property in himself. Yet, that rests upon an assumption created by the modern state rather than based on an argument from nature. Self ownership is a self-assertion. Moreover, as an assertion, it does not say that ownership of self creates or determines privacy within a state, only that one has responsibility for one’s self to the extent allowed or required within the social contract. In other words, the idea of the individual and by its extension privacy finds its fullest expression in the modern state and is not automatically associated with natural right.

[4] See for example chapter 2, The Public and the Private Realm. http://frontdeskapparatus.com/files/arendt.pdf  (accessed 6 July 2014)

[5] See for example the Economist Virtual Pleasures Cyber Hedonism, which explores why the young who are exposed to the web prefer to pursue their pleasures rather than political change. http://www.economist.com/node/13062236 (accessed 6 July) in this, it seems to suggest what Hobbes suggested about reason now becoming the scout and spy for the passions. http://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/is-the-web-now-a-scout-and-spy-for-the-passions/ (accessed 6 July 2014)

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