Sean Walsh discusses Sir Cliff Richard’s recent appearance on ITV’s Loose Women and the singer’s controversial support for the Blackstone ratio: the idea it is better ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.
A few years back during a rain break at Wimbledon, the captive spectators were “treated” to an impromptu “sing-a-long” led by Sir Cliff Richard. At the time, some of us had the thought that if there were one member of the “audience” who carried a responsibility that there not be an impromptu sing-a-long led by Sir Cliff Richard then that person was Sir Cliff Richard himself. He was there, he could have prevented it.
He chose not to.
“One day”, we predicted, “there will be a reckoning”.
And so it has come to pass. I’m not referring to his appalling burning by the police/BBC axis of persecution (nobody deserves that) but to his self-inflicted ordeal on the ghastly phenomenon that is Loose Women. Now Sir Cliff, as is well known, is a committed Christian and therefore a representative of the genuine counterculture. He is an improbable delegate of the real Avant Garde. His comments were always likely to be controversial. What were those comments?
They were these: “ That it is better if ten guilty people go free than that an innocent be persecuted by the heavy hand of the law.”
Needless to say the Mob spotted an offence there for the taking and duly took it. And what should be no more than an insipid reiteration of basic jurisprudence was transformed into yet another opportunity for incontinent outrage. Is Sir Cliff really saying that it is better that ten child abusers go free than that one innocent accused is subject to the “inconvenience” of being investigated and convicted?
Well, actually, yes. And quite right too.
The legal principle that Sir Cliff was referencing is not one that can be integrated into the sort of visceral calculus assumed by his accusers, because it is a legal principle. The Crown must always be able to make its case and the more so when dealing with the most serious crimes. If that principle is set aside in the case of the presumed- guilty then it ceases to apply to any of us. Whenever the Crown brings a case it is also testing itself and the system of law it represents
The point of adopting the principle is not to inject a quota system into the legal system but to recognise that no such “God’s Eye” is available save by the invisible hand of many, many legal instances consistent with the principle. Who knows who is guilty, according to the law, but by a fine-tuned mechanism which excludes vexatious accusations?
We are not living in a spinoff of Minority Report.
Or at least not yet.
This shouldn’t even be controversial. If it is then that is because the Mob takes itself to be the law and because it is energetic in exploiting the grotesque opportunities for self-amplification offered up by the social media.
And so we come to the real culprit in all this, and in most of what besets our spiritually anaemic times.
Social media is the depressing technological distillation of a culture in which truth has been relativized to nothing. We worry that it is a vehicle for the spreading of lies when in fact it is worse than that. The social media cultivate a culture not merely of lying but of fakery. The difference is this: whereas the liar is intentionally deceiving you the faker is also deceiving himself. To tell a lie is, perversely, to have a certain regard for the truth. To be a faker is to be indifferent to it. As we have become indifferent to truth we have become susceptible to fakery. Facebook, Twitter and the rest facilitate the generation of false personalities, virtual people who are able to signal virtual virtue but who are unable to live virtuously.
Or even to live decently. Commentators are apt to observe that people are capable of saying things in the fake media that they would never dream of saying “in real life”. The observation is premature. Decency is a habit acquired and sustained by hard work. The comment box bully is not likely to be leaving the darker demons of his nature behind when he logs off. Far more likely is that he is encouraging in himself dispositions of vice that need little encouragement in the first place.
Sir Cliff’s accusers are uninterested in the content of his observation because to engage with that content is more difficult-and less pleasant-than a mere announcement of feeling. But fakery infects feeling as well as belief. There is such a thing as feeling the wrong way about something. What the French writers like to call our “interiority” is ordered not merely cognitively but also according to sensibilities: there is a right and wrong way of structuring our souls. The person who immerses herself in the immediate distractions of social media is choosing a form of spiritual self-harm.
It is against these people, as well, that the law offers protection. The tendency of the Mob is to arrogate to itself the proper responsibilities of the law. At present, our legal structures make for a robust braking mechanism on that tendency. Although not for much longer if the Prime Minister is successful in dissolving those structures and replacing them with their inferior European alternatives.
Is there a musical analogy that fittingly describes a culture which uses a surface gentility to mask a deeper nastiness? The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton duly obliges.