The biggest shock about News International’s phone-hacking is that no-one is shocked. Apart from The Guardian and the BBC, no-one is giving the story anything more than perfunctory coverage. On Saturday, The Guardian ran an article giving a sad appraisal of the immoral tactics journalists use on a routine basis and on Sunday, David Yelland smugly told Andrew Marr that the allegations would blow over in a week. This lack of media coverage stems from a number of possibilities: that the tragedies in Afghanistan have more precedence from a public interest standpoint; that the press is already familiar with underhand journalistic techniques; that, as The Independent suggests, phone-hacking is old news; or that News International owns the papers that would report on it (The Times, The Sun, and News of the World).
Whatever the reason, the lack of media outcry has affected a lack of public outcry. After a pop singer died, a thousand Facebook groups sprang into existence. After the G20 riots and police abuse, every liberal blogger took to the keyboard. After the BNP gained two North England seats, protestors marched the streets and threw eggs. Now the public is reminded that a private company spies on the public and covers it up – nothing.
This is because we are used to being bullied. We are the children in the playground who have become inured to the intimidation of bullies and who now consent to a beating every so often rather than bother to fight back. We have forgotten that we shouldn’t let bullies intimidate us with their power. We’re afraid.
We are bullied by large corporations and conglomerates so much that we have become immune to it. Here are two examples:
In 2004, Tesco built a store in Stockport that was 20% larger than the planning permission allocated. It operated for two years with an illegal building before the Tame Valley Planning Committee approved retrospective planning permission. No action was taken against Tesco.
From the 1970s, there have been numerous murders of Coca-Cola bottling-plant employees in Guatemala and Columbia – employees with a connection to the worker’s unions. It is alleged that Coca-Cola hired paramilitary mercenaries to assassinate union leaders. A fact-finding delegation discovered that “To date, there have been a total of 179 major human rights violations of Coca-Cola's workers, including nine murders. Family members of union activists have been abducted and tortured. Union members have been fired for attending union meetings. The company has pressured workers to resign their union membership and contractual rights, and fired workers who refused to do so.” Coca-Cola continues to dominate the soft-drink market.
The real tragedy is not that the public accepts intimidation by big business but approves it. The public accept entrepreneurism and stand-up for the free-market economy which enslaves them. “Big businesses have earned their power and can do what they like with it.” The public watches Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice and idolises Jack Cohen, Alan Sugar, and Richard Branson: archetypal ‘self-made men’ whose successes prove that we live in a meritocracy. The public defend large corporations because they have been told that if they work really hard, they too could achieve massive success.
The truth is clear to anyone who examines society: that we do not live in a meritocracy. Hard work is only one factor among many other entirely contingent factors that govern success: luck, natural talents, personal connections, position of birth. There are many small business owners who work just as hard as the Rupert Murdochs and the Bill Gates but cannot succeed because they are naturally not as intelligent or as charismatic.
Free-market economics is based on the premise that everyone is born equal. It’s a lovely dream but it’s not true. People are born with different natural talents and skills and this causes inequality. Our current economic system illogically favours successful businesses and individuals who already have wealth, power, and talent. John Rawl’s Second Principle of Justice is that “Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that:
a) they are to be of the greatest benefit to the least-advantaged members of society
b) offices and positions must be open to everyone under conditions of fair equality of opportunity”
In other words, the inevitable inequalities of society are to be such that that they benefit the least-advantaged (the poor, the working class, etc.) rather than the most-advantaged (the rich, the upper class, etc.). Justice as Fairness.
The fact that we are no longer shocked by horrendous abuses of power like media conglomerates hacking into peoples’ private communication shows that we have forgotten the basic principles of fairness which governed our lives in the playground. The greatest trick the economic bullies ever pulled was convincing us that what they do is fair. We need to remember what the teachers taught us about the playground: that bullying is not to be tolerated and that we ought to share.