I was part of one of those tea-room conversations yesterday.
We were talking about Rupert Murdoch. (Who wasn’t?)
As inadequate as we found his Select Committee interview, we were all glad he’d been brought to some kind of public account. Although, most of us were sceptical about whether he would face significant legal sanctions like imprisonment — barring some kind of massive internal leak at News Corp.
At this point the conversation took a sharp left.
We began to tally up all those prominent public figures who had managed to avoid the pointy end of the law they were so obviously in breach of. We shook our heads at the fact that so many get off on technicalities even when the moral ‘spirit’ of the law lies in tatters around their feet.
Who would have thought? Our mundane tea-room conversation had joined the swelling chorus of all those throughout history lamenting the lack of justice in the world!
Then someone observed that all those crime shows on TV tap into exactly this.
They complained that no-one ever gets what they deserve. And they cited all the the plea-bargains and back room deals as evidence that the idea that justice system actually works is a total sham.
I wasn’t so sure that this was the moral of the story. And I realised as I sat on the couch watching Law & Order later that night.
From where I was sitting, the chord progression Law & Order endlessly riffs on is that justice is bigger and deeper and harder to get at than mere laws allows.
What Law & Order dramatises — and what we see acted out in the Rupert Murdochs of the world — is an ancient dilemma, one which ethicists refer to as the Kafka paradox (in honour of Franz Kafka whose dense and dark fiction returns obsessively to themes of law and justice).
The dilemma is that the demand for justice that calls laws into being is often hijacked by those very laws.
Hence, all the effort goes into the technicalities of determining who’s legally wrong instead of dealing with wrong.
That job — the job of dealing with wrong and establishing justice in the widest sense of good and right order — is always tantalising beyond the reach of human laws.
For it requires not simply the transformation of human hearts (transformed men and women still have past wrongs to answer for) but the utter condemnation of wrong and the total renewal of wrongdoers.
In short, it requires death and resurrection … even new creation!