Objectivists have a hard time explaining why people ever disagree (surely we'd all just confer to experts), but subjectivists have a hard time explaining why we ever agree (inherent meaning needn't be common). This is why much of my own research features on culture:
Between private, subjective perception and public, physical science there lies culture, a middle area of shared beliefs and values.
Douglas & Wildavsky, 1982:194
A vivid reminder that a middle area between objective fact and subjective interpretation does exist, is a criminal trial: some individuals claim to possess the truth, some don't. Some are lying, some aren't. We randomly select a group of strangers, and the individual's powers of persuasion determine their fate.
The intention is to converge on truth, but spare a thought for the person who possesses the truth all along. They have nothing to gain from the trial (they know what happened), but everything to lose. The system of justice attempts to ensure that they gain the objectively defined "truth", but there's enough room for subjective interpretation and misunderstandings to threaten this.
Spare a thought for Joanne Lees, the backpacker who hid for several hours in the Australian outback being hunted by the man who'd just killed Peter Falconio (her boyfriend) - and for some inexplicably sexist, sensationalist, and evil reason she became a prime and public suspect.
A criminal trial is specifically designed to deliver justice, and it's tempting to conclude that "the system works, what's all the fuss about?" (See inset) But don't neglect another institution that operates in the middle area between objective truth and subjective perception: the media.
I've spoken previously about Duncan Ferguson, and how the press hate him because he won't play along:
"The media refuse to accept that anyone can be a hero without their permission. It erodes their authority, and hence the attempts now to attack the man
it's not good enough for a journalist to think that a man's refusal to make their life easy, permits them to use prejudice and inference. If you don't know the facts, then don't write the article"
Big Dunc didn't want to play the media game, and ultimately didn't have to: his livelihood didn't depend on it, and he didn't care much for his public reputation. This option wasn't really available to Joanne Lees, however. Being a witness in a murder trial across the globe makes it impossible to earn a normal living, so her livelihood is involuntarily tied to the case. But more importantly her reputation was being questioned in a far more personal, meaningful, and destructive manner
- sitting back and taking it isn't an option.
So Joanne Lees finds herself in an unenviable and unwanted position: thrust into a media spotlight and subject to speculation and deformation. Effectively blackmailed into participation because the only way to respond to such attention requires engagement.
Consequently she's written a book, "No Turning Back", and is once again opening herself up to public attention as she seeks to publicise it. She is more cynical now, and has learnt from the mistakes made (rather than worry about the boyfriend you fear is dead you should worry about what choice of clothes best conveys "grieving", even though at this point (a) you're not grieving, you're searching; and (b) you can't bare what it'd do to your ailing mother to see you break down so far from home. Another mistake is to trust that cunt Martin Bashir, although you acknowledge it won't be the first or last time a journalist abuses your integrity and your trust).
Listen to "Today" on Radio 4 on Monday morning, for what promises to be a deeply moving interview. Keep a look out all this week for her interviews with the British media (which began with a book serialisation, podcast and Q&A qith The Times), and which i've been told Simon Mayo treated her with the most compassion (Monday 7th October 2pm, BBC 5 Live).
Already the frenzy is in action, as Australia's media pick up on the book release and prepare for the round of interviews and publicity she'll be doing Down Under next week by openly questioning her experience. Shameful.
But at least now - with a warmly written, humurous, yet achingly chilling account of her side of the story - she's provided the world with what she's needed to say. She's documented the two crimes she's endured: firstly at the hands of Bradley Murdoch, secondly at the hands of the media. And as she winds down the pact with the press she can put this sorry episode behind her, with her integrity intact, and a fitting account of one of the most disturbing crimes of recent years.
Such a shame that these two forms of culture are less than perfect mechanisms to deal with subjectivism.