Tuesday, 2 October 2012
Public and private personas.
I would not usually do things this way round, but I am going to cite a couple of references before I start. I hope people will note them, particularly the first, from The Lawyer 2008, that substantiates a point that some people have challenged me on in the last couple of days.
It will have come as no surprise to those who followed events concerning children in care in Jersey , and particularly Haut de la Garenne, that Jimmy Savile has both been previously investigated (in 2007), and has now had accusers publicly supported by Esther Rantzen , somewhat backed up by Paul Gambaccini. Nor will it be any great surprise to those who follow such things that it has taken decades for the facts to dribble out, and for those who knew or suspected, colluded as Ms Rantzen puts it, to come clean.
There will be those who dismiss the repeated accusations simply because they cannot believe that someone can be such a public figure and do a huge amount of charitable good work and simultaneously do such evil things. To do so fails to recognise an important point. The public persona is a construct; it may well not be the same as the private persona. This is obvious for actors, but it often holds for politicians and entertainers, even sometimes writers. It is one reason why in many of those professions the given name and the performance name differ.
I know barely any professional entertainers or actors personally, but I do know a fair few politicians both local and further afield. There are those with whom I vehemently disagree politically, but like and trust personally. There are yet others who are of a similar political persuasion to me, but with whom I find it almost impossible to work. Over years I have come to the conclusion that frequently the important distinguishing factor between the 2 groups is congruity. People whose actions and views are 'in synch', unless they are fundamentally abhorrent, are easier to deal with than people who give a compatible impression, but whose actions are at odds to their position.
Unfortunately you generally have to be close to someone for sometime to know if they are really congruent. The trap it is all to easy to fall into with public figures to assume you know them and therefore that their action are congruent. In truth you only know the public persona. Oftentimes a similar error occurs with people in a position of authority. If they are in such a position it is taken because we know something of the position we know something of the person. Why is this important? Because given one voice against another, unless you are aware and conscious of such biases, it is likely you will trust or believe the famous person over the unknown; the holder of office over that ordinary person, the adult over the child. It is one reason why, unless guarded against, the voice of children does not get heard. And that is one reason why abuse can get to persist and go unreported and unchecked for so long.
There is another strand to this too. It is what Margaret Thatcher summed up neatly when someone was nominated to her circle: “Is he one of us?” People are more likely to believe those who they perceive are more like themselves. It is another source of bias. It is also only a short step from there to groupthink: the psychological condition that occurs within groups, in which the desire for harmony in decision-making overrides a realistic appraisal of alternatives. Nothing better describes a bias. It also goes someway to understanding how individual group members can go decades knowing or deeply suspecting something is wrong, yet not acting on that. It is not an excuse, it is not a good reason for not acting or speaking clearly, especially when you know you will have the ear of the media or key decision makers, like Gambaccini above.
This piece is not about whether Jimmy Savile did obtain an injunction against the Sun about involvement at Haut de la Garenne. Having engaged lawyers and initiated action, both the publicity loving Sun and Mr Savile go silent. There is one overriding likely reason for that. Nor is it about whether Jimmy Savile did or maybe did not visit Haut de la Garenne, though there is a pretty convincing photograph still on the web, and of course dozens of children there at the time who could inform that view.
The real point of this piece is to learn some lessons and see some parallels.Having a high profile and reputations for public good works is not a guarantee or safeguard against atrocious personal actions. Ask yourself what you really know about the personas of the people involved in the child abuse debacle in Jersey. How much of what happened and did not happen in the past was shaped or determined by what people thought they knew about others rather than what they actually knew of the private person and the facts? How will we ever get to the truth of this and learn the lessons unless we get under those public facades and what we think we know and get to the hard facts and the real personalities and motives of the participants. What the recent public 'revelations' regarding Jimmy Savile means for us now is a proper, full open Committee of Inquiry.