Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Polanski, redux

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Godammit, do I have to write about this again? Yes, I do. I am in such a state of rage that my fingers can hardly move coherently over the keyboard.

It often astonishes me how days turn out. We have not had a huge amount of summer up here in Scotland; you got all the good stuff in the south. But today was a proper, all stops out, sunshiny day. It was so hot this morning that I put on a skirt, laid out a blanket on the lawn, and took my work outside, so I could bask in the weather. I was entirely happy. I solemnly saluted the high good fortune of the self-employed. I made some lemonade, and marinated a chicken for my lunch. It was all domestic goddess, all the time, and all manner of things were well.

Then, for no special reason, I came inside to check my email, and thought I'd say something on Twitter. I have neglected Twitter lately, and felt oddly guilty about it. And there was a tweet from Johann Hari saying that he was getting hate mail about an article he'd written on the sordid Roman Polanski affair.

You can find the piece here. It is excellent. It says everything I think. Yet Mr Hari is getting hate mail, because he takes the scandalous position that child rape is wrong. I understand nothing.

I was talking a couple of days ago about moral relativists, and how they baffle me. Some people might think the defenders of Polanksi, who are so happy that he has been released, are relativists. I think they are worse than that. I think they are immoralists. It is very difficult for me to write this about a man like Bernard-Henri Levy, whose book on the killing of Daniel Pearl is filled with brilliantly calibrated moral outrage. But I can come to no other conclusion.

Let us perform a short and horrible thought experiment. You have a thirteen year old daughter. She comes home and tells you that a forty-three year old man has performed cunnilingus and anal sex on her, while she wept and said no, no, please no, I want to go home.

Do you:

A. Desperately attempt to comfort her, then call the police and insist that the full force of the law be brought to bear against her rapist?


B. Tell her it's not such a big deal because her seducer once directed rather a good film with Mia Farrow in it?

It's not really very hard to choose, is it?

What would all these staunch defenders say if it had been their thirteen-year-old child? What ethical code are they calling on when they dismiss the sodomising of a child against her will?

The categorical imperative is useful here. I sometimes think that Kant struck at the very heart of morality when he said:

'Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.'.

It is such a lovely, true, shining principle. It is the most Occamish of Occam's Razors. It cuts through all the noise, and confusion, and spurious justification. It kills relativity with one single stroke.

By the lights of the categorical imperative, the supporters of Roman Polanksi are suggesting that all adult males should be forgiven child rape if they have suffered tragedy in their personal lives, and if they have some artistic talent. Just pause for a moment and imagine writing that law into the statute book.

I understand complexity. I understand that Manichean thinking can be the enemy of sense. I understand that moral rigidity is not a good thing. I do not understand this. I do not understand why it is all right for the director of Chinatown to molest a child. I do not understand why Whoopi Goldberg thinks it is not 'rape-rape' (nor do I understand what rape-rape even is). I do not understand why people should be so enraged by any challenge to their twisted ethics that they send a good and honourable journalist hate mail.

I can't remember if it was Socrates or one of those sage old Chinese gents who said: the wise man is the one who knows he knows nothing. Today, I feel as if I know nothing. It does not make me feel awfully wise.


This, my darlings, is what I was going to write about, before:


And this:


And this:


And this:


Did you ever see such blue? Do you think that if I stare at that sky for long enough I shall recover my equilibrium?

Perhaps if I let my eyes fall on these faces, I shall once again grow calm:


They damn well know right from wrong. And they are dogs.


  1. absolutely. HEAR HEAR. I'm afraid my own comment on the issue was a less than lucid "FFS".

    (PS thank you very much for the Beautiful Blogger - incredible generosity. I shall post it forthwith.)

  2. Justifiably angry, but rational and articulate - would that I were more often so.

  3. Another HEAR HEAR. I am so angry I could spit, and I never spit.
    Thank god for that blue sky and your beautiful ladies.x

  4. It's people like him that make me feel quite ashamed to be part of the male species.

  5. Another "Hear Hear" from me too, I am speechless otherwise.

    These people need to check North on their moral compasses

  6. You are right there is absolutely no excuse for what he did - genius, holocaust survivor, partner of murdered wife and child - all irrelevant to whether he is guilty or not.

    There is however something about the legal process back then (why the plea bargain and v.low sentence etc) and now which appears to be somewhat dodgy. If there was something the Swiss authorities asked for and the US refused to supply which meant the extradition request failed then why on earth didn't they just supply it. They have completely failed to get their man by doing that as he is now back in France where they can't get him.

  7. I'll add myself to the list of those agreeing with you.

    I think the categorical imperative is a good way to try to live and consider these situations.

    I think even if you want to go down the route of utilitarianism, where there is room for relativism there is no way it can be justified.

    My only thought is the girl (as was) doesn't want to talk about it. And who can blame her?

    I just don't understand why people justify that action on other grounds. And it is kind of cheering to know someone who is as articulate and sensible as you, also cannot comprehend it.

  8. Thank you so much for excellent and kind comments. Forgive me for ranting.

  9. When will sexual abuse ever be seen as what it actually is....... when? There are no mitigating circumstances, there are no excuses there is no reasoning, rape is rape (whoopi) there isn't a point where the victim should have said this or that, done this or that, it is not the victims fault, it is not the victims responsibility especially when the victim is a 13 year old child have we really come to a point where celebrity out weighs the anal rape of a child?

    I cannot even remotely begin to comprehend how any right thinking individual could support this man in any way shape or form, it makes me sick to my core that a white middle class man suffering tragedy in his life should then be excused any moral responsibility......really?

  10. The more I hear and read about this the more enraged I become. It it just utterly beyond me that what this man did can be excused because of his work.
    And that you could even think there such a thing as 'rape-rape'? Really? REALLY?

    Oh, thank goodness you've shown your beautiful girls gazing at the camera.

  11. Obviously famous film directors have a different set of rules from us mere mortals.

  12. Not to come over all tangential but Whoopi Goldberg strikes me as not all together quite sane. With regards Mel Gibson's recent behaviour she has declared he's not a racist because - and I paraphrase here slightly but I believe I have the gist - he's been in her house when her kids were home. But she has decided he's an asshole. So that's ok - he's an asshole for apparently and allegedly smacking the mother of one of his children upside the head and abusing her appallingly, but he's not a racist. I find myself a little lost in wonder.

  13. Such a striking contrast between the sparkling clean and clear Deeside skies (I am blessed to have spent the day 'at her Majesty's pleasure tramping the Royal estate - Shhhhh, he doesn't know) and the grubby, tawdry goings on amongst the god forsaken glitterati.

    Disbelief NOT quite suspended; I merely echo a phrase all too frequently coined by my recently departed FiL 'Stop the World, I want to get off'. A mantle there for the taking I suggest.

    If wrong becomes right, or even just acceptable because of who you are or what you do then we are all morally corrupt.

    PS - I'm new to this so not at all sure about the conventions on blogging and commenting. I do however respond positively to
    withering glares and digs in the ribs

  14. Thank you, Tania. Had read and cheered Johan Hari's piece. So pleased by yours - although might have to part company with you on the subject of dogs possessing a moral sense.
    Commenting from a country whose 'BoBo' cultural élite has elevated the application of moral relativism into a fine art, so sick to death of seeing François Miterrand, BHL et al (no aliae ... hm) being wheeled out in defence of the indefensible. Bah!

  15. Yes, I really DID say 'François' M - duh! I meant, of course, Frédéric: wrong eff ...

  16. Thank you, thank you, for so many tremendous comments. So glad to find I am not alone in the outrage stakes.

    And Minnie - was only joking about the dogs knowing right from wrong. Although I do sometimes wonder...

  17. 'only joking about the dogs ...' - yes, so was I ;-)! But, like, you do sometimes wonder about certain animals, on basis of individual experiences.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin