The fungibility of Rebekah Brooks
Economists have a word for it: fungibility. It describes how replaceable a type of commodity is. Art isn’t at all fungible – every piece is unique. Money is highly fungible. So is Rebakah Wade. So is Paul Stephenson. So is David Cameron.
Unlike Salvador Dali, Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart or Jane Espenson, these people are easily replaced. Their talents are not unique. They fulfil a function in our social/economic system. If they didn’t do it, someone else would. That person would perhaps be slightly worse at it. Maybe they would be slightly better. But in the same way as we can be sure that without Dali we would have had no Dali’s, without Rebekah Brooks, we can be sure we would still have had dodgy tabloids distracting people from the ways they are being screwed over. Someone would have whipped up fear about paedophiles whilst millions of children faced daily poverty. That someone would most likely have allowed journalists working for them to hack into the phones of dead children, of terror victims and of bereaved families.
This is not to excuse Rebekah Brooks. I am not saying that any of us in that position would have done the same thing. I am saying that in order to get the job of editor of News of the World, you probably have to be an unmitigated arsehole. But there are, alas, plenty of unmitigated arseholes out there: Broken Britain is good at breeding them.
So, yes, let’s cheer the fall of Rebekah Brooks. I first remember hating her when, about a decade ago, she decided to publish the names and addresses of people on the sex offenders register – whipping mobs around the country into a violent frenzy which at one point attacked a paediatrician. Let’s celebrate the fall of Paul Stephenson whose tenure at the Met had already secured him a Bright Green “dick of the year” nomination for 2010 without even considering the phone hacking and corruption scandal. Let’s hope that the flood waters do engulf Cameron – it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
But at the same time, let’s remember this: there is a reason that such people end up running our national institutions. There are reasons for this corruption, this hubris and this malice. There are reasons so many people are implicated in this scandal. Our system of concentrated power breeds corruption.
We could wake up next week and find that every editor of a News International paper has resigned, that the entire leadership of the Met has gone, and that every Government minister has stood down. But would we find, a year from now, or two years, or five years, that the institutions were still rotten? that some other great scandal has taken place? that those who we booted out were replaced with perfect replicas? I suspect so. Certainly Mr Yates’ replacement with the woman who ordered the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes would indicate as much.
Instead, let’s celebrate the resignations. But tomorrow, let’s start to build a different country: a country ruled not by fungible elites, but by the people, for the people. After all, if we’ve learnt anything over the last few years, surely we could do a better job than this bunch?
A country by the people and for the people is the country that every citizen dreams of. I support your goal and I hope it will be a reality soon.
Reading the excoriation of Jonnie Marbles on ‘Comment Is Free’ it suddenly clicked that most people are not engaging morally with what News Corporation is. There are exceptions (Adam’s piece above, and Anthony Barnett’s on OpenDemocracy); but for the most part the public response divides into those who worship power and therefore worship Murdoch until such time as he is laid low; and those who are not capable of having moral reactions, only sentimental ones.
In the former category I group all comments about ‘the grand old man of newspapers’, and those who think that the foam pie interrupted the crucial moment of questioning (in fact the interrogator at that moment was an author of chick-lit; and in the latter, comments invoking a confused old man, vulnerable, etc.
Most people have no idea what News International was — anyone who thinks it was something to do with the media falls into this category. And the moral emptiness in the country (well — I mean England) is revealed. I fear that there will be nothing to take the place of these discredited institutions. Just more mindless sentiment and the worship of power.
I think we need to be thinking about our political institutions, and I mean political institutions of all kinds, our electoral system, our parliamentary system. Limiting how much media one person can own, Access to the legal system. All these things need to be looked at because peoples behaviour wont change unless the institutions that they have to work within do.
Loving that word – fungibility (even if it does sound slightly more like a measure of one’s aptitude for growing mushrooms)
As Diana says, very clearly communicated points, Adam, as always.
I suppose though (and this is not a critisism of your blog entry) that the really important thing is what you touch upon in your very last paragraph. How.
How do we build the different country? How do we get the people who aren’t arseholes to a) want to take on these roles in the first place and b) be allowed to do so by the even-higher-up-arseholes who have the power to decide such things?
I just hope that the whole system is not so corrupt that the only way to penetrate it is to find some very decent people among us who are willing to go deep undercover, mascarading as arseholes, so that they can climb their way up into the power positions of these corrupt industries undetected and unchallenged. Only then will they be able to show their true colours. Any one up for it?!…
(Sorry Adam – that last bit sounds mocking of your piece and it’s not meant to be – just the desperation of trying to think how the hell else we could do anything about it!)
You write with such sparkling clarity. It’s much appreciated.