I read an interesting paper recently by a group of psychology researchers who were investigating the influence of electromagnetic stimulation of parts of the brain in terms of how it affected the moral choices which people will make.
Two groups of people faced the same set of questions. One group was wired up to a machine which ran a small electromagnetic charge across the temperoparietal junction (TPJ) of the brain. The other group wasn’t.
An example of the types of moral judgements which the subjects were asked to make is as follows:
George is having a coffee at John’s house. George asks for sugar in his coffee. John has two similar jars in his cupboard. One contains sugar but it says POISON on the label; the other contains poison but the label says SUGAR.
John, knowing that the jars have the wrong labels, gives George a spoonful of poison from the SUGAR jar. George dies.
Did John deliberately poison George?
The group which was NOT being subjected to the electromagnetic stimulation (EMS) almost unanimously said yes.
Remarkably, there was a significantly high percentage of subjects in the other group which did not consider John to be guilty. Their reasoning was that John had taken the poison from the jar marked SUGAR and that was enough for them to believe he was off the hook.
In another example, John does NOT know that the labels have been switched. He believes he is putting sugar, not poison, into George’s coffee. George dies.
Group One (nonEMS) found him not guilty of premeditated murder. Most of Group Two found him guilty because George died.
In a third example, John thinks the labels have been switched, wants to poison George but inadvertently gives him a spoonful of sugar (believing it to be poison) and George finally gets a break, enjoys his coffee and goes off to watch the football.
By now, you’ll know what the groups’ verdicts are going to be. Group One condemned John for intending to poison George while a significant proportion of Group Two saw nothing wrong in what John did, simply because George survived.
There are numerous other variations of these experiments which all indicated the same confusion in moral judgement in subjects whose brains had been fogged by external stimuli such as electromagnetic charges. In all of them, the confusion arises from their inability to separate the facts of the matter from the intention of the agent. In moral judgements we regard somebody’s intentions as being the prime factor, regardless of whether they succeed in carrying out those intentions. In moral terms, attempted murder is just as serious as murder whereas being unwittingly involved in someone’s accidental death is not a criminal act at all. In assessing the guilt or innocence of an accused person, we need to establish if the accused had any motivation for causing or attempting to cause a death.
As an aside, the implications of this research are far-reaching and give rise to serious concerns about much of our Western lifestyle. We are surrounded by mobile phones, iPads and mp3 players (especially with headphones), digital televisions, wireless telephones, wi-fi computer connections, modems, so-called energy-saving light bulbs, microwave cookers, laptops and netbooks, transmission masts and numerous other appliances and devices, all of which emit electromagnetic radiation comparable to the EMS which was applied in the experiment. In the light of the experiment mentioned above, I find it to be inconceivable that our immersion in a veritable ocean of electromagnetic radiation is having no comparable effect. I also have information which indicates that a lot of research into these issues has been suppressed and marginalised. It’s not easy to adversely affect the corporate interest with hard, medical, scientific truth.
More generally, I’m struck by the fact that people can be so easily influenced to change their opinion of right and wrong by subtle environmental factors. You don’t necessarily need to have electrodes attached to your cranium in order to have your moral compass deflected off course. Fear of social unrest or other supposedly disruptive consequences may also affect someone’s idea of right and wrong. It’s very important to recognise that the members of Group Two who were making perverse judgements about John’s guilt or innocence genuinely believed in the value of their verdicts at the time. In their minds, it was clear that if George had survived, even though John had intended to poison him, then no condemnation of John’s character was warranted.
This experiment came to my mind when I read Lord Nimmo-Smith’s report of his inquiry into allegations that Rangers deliberately withheld and concealed parts of their arrangements to pay their playing staff. LNS at least managed to note that this was indeed what they had done. The registration conditions had not been met and Rangers had deliberately intended to keep part of their payment arrangements concealed. Those facts were recognised, hence the guilty verdict.
LNS then demonstrated his Group Two credentials by stating that Rangers had not gained or sought to gain a competitive, sporting advantage by deliberately and continuously breaking the registration rules. He ignored the obvious fact that Rangers intended to acquire a stronger playing squad by avoiding the taxes due on £47 million of salary. He ignored the significance of the fact that Rangers intended to dupe the tax authorities by disguising players’ remuneration as loans through an EBT scheme. Registering these payments with the SPL (and SFA) as they should have done would have blown Rangers chances of pretending to HMRC that monies paid to their employees via EBTs were entirely discretionary. And despite media misdirection and propaganda stating that Rangers had “won” their appeal to the FTT over HMRC assessments, LNS had the facts in front of him which stated clearly that the FTT had ruled – and Rangers had accepted – that the EBTs were indeed contractual salary arrangements in the case of at least five players.
Let’s recap that. LNS could see that Rangers paid players part of their salaries via EBTs. Those arrangements should have been part of the documentation submitted to the SPL as part of the player registration process. Rangers deliberately concealed that documentation. David Murray told the FTT , under oath, that Rangers used the EBTs to offer wage packages to better players whom they would not otherwise have been able to sign for the club. LNS concluded that Rangers, knowing full well that they were poisoning Scottish football regardless of what the label read, had not gained any sporting advantage from deliberately breaking the rules.
Rangers broke the rules. They knew they were breaking the rules. They were breaking the rules in order to sign better players than they could afford by keeping to the rules. They signed those better players and fielded them in hundreds of matches.
And LNS, relabelling the jar to suit, says that no competitive sporting advantage was gained.
That is his Group Two moment; George survived, no harm done, let’s move on.
Everything else proceeds from that viewpoint. Now that we’ve decided that John didn’t succeed in his attempt to poison George, we can indeed move on. We can move on to minimising John’s punishment. We might even avoid punishing John at all by dumping a fine onto hundreds of John’s long-suffering creditors. We can move on to finding somebody – anybody – whose interpretation of the penalty that should be imposed on a club which does not correctly register its players flies in the face of all reason, sense of fair play, precedent and practice.
Step forward Sandy Bryson, the man who decides which labels belong on which jars, regardless of their contents. Bryson, lest we forget, was the man who was in charge of registrations at the time of the scandal which led to Jim Farry’s disgrace and downfall over the SFA’s failure to allow Jorge Cadete’s registration with Celtic. Farry pulled the trigger but Bryson provided the gun, supplied the ammunition and pointed it towards the target. (By the by, let us also recall that James Traynor has never varied from his outspoken opinion that Farry was a magnificent administrator.) But the panel decided that Bryson was wearing the SUGAR label.
LNS and his fellow panel members decided that Bryson’s testimony was the be all and end all of interpretation of the SFA’s implementation of fair play. This was in spite of the fact that on the only occasion when his guidelines had been challenged in an independent judicial tribunal, the SFA’s case collapsed ignominiously before lunchtime on the first day of the hearing and the SFA immediately parted company with its long-serving Secretary. It was also in spite of the fact that Bryson’s advice to Celtic about FC Sion’s registration irregularities was that all was in order and nothing could be done; a perverse interpretation which was shot down in flames by UEFA who not only threw FC Sion out of Europe but also ordered the Swiss FA, on pain of being suspended from international competition, to retrospectively award victories to every one of Sion’s opponents in domestic league and cup fixtures in which improperly registered players had turned out for FC Sion. No matter; it says SUGAR on this jar of Bryson.
A credible witness? A man on whose testimony the learned panel should base their verdict? Only if your capacity for making moral judgement has been disrupted could you conclude an inquiry by ruling that no cheating had taken place and no unfair competitive or sporting advantage had been gained. Furthermore, why did the LNS panel take evidence from the SFA’s registration officer in the first place, given that the SFA was already standing by to hear any appeal? What sort of appeals body turns up at the initial hearing in order to give evidence in support of one of the parties and what kind of panel is so morally confused that it thinks such an intervention is okay? It is little surprise that this panel had such a complete unawareness of the principle of fair play.
Make no mistake about this. Scottish football has been run by Group Two members for a long time and continues to suffer for it. The poison in Scottish football’s coffee was put there deliberately, knowingly and with malign intent, regardless of what labels are on the jars. There is no excuse for asserting that the opinions of Group One and Group Two members have equal validity just because they may be sincerely held. They most certainly do not have equal validity.
It may well be the case from now on that football supporters in Group One decide that their only remaining option is to do without sugar or give up coffee altogether because they can recognise the futility of paying money into a sport which is being run along its present lines. It may well be the legacy of the LNS inquiry that George went home and decided not to bother watching the football after all.
Thirty-nine years ago time was running out for the thirty-seventh President of the United States of America. The perception was growing that Richard Nixon was in serious danger of being impeached and might even be removed from office before his presidency had run its course. Investigations into his part in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal were exposing the corruption that riddled his administration and as more and more damaging revelations continued to unfold, an unimaginable scenario was gradually turning into an inevitable reality.
It was becoming increasingly apparent that Auld Nick really was likely to get nailed, discredited and disgraced. The processes were gathering momentum, legal procedures were in motion, political resolve to remove him was strengthening and media which had previously supported him could no longer ignore the reality and scale of the crisis. Pro-Nixon apologists warned of dire consequences which the nation would inevitably suffer if it dared to bring the President to justice but they were misjudging the mood of a nation that had become increasingly sickened by what it was discovering about its government. The American people were not scared of facing up to the crisis, however unpleasant it was going to prove. They were determined to dig down all the way to the root of the problem in order to hold the guilty parties to account and also to send a clear, unequivocal message to future executives that a cynical betrayal of the standards expected of them would not be acceptable.
Nixon helpfully tried to reassure everyone and addressed the nation with a denial of any wrongdoing, introducing a legendary soundbite which spectacularly backfired. Overnight, “I am not a crook,” became a national joke which appeared on tee-shirts, coffee mugs, posters and bumper-stickers. By that time he was already sacrificing numerous key political allies, many of whom subsequently went to prison, and it was no longer preposterous to consider that Tricky Dicky himself might be sent down once he’d been brought down.
Finally, less than two years after winning re-election to the White House in one of the biggest landslides in American history, with impeachment now looming large on the horizon, Richard Milhous Nixon recognised that he no longer had sufficient political support in Congress to enable him to carry on effectively. He resigned and handed over the presidency to Vice-President Gerald Ford, who was sworn in within twenty-four hours. Although his resignation released him from the threat of impeachment, Nixon was now liable to face criminal charges from which he’d been immune while serving as the President.
Between 1974 and 1976, the government of the United States of America — the self-styled leader of the Free World and the greatest democracy in the history of the universe — was led by a head of state who was never elected to any office at the White House. He had become the Veep when the career of his predecessor, Spiro Agnew, crashed and burned in yet another scandal. Up to his ears in charges of fraud, bribery and tax evasion, Agnew cut a deal in which he resigned from the vice-presidency and pleaded No Contest to the charges in return for which he got to not go to jail. Nixon had a good feeling that Ford was the type of chap who might be able to bail him out if the worst came to the worst. Something of a Great Administrator who would never allow any matters of principle or integrity to stand in the way of his own personal advancement, Ford had served reliably and with complete discretion on the Warren Commission cover-up of the John F Kennedy hit. He had proven himself to be a man who could be depended upon to haul himself up the greasy pole by steadfastly not seeing the crime of the century even when it was presented to him in detail over the course of an entire year while he sat with one of its architects.
It should scarcely have been a surprise then when, within a month of becoming the unelected President of the U.S.A., Gerald Ford presented the man who gave him his job with a Get Out Of Jail Free card in the form of a “full, free and absolute pardon.” This instantly removed any possibility of Nixon being indicted for any criminal actions he had carried out when he’d occupied the White House.
The American public bitterly resented Ford’s flagrant insult to their decency and his shameless disregard for their sense of honour. They had endured years of humiliation and disgrace while exerting their best efforts to eradicate the sleazy culture of corruption in which their leaders were immersed. Now, at a stroke, every honourable judicial process, every honest endeavour to set the house in order had been contemptuously dismissed by a hopelessly compromised, spineless rogue, no better than the crooks who had preceded him. Ford’s Republican party was annihilated shortly afterwards in the mid-term elections and at the very first available opportunity, he himself was replaced by a peanut farmer.
But it mattered little to Ford. He had been appointed to the presidency to carry out one single task – to get his fellow crooks off the hook – and he accomplished that in jig time.
I can’t imagine why this widely known example of secretive, Establishment mutual back-scratching and gross abuse of power and position to thwart the pursuit of justice suddenly sprang into my mind. I had actually intended to write about what might happen should the SFA have to hear an appeal if Lord Nimmo Smith finds that Rangers were guilty of fielding improperly registered players for a period of many years during David Murray’s time in charge of the now extinct club. I’ve quite forgotten what I was going to say now.
Maybe next time.