Monday, 15 June 2009

More on the Bain Case

Challenging the "official" version: Joe Karam, David Bain, and the Defence Team exposed the the State's failures - a sin not easily forgiven by bourgeois New Zealand.

An anonymous commentator responded to my "David Bain and the class divide" posting by dismissing it – along with my focus on class issues generally – as both nonsensical and overly simplistic. This is my response.

Nonsense Anonymous? Simplistic? I don’t think so.

You claim that the national division of opinion over Bain’s innocence/guilt breaks along intelligence rather than class lines. Well, forgive me, but it is difficult to conceive of a more forthright assertion of class prejudice.

The association of intelligence with class advantage is well established historically. This is because the modern middle-class, until relatively recently, was limited in the degree to which it could transfer the social advantages it enjoyed to its offspring. High progressive taxation and death duties militated against the straightforward transfer of physical capital from one generation to the next, and so most middle-class effort was directed at securing, and passing on, its cultural capital.

Obviously, the key to securing cultural capital, along with all the advantages it brings in terms of access to the professions, and hence higher social status and income, lay in gaining control of the education system. Educational institutions, along with familial example, are the prime conveyor-belts of cultural capital. Making sure that their children had access to the best teachers, the most lavish educational infrastructure, and the most appropriate (i.e. professionally oriented) curriculum has been, and remains, one of the most important "jobs" of the middle-class as a distinct social formation.

Equating the ability to negotiate this complex pedagogical system successfully with "intelligence" has always been crucial to the middle-class’s claim that society operates on "meritocratic" principles. If people "fail", it is vitally important that they are seen to do so simply because they fall on the wrong side of life’s great bell curve. It certainly has nothing to do with a system quite consciously designed to advantage one class over another.

If you’re really interested in this stuff, I strongly recommend the writings of Barbara Ehrenreich and Prof. James Flynn.

Now, let’s return to the "class struggle" aspects of the Bain case.

The case has always been problematic for the middle-class because of the extremely confused and conflicting signals it has transmitted over the past 15 years.

The default position of the middle-class on practically every issue – economic, social, political and legal – is to remain safely within the boundaries of the "official view". In the Bain case that meant trusting the police evidence, the original trial judge’s exclusion of critical evidence, and accepting the first jury’s verdict. The "safety" of this position was further reinforced by the Court of Appeal’s upholding of the original verdict.

Karam’s refusal to accept the "official" verdict against Bain marked him out as a threat to all "right-thinking" and "intelligent" citizens. The growing body of evidence that Bain had been the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice – much of it from professionals like themselves – could, therefore, be swept under their mental carpet and ignored. The emotional energy required to repress the logical consequences of Karam’s new evidence was, however, bound to multiply the irrational elements in the bourgeois mindset.

The mentally dislocating effect of the Privy Council’s rejection of the "official" result must, therefore, have been devastating. Karam’s new evidence was deemed to be compelling, and that meant that there was now a new, much more "pro-Bain" official position on the case. However, because this new official position came from outside the ambit of the New Zealand bourgeoisie, it could be dismissed as in some way illegitimate. In a very important sense, the Law Lords – by challenging the competence of the local ruling class – had "let the side down".

Which is why it was so important to secure a second conviction of Bain. Only by persuading the new jury to reaffirm his guilt could the legitimacy of the original official judgment (and hence the competence of the ruling-class and its middle-class backers) be reinstated.

The dissonant effect of seeing so many expert witnesses confront and contradict the Crown’s (i.e. the Police’s) evidence must have grown increasingly pronounced in middle-class minds as the trial progressed. The official narrative of the Bain family murders was unraveling before their eyes, and that part of their being not bound up with the "politics" of the trial, would, almost certainly, have been warning them that the Crown’s case could not possibly pass the test of "beyond reasonable doubt".

And so it proved. In just 5.5 hours the Jury acquitted Bain on all five murder charges.

The middle-class’s subsequent and quite astonishingly vicious response to Bain’s acquittal has nothing whatsoever to do with "intelligence" and everything to do with its profound resentment toward, first and foremost, the Jury, and secondly, towards Bain, Karam and the Defence team, for overturning the original official view in such a public and final fashion.

Bain has moved beyond their reach – at least in a legal sense – and it rankles.

He has not, however, moved beyond their ability to cause him grief and harm. The bourgeoisie’s control of the news media allows it to harass Bain with impunity, and prevent him from leading the quiet and unmolested existence he now has the right to expect.

And, it is here that the irrational and atavistic impulses which lie so very close to the surface in the bourgeoisie make their most frightening appearances.

In their fury at being gainsaid, middle-class opinion-formers are openly calling for the abolition of trial by jury, and promoting Europe’s inquisitorial justice system. Also under attack is the right of accused persons to remain silent, along with their entitlement to proper protection against the admission of evidence highly prejudicial to receiving a fair trial.

That the New Zealand middle-class is willing to sacrifice the protections of the common law for the inquisitorial methods of the absolutist state, testifies to the highly tenuous nature of its commitment to the democratic state.

"If juries cannot be relied upon to deliver the right verdict, then we should do away with them altogether, and leave the adjudication of guilt and innocence to middle-class professionals – like ourselves. After all, people like us don’t have the time to sit on juries, and – clearly – justice can no longer be left to the sort of dummies who do."

For the bourgeoisie, retaining control is everything.

But why?

Because, in the middle-class mind Bain represents much more than a convicted murderer. As the sole survivor of the Bain family, he has always been expected to carry the guilt – and bear the punishment – for its terrible failure to uphold core bourgeois values.

The dilapidated, squalid, stinking family dwelling: a fine (and valuable) old house allowed to go to wrack and ruin. The parent’s failed marriage: followed by their mental and moral disintegration. The waywardness of the children: with one of the daughters regularly prostituting herself. The dark hints of rape and incest. The whole, tragic picture of an attractive and talented middle-class family descending into a pit of self-neglect and social demotion. It is this, the truly terrifying spectacle of family failure and downward social mobility, that gnaws away at the middle-class psyche whenever the Bain case is contemplated.

That is the real, unspoken crime for which the entire Bain family stands condemned in the court of bourgeois opinion. For acting out the middle-class’s most fearful nightmares, it was psychologically vital that nobody emerged from 65 Every Street – "not guilty".


Don Franks said...

Chris, methinks the divide here is really between materialism and idealism. Rubbing up against all of your philosophical fulmination is the hard evidence of the rifle prints, the paper run oddities, the jersey fibres under the fingernails, the struggle with Stephen, the self serving note on the computer, the full bladder and on and on it goes. I don't like the bourgeosie one little bit, but am prepared to admit that some of them get the facts right some of the time.

Chris Trotter said...

Ever the Stalinist, Don. I should have known you'd appreciate a good show-trial (Dunedin 1994) when you saw one!

Morag Eyrie said...

I can't believe how much I'm enjoying this blog, given that I react so strongly *against* your take on feminism and identity politics! Shock, horror, it's possible to agree with someone in some areas and disagree in others!

I've no idea if Bain is guilty or not, but it certainly seems a miscarriage of justice took place, and your class analysis is so good to see out in the public domain.

I'm a New Zealander who has lived in Glasgow for 12 years, and I've only started to think about and understand New Zealand's culture and history through the lens of class politics since being here- it was all opaque to me back then. Reading this blog is really helping me. And it helps me explain New Zealand a bit better to my red-or-dead working class Glaswegian partner!

As a side-note- you couldn't have been more wrong about Glasgow in the previous posting comparing it favourably to Auckland. The Council here is a shameful corrupt shambles which has had no thought for the needs of ordinary Glaswegians for many years: in the pocket of big business and lining their own pockets. But that's a discussion for another day.

Keep up the good work.

Don Franks said...

Drifting a little bit close to the shoals of your own Bowalley Road Rules there I would have thought Chris. Dunedin showtrial my arse.
Irrespective of that, the facts remain, bloodstains, bladder and all.
In the realm of esoteric theorising, I would credit the ruling class with a wider vision and a thicker skin. The surplus value is what decisively counts in this game. The current exploiters and despoilers of the planet are not to be put off their stride by one unconventional untidy household.

Anonymous said...

According to your logic Chris, David should have been seen as an avenging angel redeeming the fallen family. This logic explains also why he wasnt allowed to plead insanity without underming the act of redemption.

lurgee said...

The only person I know of who thinks David Bain was guilty is my father-in-law, a dyed in the wool Otago peasant who votes National. My wife, myself and other effette, well educated, more-or-less leftwing liberals, all thought he was innocent.

That said, the father-in-law is very traditional in his views about families and such like, so there might be a little something in some of what you say, though not the rather silly economic determinism.

I think you need to look more at the superstructure, not try to uncover bogus economic justifications for everything. Remember, the key myth of the bourgeois religion -the one you're forever blethering on about, to the detriment of your blogging - is of suffering, injustice and redemption.

That might point the way to an interesting analysis. My gift to you. May your moustache grow long.

Anonymous said...

What crass superiority Mr Trotter trots out - the underlining meaning is an admiration for Karam and his crowd - what labels do you attach to them? clever, intelligent? David Bain killed his entire family - and no matter how you dress it to fit your own deliberations or throw dust in the eyes of the public that fact remains.