The litigation around the attempted takeover of BHP in 1985 was as fierce as I have seen. I acted for Robert Holmes a Court. He was the coolest business man I have known – so cool, that you never knew what might happen next. (Some lawyers wondered if they should seek instructions from the newspapers.) When asked what he thought of his opposite number, the CEO of BHP, Brian Loton, Holmes a Court said that he was ‘basically honest.’ Imagine a circular playing field. Within it is another circle. What happens if you land in the outer area? What happens with the honesty of Mr Loton if he is outside his ‘basic’ part?
There you see language used to allow what we call ‘wriggle room’. We can see a similar possibility of doubt about the reach of a denial. If someone claims I owe him $10, and I believe I am only liable to pay $5, do I acknowledge a debt of $5 or do I simply deny that I owe $10 or any part of that amount? The rules of our civil procedure seek to encourage candour by seeking to bar evasive denials, but the timidity of lawyers usually leads to a blanket denial.
There is controversy about the behaviour of police in the U S. They are close to a crisis in looking at how police respond to people of colour. The President and others have denied that there is ‘systemic racism.’ Do you see the capacity for an evasive denial? Are you denying that there is any racism or are you saying that any such racism is not ‘systemic’?
The problem is worse here because both the terms ‘racism’ and ‘systemic’ are so slippery. ‘Racism’ here probably means something like – because white police officers think that black people are inferior to white people, they treat black people with less respect for their civil rights than they treat white people. But if that is alleged against white police officers at large, then it does look like such attitudes come from the ‘system’ of the police. How then could any such ‘racism’ be anything other than ‘systemic’?
With so much of what passes for public discourse now, you do wonder if people get slippery by design or habit. Good grief, might the problem be systemic?
‘Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night – or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means,’ Trump said.
The president added, ‘It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement.’
The Guardian, 30 May 2020.
In particular, you know what also makes a major contribution to the quality of life? Not dying.
New York Times, 30 May, 2020