There are often competing rights in any civilised society. Clive Palmer’s right to go skinny-dipping at a public beach needs to be balanced by other people’s right not to be put off sex for the foreseeable future.
And so, while it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that people have the right to keep their private life to themselves, this sometimes can run the risk of keeping some things out of the public eye that should be examined. In order to explain this further, I’m going to talk about someone’s sex life and then I’m going to deliberately leave sex out altogether.
First up, let’s use the example of Fred. If we imagine that Fred can only become sexually aroused when he’s in private and watching highlights of John Howard’s speeches, then, while we have a clear picture of someone who has what most people would regard as a serious issue, Fred’s private life is something that doesn’t impact on others, unless he chooses to share it with them, thereby not only violating their rights but giving them a case under the UN prohibition on cruel and unusual punishments. If Fred keeps it to himself, then it would be totally wrong for me to secretly film him just so I could sabotage him at work, where he’s likely to be promoted because he’s so much better at his job than me. Yes, many of us disapprove of Fred’s private life, some of us are appalled by it and will never see Fred in the same light again, but to give Fred his due, he never wanted it to be made public and it didn’t interfere with his capacity to do his job, so he should be allowed to continue and I should be admonished for trying to use someone’s private life for my greedy, personal reasons.
Now let’s remove sex from the equation altogether which I’m sure you’re all happy to do after my previous paragraphs. Let’s imagine that several companies have put in a tender for a large contract at my place of work and I’m the person who gets to evaluate them for my boss. I look them all over and say – to everyone’s surprise – that a small company just starting out should get the job. After the contracts are all signed, someone asks why I didn’t disclose that the directors of said company happen to be my brother-in-law, an old school friend who owes me money and a woman who was bridesmaid at my wedding. “Yes,” I say, “that’s true, but I didn’t think that my private life was relevant.”
So when we hear that various MPs are bonking their staff…
Whoops, sorry. I forgot that the PM interrupted a woman being asked about whether the culture for women had improved to object to the term. Apparently, the words trivialise what is a very serious thing and so we now have a “bonking ban” ban.
Anyway, when we hear that various MPs are bonking their staff and someone suggests that it’s all right because they’re consenting adults, I can’t help but wonder why some of the people who argue this have been so slow to embrace other activities that consenting adults would like to try. Gay people marrying each other, for example.
The thing is that when there’s a power imbalance there’s an inherent problem. However, that’s not the only thing that worries me. Just as we had the brouhaha with Gladys Berejiklian the other week, if there’s no problem, why is it being kept secret?
Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a private person and I don’t like my private life splashed all over the media… Unless I’m paid $150,000 for the interview like Barnaby Joyce.
Still, there’s something quite strange about the idea that something can be an open secret in Canberra but making it an open secret in the rest of Australia is intruding on that person’s private life… Actually, I’m starting to worry about the oxymoronic nature of the words “open secret”.
I guess what I’m saying is that were I doing something that nobody had a problem with, such as having a drink with a friend, then nobody would be particularly interested and exposing it is in nobody’s interest. However, if that friend happens to be a politician which I’m about to interview about a scandal in their office, it’s surely relevant that we frequently catch up and we’ve been having regular dinners together and so when my first question is: “How do you respond to this ridiculous nonsense that you’re imperfect in any way when you’re clearly so awesome at your job?”, people do have an inkling that my bias my the result of something more than the merits of the story.
And I guess I’m also saying that it’s inevitable that – from time to time – consenting adults working together may form attractions which they act upon. At such a time I think there’s only two ethical things to do: 1. Stop working together 2. Declare it openly so that it’s not a “private matter” and everyone can judge your actions through the understanding that the two of you are more than work colleagues. If you pick the third option of pretending it’s not really there, you can expect that, should it become public, then it’s hard to argue that you had nothing to hide because, if that’s so, why were you hiding it?
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