William James, one of the founding fathers of psychology as a science, reacted rather vehemently to the idea that institutions can take care of the well-being of individuals. He said, and I quote: ‘It is a matter unfortunately too often seen in history to call for much remark, that when a living want of mankind has got itself officially protected and organized in an institution, one of the things which the institution most surely tends to do is to stand in the way of the natural gratification of the want itself. We see this in laws and courts of justice; we see it in ecclesiasticisms; we see it in academies of the fine arts, in the medical and other professions, and we even see it in the universities themselves.’ (1898; 1) Unquote.[1] As an example one can think of ‘justice,’ as one such a living want that became entangled and frustrated within the institutionalised confines of our justice departments. These institutions deal with abstract concepts like ‘due process’, ‘retributive justice’ and ‘retaliation’, and not so much, if at all, with the feelings of the victims or the plaintiffs. Nothing meaningful gets done with those feelings, those living wants, except that they are ‘channelled’ through the system.

Now it is true that a thing called ‘restorative justice’ opposes this bleak picture of justice by laying more emphasis on the position of the victim in the penal code, and I do not want to deny that this is a good thing, but restorative justice is not the real hero of this talk. Their defenders, I believe, got a mistaken image of the problem. And this can be noticed by observing that the problem is not solved by replacing all the ‘rotten apples’ in the penal system for good-natured intelligent people, because, before long, those ‘good apples’ will find themselves embroiled in the same mess as their predecessors; i.e., seeing the living want of people in a technical light which soon becomes the only light in which they seem able to see the purpose, and the narrow way which is the only way in which they can work in its service.

What both parties fail to see is that it is the system itself that is at fault, whereas these faults are pretty obvious to the savant onlooker. A justice system that allows its operatives to act, in the same case, at the same time, as both prosecutors and judges, is not by any standard a good system. Neither is a system that immunises itself for the findings of a control mechanism, like checks and balances, likely to be a system that will generate justice as its outcome. And an ‘independent inquiry’ into the workings of a system that offers solutions in terms of ‘what the client has asked for’, is not an independent affair at all. However, failing to see the loopholes, faults and shortcomings in a system is one thing, but being knowledgeable of these errors and doing nothing about them is quite another. Such as state of squalid affairs pretty much amounts to the same thing as state-terrorism.

The real hero of this talk is a man named Hüseyin Baybasin, a Turkish Kurd. He is sentenced to a life long imprisonment in the Netherlands – serving more than twenty years by now – not because he had committed any crime, but because he acted as a whistleblower. After he revealed the active involvement of the Turkish government in a lucrative drugs trade, ethnic cleansing of Kurds and the political background of murders that took place in the Netherlands in the eighties, he was apprehended and tortured by the Turkish government, afterwards lured into the Netherlands, and on a ‘make-up charge’ convicted to life imprisonment. To be absolutely sure, there is not one shred of evidence against this man, not an iota of incriminating material that will hold under scientific scrutiny, no prior criminal record whatsoever. In short, Baybasin is a political prisoner, held captive in the Netherlands, still fighting state-terrorism to this very day.[2]

What seems puzzling in this case, in his pursuit of justice, his living want, is that Baybasin does not blame the individual Dutch or Turkish police officer who worked very hard to get him convicted. Somehow he manages to keep his thoughts in this matter clear, an extraordinary achievement. Without prior knowledge of this ‘fabricated evidence’, such a police officer, in his view, merely did what he was paid for to do. Baybasin, however, blames those police officers and state officials who acted as if nothing had ever happened as soon as it became known to them that the evidence was murky and suspect at best, when the political dimensions in his case became visible for anyone to see and when lots of high-ranking officials displayed considerable energy to cover up their lies, even committing perjury on a unseen large scale. These people did not object to using fabricated evidence, resulting in a trumped-up charge. Others revelled in writing ‘scientific publications’ about this case, without giving the matter of truth a second glance. Corruption had its heyday in the Department of Justice. To be sure, there were others too. A public prosecutor and a magistrate who did object to the use of unlawful material and the wrong-doings of their superiors, were suddenly demoted and taken from the scene. The Baybasin-case is the biggest judicial scandal ever that our society has to deal with.

Baybasin also knows, with Aristotle, that corruption abhors the void. For corruption to be possible at all it needs the capturing traits of an institution, a system. By this I mean the numerous codes of honour and codes of silence that are part and parcel of every institution, as so many means to brush mistakes under the carpet, to immunise itself against criticism from outsiders, to tell each other that all fares well and that it is a good thing that the sake of an individual has to dwindle for the greater good.[3] Such codes have a benumbing effect on good folk when they start out to work in such a system. Beguiled they believe they are doing the right thing. What is a little torture between friends?, asked the former Dutch premier Balkenende, notably a devout Christian, just before he engaged in the NSA/CIA rendition programme of suspects of terrorism. They are captured by the strong belief of sharing common goals, all to the benefit of the greater good. Add to this the pressure of situational circumstances and other systemic influences and we have ourselves a full-blown version of ‘the Lucifer Effect’.

In James’ time of living things like state-corruption, state terrorism, the detrimental working of institutions and ‘the Lucifer Effect’ were already widely known amongst scholars of a different ilk. In fact they knew these phenomena so well that their existence did not call ‘for much remark’. The much needed solution then and now are heroes, varying from the naïf but honest child in the fairy-tale of the Emperor’s clothes to whistleblowers, from the man who takes care of his’ sick parents to a man like Huseyin Baybasin. Programmes like this, the Hero Round Table Conference, can make a difference too, but, as a note of warning, must pay heed for institutionalisation. By the same token, it is more likely than not that by acting as a hero against state-terrorism you are prone to end up in prison. Nevertheless, it is time to make a difference.




[1] ‘On Human Immortality: Two supposed objections to the doctrine’, from Essays in Religion, Harvard University Press, 1983 (originally 1898). Mentioning James in this context is not that strange as it appears on first sight. James was actively engaged in the Dreyfus-process and the release from prison of this unfortunate Jewish-French officer. The Dreyfus-case and the Baybasin-case show remarkable similarities with the Turkish interpreter T. Cetinkaya playing the role of Esterhazy and the Dutch public prosecutor Jan Koers as his French counterpart Georges Picquart. See F.O. Matthiessen The James Family, 1961; W. James Pragmatism, 1976.

[2] See Ton Derksen De Baybasin-taps: een politiek gevangene in Nederland, ISVW 2016.

[3] This observation holds water not only for total institutions like prisons, asylums and (para)military organisations, but also for the banking system, the health system, labour unions, and so forth.