BRIBERY AND BLACKMAIL
Two quite different words, Bribery and Blackmail, are in danger of being redefined by their misuse. This is a favourite device of those who have an interest in de-clarifying moral certainties.
Let us take Bribery first.
To bribe someone is to offer them some incentive to do what they know to be morally wrong. It has, in recent years, been massaged to cover all kinds of incentive, even the incentive to doing what is morally right.
For example, it is being put about that "heaven" or "salvation" are bribes which are offered us for being "good" or "faithful" or "committed", and that people ought to "be above all that" and do all these things "for their own sake". Virtue, they say should be its own reward.
This sort of nonsense, which is a variation of Quietism, is based on two quite specific misapprehensions.
1) In practice, nobody goes on doing anything for very long unless it affords them some kind of satisfaction. That satisfaction may take one of many forms: pecuniary, sensational, "pleasing Daddy", passing the exam, or simply "the gratifying feeling that our duty has been done".
God has, in fact, so ordered the world that a great many things which are our duty to do are at the same time pleasurable. Eating, drinking, bathing, working, besides the multifarious healthy recreational activities, mental and physical, which are available to us, are all sources of incalculable enjoyment to people.
To describe these pleasures and rewards as "bribes" is all of a piece with attributing Jesus's miraculous powers to "Beelzebub". It springs from a deep loathing of seeing other people enjoying themselves. This of course goes straight back to Gnosticism, with its contempt for things material and its (misplaced) exclusive zeal for things "spiritual".
2) The second confusion arises from people's inability to distinguish between correct and misplaced motivations.
It is perfectly correct for an architect, for instance, to design a house for somebody, in the expectation that he will be paid for doing so. Unless he has reasonable grounds for supposing that he will be paid, then he will not even start the job; or he will be foolish to do so, unless of course he is doing someone a favour.
But this legitimate expectation is not in itself the proper motive for working at the drawing board. The proper motive should be to use his skills as an architect to produce a building which will do what its commissioner want it to do. If he succeeds he will also be rewarded with satisfaction.
None of these things - money, satisfaction, the gratification of his client, nor the enhancement of his reputation as an architect can be described as a "bribe". The worst that can be said might be that the architect has "got his priorities wrong" if he puts the reward before the proper application of his professional skills and produces a skimped or bad piece of work as a result. Reprehensible such motives may be if they prevent the work being done properly; bribery they are not.
C.S. Lewis put it rather neatly in "The Weight of Glory". He says: "We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things....The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation. There is also a third case which is more complicated. An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper, and not a mercenary, reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so.
The schoolboy beginning Greek grammar cannot look forward to his adult enjoyment of Sophocles...He has to begin by working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or at best in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire. His position therefore bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just in so far as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward." (Transposition and other Addresses, Geoffrey Bles, 1949, p22).
BLACKMAIL The second misused term is Blackmail. Its correct use is to define the process whereby the threat to reveal something scandalous about its victim is used to elicit payment or some other favour from him or her. One famous example occurs in An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde.
Recently however, the term has come to be applied to any kind of emotional or other pressure brought to bear in order to influence someone's behaviour. The words "moral" and "emotional" are often juxtaposed with the word Blackmail.
From there it is only a short step to labelling all forms of persuasion "blackmail", which they undoubtedly are not.
It would be better to confine blackmail to its original meaning of threatening to reveal discreditable information if one's favours are not granted. That is always a morally reprehensible thing to do.
It is not morally reprehensible, however, to persuade people by reason as to the course of action they should or should not take, and this includes drawing their attention to the probable consequences of such action. "If you do that I shall hand in my resignation" might be described as a threat (justified or otherwise). But it is not blackmail.
However, to say "If you don't vote for me I shall tell them that you have been dipping your fingers in the till", is both a threat and blackmail.
And it is blackmail and reprehensible regardless of whether the allegation is true or not.
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