A few years ago there was story in the Evening Standard.

It concerned 5 sadists and 5 masochists.

The sadists were all sentenced to imprisonment and the masochists were all given probation.

What made it interesting for me were the reasons.

Every week or so the sadists and masochists would all meet up and go to someone’s flat.

Once there, they’d pair off: one masochist to one sadist.

Sounds a pretty satisfactory relationship.

One who likes giving pain, one who likes receiving it.

During the course of the evening the sadists would perform acts that gave themselves and the masochists pleasure.

Presumably the usual: whips, chains, handcuffs, canings and beatings.

But evidently it also went further.

One particular piece of evidence that still stands out in my mind is that the sadists liked to nail the masochists’ scrotums to planks of wood.

And apparently the masochists enjoyed this.

Afterwards everyone would clean themselves up.

Apply antiseptic cream as necessary.

Have a drink and a chat, and make arrangements for next week.

All very amicable.

Until the police turned up and raided the flat and found evidence of criminal assault.

They questioned the owner who freely admitted it.

But since everything was between consenting adults in private, he didn’t see it was a problem.

The police arrested him and the other sadists.

What they had done constituted the official definition of criminal assault.

Whether it was consensual didn’t come into it.

The masochists came forward to give evidence that no crime had been committed against them.

They were willing participants.

At which point they were arrested as accomplices before and after the fact.

They had aided and abetted in the crime of assault.

According to the law a crime had been committed, therefore charges must be made.

The fact that the masochists agreed to it merely made them complicit in the crime.

Therefore they were also charged.

And the sadists all got prison terms and the masochists all got probation.

Isn’t that strange?

When we take the purpose of something and turn it into something else.

Supposedly the purpose of civilisation is to protect people from being oppressed.

So we make a law protecting people from oppression.

So people are free to express themselves.

But they find in doing so they are breaking the law.

So we enforce the law and the law becomes the oppressor.

My dad, who was a policeman, always told me he saw his job as enforcing “The spirit of the law, not the letter of the law”

In other words: use your brain.

Don’t just blindly follow the words themselves.


But that isn’t how most of us do our job.

Instead we enforce the letter of the law.

Because there’s risk involved with thinking.

There’s nowhere to hide if it goes wrong.

But there’s no risk involved in sticking to the letter of the law.

All the case histories we’ve read, people’s job titles, what wins awards, what the client wants, what the market-leader’s doing.

All of these are the letter of the law, the security blanket.


If we stick to the letter of the law we don’t have to think.