This week scapegoating returned…and my friends applauded or looked away…
I understand that many women (and men) are frustrated that Western justice systems allow some rapists to go free when I would be happy for them to be castrated or killed. I understand that the vast majority of rape claims are not proven to be false. I understand that there is also a clear problem with how our authorities treat and process rape claims. Women often feel scared, “on trial” or disbelieved and unable to come forward. I am not unfeeling, wicked or denying these problems. I know I can never understand how hopeless, lost and broken those that have suffered sexual assault or rape must feel.
We need to co-operate across the aisle to come up with practical solutions to improve these issues, while accepting that we will never have a 100% perfect solution. Such utopias do not exist and certainly cannot be found by ripping out the core concepts of western justice root and branch and embracing the poisoned chalice of identity politics and social justice.
I had thought that the tremendously important and laudable goal of the #metoo movement was to empower women to call out their attackers and not suffer in silence. As a person who has friends and family members that are survivors of sexual assault and rape, I applauded that sentiment. I still applaud that sentiment. This is very hard to talk about and hits very close to home.
However, this week democratic senators, members of the media and dozens on social media have weaponised the #metoo movement against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh for political gain and the signalling of personal virtue and in so doing, betrayed and sullied all that is good and progressive about it.
This week, the world has watched as a man’s reputation; life’s work and his very life itself are destroyed in public without a shred of empirical evidence ever being offered or, in many cases, even asked for. All that has been required is hearsay, emotion, bravery and the indignation that other “white privileged males” have mistreated women in the past.
Of course, it’s become par for the course to expect partisan hackery from not just democrats, but elected officials of all stripes; grasping, power-hungry politicians who must leave the power devolving founders of the United States spinning in their freedom loving graves. But, this week, as cross-party cooperation circles the drain and as our political polarisation reaches its tragic zenith, a group of democratic senators proved that they have no regard for the sovereignty of the individual and no boundaries to what they are willing to do. All that matters is power. All that matters is the world view. They re-instigated scapegoating and traditional and social media applauded or looked away.
When no evidence was presented, it didn’t matter to the folks on Twitter. This was no longer a rape trial, it was now a trial of character. This man had reacted angrily and must be guilty. When no evidence was presented, it didn’t matter to the folks on Facebook, Brett Kavanaugh was a “privileged, white man” that had it coming. When no evidence was presented, justice, a concept that understands that you are a sovereign individual responsible for your actions, didn’t matter to my friends in the highest echelons of the science community, only the posthumous, vicarious social justice for “survivors”. It’s sad that so many people seem to have missed the entire point of the enlightenment and the freedoms that it brought, probably because they’ve never had to live without them.
Of course, in many instances, the denizens of social media are simply hiding their blatant political partisanship behind a veneer of altruism, but many have been whipped into line or at least silenced by the incessant screeching and moral bullying of the “true believers” of social justice both online and in the media. It’s the shy conservative in over-drive. If you speak up, you will be destroyed. Just look at Brett Kavanaugh. We will do whatever it takes. You have been warned.
But why is this happening? Why are people so quick to destroy a man without any evidence?
But why is this happening? Why are people so quick to destroy a man without any evidence?
I think there are some clear parallels to be drawn with historic instances, such as the Spanish inquisition or the Salem witch trials, when religiously motivated group think was whipped up to the point of frenzy, left all reason behind and ran rough shod over the rights of the individual in favour of collectivist ways of thinking. Its merely a conjecture, but could it be that the public expressions of disapproval and disgust for Kavanaugh, for his anger and his drinking as a youth are signs of a displaced impulse towards religious moral puritanism?
In the past, in order to show virtue and piety to your society, you went to church on Sunday. Now, you post a “woke” meme on Facebook or attend a black lives matter rally and tell everyone about it. Is it just a coincidence that the decline of religion in the West has coincided with people throwing themselves publicly behind various forms of radical social activism and online rhetoric? Religion may be on its way out (I’m an atheist by the way), but it seems that people still need a transcendent cause to rally behind, and be seen supporting. A cause that demands their unquestioning devotion above evidence and logic. A cause that makes life simple, straightforward and black and white. A cause that allows them to demonstrate that their life has virtue, value and direction.
Nietsche once wrote that “God is Dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown”. I guess we may still be deeper in that cave than I had hoped….
Whatever the reason for the overwhelming online reaction to the Kavanaugh case that I have seen, as a scientist and critical thinker, someone who deeply values evidence and enlightenment rights, it has turned my stomach. But, that doesn’t mean I am unsympathetic and I resent the moral bullying that says anything but absolute condemnation of Kavanaugh is moral bankruptcy and a “slap in the face to victims”. It simply is not. No-one supports, accepts or supports sexual violence.
Again, I understand that Western justice systems allow some rapists to go free. Is that horrific? Yes. Do I hate it. Yes. Do I want to stop it? Yes!!! But fixing contemporary rape reporting and investigating is a delicate balance of competing concerns.
We have to ensure that victims are comfortable coming forward with claims and are encouraged to do so when they believe a serious sexual crime has been committed. We also have to ensure that victims understand that their claims will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. We want as many rapists behind bars as possible. To that end, I’m glad there is now an FBI investigation into Kavanaugh and that this has been kicked out of the field of political football.
However, on the flip side, we have to maintain the presumption of innocence to stop society descending into the Crucible, McCarthyism and a world controlled by the most unscrupulous among us, those who would happily use slander and false claims to further their own ends. A penchant for which politicians, media pundits and the denizens of social media have demonstrated in spades this week. We want as few false claims as possible, because these claims not only smear and destroy people in our modern, social media entranced world, but hurt real victims the most.
How Western justice deals with criminal accusations – The careful trade-off
Those that demand Kavanaugh and others be destroyed by accusations alone are conducting a one-dimensional analysis that sees more evil predators behind bars but ignores collateral damage. I do not ascribe evil motives to any but a very few of these people. They mean well! But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
In contemporary western justice, the bar of evidence required to convict someone of a crime balances the competing concerns outlined above.
The bar is set at a level commensurate with the severity of the crime and hence its associated punishment. Stealing a loaf of bread requires a low bar of evidence, simple eye witness testimony may be sufficient, but the punishment is correspondingly low, perhaps a caution or short stint of community service. In contrast, murder or rape, the worst crimes humans can commit require a high bar of evidence: multiple independent witnesses, CCTV footage and forensics, because the punishment is incredibly high (as it should be): long jail terms, destruction of reputation and in the case of the US, potentially death.
The bar is also set at a level above zero so that false claims are discouraged.
Western justice is under assault
But, this very structure is under assault in the modern day. Many see it as out-of-date, a relic of a bygone era, a tool of the white, male, cis-gender, straight “patriarchy” that needs to be destroyed. Many others, seem to simply not understand the reasons it exists at all, and are swept along by a tide of apparent virtue. The fundamental rights afforded to the accused are blocking “true justice” and selling women short. The evidentiary standard should be lowered while keeping the punishment just as, if not more, severe.
Lowering the evidentiary bar (and punishment) is, of course, a discussion we can and should have. It’s a method that was supported by the previous democrat administration which advanced legislation supporting the necessity for publicly funded universities to “self-police” and report sexual assault using the lower evidentiary bar of a “preponderance of evidence”.
However, such a lowering of the evidentiary bar proved highly problematic in high profile cases like Duke Lacrosse, “Mattress girl” etc. Such standards have also been taken advantage of by academics writing online smear lists, to dispense vigilante justice on academics that have been sanctioned by deeply flawed university disciplinary procedures which they can pressurise and guide – in effect lowering the evidentiary standard while ensuring that the punishment of reputation destruction remains maximal. Ironically, such actions demonstrate even more starkly why the high evidentiary bar is essential and contributed to the current administration rescinding the policy guidance to protect the rights of the accused.
The pure distillation of this insistence that the appropriate way to tackle the issue of rapists not being punished is to lower the evidentiary standard while maintaining severe punishment is perfectly encapsulated in the simple phrase that has swamped our media and social media feeds this week: “All victims should be believed”.
The phrase seems altruistic, empathetic and compelling. But, it’s a linguistic trick. It assumes victimhood before any has been proven. It should read “all accusers deserve to be believed”, an idea that would insist upon the evidentiary bar being reduced to zero in all cases. Pros: more predators are caught. Cons: more people are falsely accused and punished. Again, in a twist of irony, the actions of vigilante “shit-list” writers to insist on maximal online smearing scupper fruitful discussion of adjusting evidentiary standards, severely up-weighting punishments regardless of the evidentiary standards in play.
Again, I ascribe no nefarious motives to the vast majority of these people. They simply want to help the most vulnerable among us, as we all do. However, they are failing to consider the other side of the coin and the reasons Western justice is set up as it is. They are effectively saying, usually inadvertently but not always, that it doesn’t matter how many people are falsely accused, all that matters are the numbers of convictions.
This is social justice encapsulated – all that matters are the numbers that come out of the back for the historically oppressed group. It’s collectivist evil of the worst kind backed up by emotional and moral bullying and fake statistics that permeate to the highest halls of power (such as that which says 1 in 5 of college women are raped). It must be called out at every turn.
How this plays out in the Kavanaugh case
In the Kavanaugh case specifically, we see the structure of Western justice being thrown under the bus.
Again, we can certainly discuss the evidentiary bar appropriate in a hearing that is not a criminal trial and does not carry the threat of jail, but the accusers of Brett Kavanaugh are offering no empirical evidence. I hasten to add that that isn’t to say that their testimony is necessarily untrue, I don’t know, none of us do, but if emotion, empathy and political posturing are to be admitted as evidence, how can anyone ever defend themselves? Such charges could be weaponised and levelled against anyone. If Kavanaugh is found guilty by the FBI investigation, he should have the book, the entire library, thrown at him. Until then, he remains innocent.
Given this malleability and the broadening of the alleged Kavanaugh crimes to those of the identity group of “white, straight, privileged men” at large, commentary on this matter has become a disgusting exercise in calculating the a priori probability of a man being guilty based on collective statistics: the fact that the vast majority of rape claims are not proven to be false; the fact that the accuser sounds credible; the fact he has used immature phrases and drunk heavily in the past (it’s called college!) and most sickeningly, the fact that other offenders of his intersectional identity group have escaped justice.
The problem being that the average distributions say nothing about the merits of an individual case, only the evidence does. Kavanaugh is not 90% guilty if 90% of historical rape claims have not been proven to be false. The Kavanaugh case is also far from typical. Here we have a man running for one of the most prestigious positions in the land, in an era of rabid political polarisation, against the backdrop of being nominated by an incredibly divisive president and after being painted as a monster coming for Roe vs Wade from the instant his nomination was confirmed. He is the very definition of atypical and collective statistics hold no merit.
This is why social justice is so evil
Herein lies the essence of why social justice, identity politics and the currently baseless reaction to Kavanaugh are so evil.
Justice requires that you are held responsible for your autonomous, personal actions. It respects the sovereignty of the individual. From here, the scientific method, fundamental rights and freedom flow.
Social justice on the other hand says that regardless of your individual actions, your fate will be decided based upon your membership of certain intersecting identity groups. In this case, based upon the actions of other men and whether the numbers of men that have been convicted overlaps with the “correct” numbers, as defined by social justice advocates.
It’s the antithesis of justice, because it destroys personal autonomy and responsibility. You are a pawn in someone else’s game. It’s dehumanising and disgraceful. Equality of outcomes laid bare for all to see.
We see the ugly social justice mask slipping in the Kavanaugh case. Initially, he was being charged with a serious crime and this was about justice. When the level of evidence presented didn’t cut it, he was to be castigated for being a “drunk”, “an emotional bully” and someone that “didn’t respect a woman’s pain”, social justice identifiers of the “entitled white man”.
In an apparent instant the hearing ceased to be about justice for the accuser, who has been used in a disgusting fashion, and became a demonstration of why character flaws such as reacting angrily to serious accusations and being drunk as a college student render you incapable of serving as a judge in the highest court. How is someone supposed to react in such circumstances? With a smile and a song? No doubt if he’d been calm and stoic he’d have been dubbed a robotic sociopath. This partisan social justice witch hunt has been nothing but an updated version of the trials of antiquity: if he floats he’s guilty. If he drowns, he’s dead. It’s also telling that we are told we must believe his accusers, but the scores of women rallying around Brett Kavanaugh and testifying to his good name are apparently irrelevant. The gradient of oppression only runs one way.
I’ve been incredibly shocked by the vitriol that Kavanaugh has received, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Given the way he has been painted as the devil coming for Roe vs Wade, I think this social justice centric reaction was inevitable. The tactics used to destroy Kavanaugh: shifting evidentiary standards, moral bullying and shaming are in perfect alignment with how progressives see the supreme court, as an authoritarian super-legislator and a council of wise-elders there to interpret law like poetry and further the “correct” political agenda.
Brett Kavanaugh is a white, male, right leaning scapegoat and stopping his ascendance is appropriate. If that requires a malleable, subjective, moving standard of justice – a concept those that advocate social justice constantly rail against in other arenas – so be it.
How can we improve rape reporting?
I hate being angry about a situation without offering potential solutions. I’m not John Oliver. So, what are the potential solutions that do not destroy the high evidentiary bar but which would encourage women to come forward and share their accusations in safety? I really want this discussion to occur so that I and others can support such measures.
Some highly suspect options have been tabled in the UK such as banning counter claims against rape accusers and the MET police invoking a standard that all accusers are to be believed in the first instance (since revoked).
Having spoken to several female friends and family members about the issue (including several that are victims), this is a tricky one, but we’d all like to see less of accusers being interrogated or shamed about their sexual proclivities, dress, drinking habits and other incidental matters. Dr Ford should also not be castigated, smeared or attacked for coming forward. It is imperative that justice be served and be seen to be served.
The FBI investigation is the right way forward, but I’m worried about what the circus of the last week says about where we are going and how little half of politicians and the public value evidence and due process. Identity politics and social justice have elevated confirmation bias and emotion to virtue. Doing “whatever it takes” is now your “civic duty”, regardless of the consequences. It feels like the social victories of the 1960s and the civil rights movement have left a long shadow. “By any means necessary” seems like a fitting motto for many of those commenting on this case in the press and on social media.
There does come a point at which we must stand up for our culture’s principles, and I think that we may have arrived at this point when people surreptitiously, or on occasion openly, suggest that dispensing with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty is a price worth paying. For me, this is the line in the sand which I cannot cross. It would cause our society to crumble at its foundations. The price is far too high.
Assuming that Kavanaugh passes the current FBI investigation, the democrats’ actions over the last wiek have essentially forced the Kavanaugh conformation vote to be a referendum on Western justice. I sincerely hope it survives the day.