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Again and Again, They Use

Facebook is an anti-intellectual medium. It mangles expression and cramps thought. Its net effect on human culture is significantly degenerative, but, partly because this is so, it is an important medium, one worth participating in — carefully.

In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, an old friend of mine shared Robin Sokoloff’s “Open Letter For People Looking For Open Letters” to her Facebook feed. I was then, as I continue to be now, very curious to learn more about how the Blue team, especially Blue-team women, were interpreting the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, including Blasey Ford’s accusations. So I read the letter. It is a work of magical realism, not very interesting in itself, not very insightful in itself, but it was plain to me that it must have been expressing exactly what many Blue-team women wanted someone to express on their general behalf. Or at least it was expressing a significant part of what they wanted expressed. At the time of this writing it has nearly twenty thousand Facebook “shares,” and a similar number of “likes.” I strongly recommend you read the whole thing.

While most of it was a narrative manifestation of boilerplate Blue-team feminist catechism, this passage in Sokoloff’s letter struck me; it was the heart of the matter:

If I had a nickel for every seemly nice guy who’s tried to mack on me this week by saying, “So… this Kavanaugh thing, huh?”

And I just stare back. I figure it’s their turn to make this nice.

And they go, “Well, I mean… do you think there is any… absolutely any chance that he didn’t do it? Like what if….. I mean, there’s very little evidence and I was wondering like what if… ”

And I stop him there. I try to help him out. I try to take his side.

“Bro – Humor me. Imagine you were overcome by a bunch of piss drunk men, half suffocated, and brought to the point of ‘about to be raped’, if not actually raped in this manner as so very many women are. Think about it for a sec. Would you tell anyone? How would the people around you act if you said you had been raped? Would your family believe you? Would your job believe you? Would the WHOLE WORLD believe you? Are you prepared to be the laughing stock of every where you go for the rest of your life just to stop one man from having a job? Tell me – Is there a world in which YOU would make this up knowing it would pretty much end your life as you currently know it? And if you actually worked up the courage to tell your story, what would you do if some guy like you, no, millions of guys like you were standing here going ARE YOU SURE???”

He says, “oh…. I …shit. Yeah…. But wait, were the guys that raped me gay or straight.”

I stare back. I blink once, very slowly.

He knows he’s an idiot. He admits he’s an idiot. He just needed a sec.

“Well the thing is, women don’t get a sec when they are being sexually assaulted.”

Robin Sokoloff’s letter isn’t really about Kavanaugh. It’s really about the power dynamic the Blue team believes exists between men and women; it’s about the so-called “patriarchy.” The letter doesn’t really have a thesis, but if it did, it’s thesis would be: “Men have been exercising power over women forever, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation has sharpened women’s rage against this injustice to a spear’s point. Therefore, men: beware. Change is coming.” But although Sokoloff’s letter isn’t really about Kavanaugh, it depends on Kavanaugh, or on his guilt. For the letter to have the impact it aims to have, he simply must be guilty. The facts be damned.

As I see it, erasing Kavanaugh as an individual, forcing him to serve as a symbol for a cultural movement that may, in fact, have nothing to do with him, is a gross injustice. Those who participate in it are morally repugnant. So I commented on my old friend’s repost of Sokoloff’s letter:

This writer seems to believe that it is possible to confidently deduce Kavanaugh’s guilt from a psychological model she has constructed — of Blasey Ford. This is a remarkable position to take, although I see many people seem to be taking it. I would be very interested to hear a fully developed argument in favor of this method.

It should, I think, come as no surprise to most readers that this argument that I so much wanted to hear was not forthcoming. On the contrary, my friend insisted that Kavanaugh and his guilt or innocence had little to do with her own reasons for posting Sokoloff’s letter. And while, to her credit, she offered to argue the merits of the letter with me in private, she insisted that we not pursue the matter then and there. (I did not take her up on her offer for a private discussion, although perhaps I should have.) For her, she made it clear, the letter was about a visceral expression of the bullshit that women have to deal with under the patriarchy. It was a catharsis.

But suppose Kavanaugh is, in fact, innocent. In that case, the Blue team seems to be more than happy to sacrifice him and his name, and, along with them, any general commitment to sound principles of justice, just so they can have their catharsis when they want it, when it feels right to them. This is monstrous. This is savage. This is cause for grave concern, and more than that.

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine reminded me of a letter she had written to another friend in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. The context of this letter was that their friendship had become strained because they disagreed about whether or not Brown’s shooting could be justly held up as an example of everything the Black Lives Matter movement rails against. I excerpt it here. All emphases are mine:

… I said that I was wondering why there weren’t articles from the left that went back and re-examined the evidence …. I was referring specifically to articles written from a leftist standpoint that laid out a step-by-step, detailed justification for elevating Mike Brown to the status of a definite victim of racial injustice (What makes him a fitting figure to use as fuel for a movement?). I wanted to see almost a play-by-play analysis of the specific evidence people on the left were using to justify their take on the case accompanied by a narrative that went along with it, explaining how each event and moment (interpreted through a left-leaning lens) that happened on the day Brown was shot contributed to or fit with their argument that Brown was definitely a victim of race-based police brutality and deserves a place as figurehead of their cause. So far, in my perusal of articles, what I have seen has not been evidence-based justification for why Brown really is the perfect victim to rally behind in this way, but rather, the majority of the articles I have read (many of them coming from my activist graduate school friends) have been about the bigger, broader issue of racial inequality in America that claim to be anchored in Brown without ever quite providing a reasoned justification for that anchoring.

The reason I think that kind of article is so important is because articles like that create an essential middle ground on which both sides can meet, weigh their evidence, and have a real discussion. To illustrate sort of what I am talking about, here is a link to a Washington Post article from a neutral perspective that discusses based on evidence only, how the actual facts of the case did not provide any reason to doubt Wilson’s testimony. This does not mean that the article proves Wilson was honest, but it does lay out evidential details and discusses how they do or do not fit with claims made by Wilson.

Here is the article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2014/11/28/the-physical-evidence-in-the-michael-brown-case-supported-the-officer/

I guess what I am looking for from the left is something similar to this article in its level of detail and commitment to evidence, but that ultimately comes down on Brown’s side. I’m looking for something that takes into account all the evidence and integrates it together into a comprehensive narrative in support of Brown, dissecting what happened with the same level of detail as the article I linked to. It doesn’t need to show that Brown is perfect, but I want to see something that shows that the Brown issue is definitely connected to structural racial problems in the country. The majority of articles I’ve seen have shown that at best, the connection is ambiguous.

It seems like people on the left (and you have said this yourself several times now) are not interested in having that kind of conversation about Brown. They don’t want to discuss the details of what he actually did or did not do. Maybe he did attack Wilson. Maybe Wilson shot him unnecessarily. I don’t know the answer to that question because, like you said, the evidence is confusing. But what I do know is that evidence matters, and if we are ever going to bridge the huge divide in this country surrounding issues of race (the divide seems to correspond with political lines), then the left is going to need to make their case using evidence and careful argument. Lefties are never going to convince a conservative Christian to give up his idea that “racism has long been eradicated in this country” if they aren’t able to offer him a rational reason anchored to real-life events that explains why he should see things their way.

I found one comment you made to be very interesting. You said that you could see how people might be able to “see their own narrative in the evidence,” kind of like how people read the Bible. I agree with this emphatically. And I think that this is what is indeed happening. People are taking a cause that they believe in and are anchoring it to a specific person (Mike Brown) and a specific event (Ferguson), but they aren’t quite making the connection black and white for others so that they too can also see it. They seem to be depending primarily on the narrative they have already decided on and are making the evidence fit that narrative, rather than the other way around (using the evidence to shape their narrative, or anchoring their narrative in undisputed evidence only).

More than anything, the thing that disturbs me about Ferguson is that it seems to be more about feelings than evidence. I just “know” that Wilson was a racist. I just feel that Mike had his hands up. I can just tell! And to that I would say, “You may be right, but show me the evidence before you form a movement!” Or I would say, “If you can’t quite pin down the evidence with Brown, then anchor your movement in another case that is clearer, that you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt!”

Because the truth is, there are hundreds and thousands of race-based crimes that happen in America. That is a true thing that happens! I see absolutely no need to debate this particular question because it is real. Police officers sometimes racially profile black men and then treat them unfairly and get away with it. So if you feel that Mike Brown (if he was killed unjustly) is not the only one and that this kind of thing happens all over the place and needs to be stopped, you are right. But was Mike Brown actually totally innocent in this case? People might say, “The answer to that question doesn’t matter because police brutality against blacks is a huge problem and Brown is just a symbol of a bigger problem, whether the facts are black and white or not.” But I would argue that the facts always matter, and if you are going to build a movement and try to bring racial equality to full fruition in this country, you have to stick with the evidence. You have to. If you don’t, then how do you plan to get dissenters to see things your way? If you want to build a case, build it! But go back first and carefully reason your way through what happened so that you have a clear justification for both yourself and others. Then, I think you can begin to change the world. When groups and movements try to win their case without using evidence as their tool of communication, what methods are left to them to try to convince people to take their side? Feelings? Divine insight? Violence and force?

The parallels between Brown’s case and Blasey Ford’s are obvious. It is also fairly obvious that the Blue team is largely content to use any Ford or Brown they have at hand as symbols for their causes. But it is far from obvious that this willingness is not evidence of a monstrous moral void in the heart of contemporary leftism.

But that is not what interests me at the moment. What interests me now is this: Have you, reader, ever heard a leftist argue the merits of their team’s take on Brown or on Blasey Ford? Have you ever personally witnessed a lengthy, substantive exchange between a Blue teamer and anyone in opposition, where the Blue teamer gave reasons for their take, and answered challenges and criticisms forthrightly?

I know the answer. You haven’t. And this is what interests me: What does this mean? What does this great sucking vacuum of reasoned argument mean? Myself, I think it means there is no reason on the left, and little reason left in our culture as a whole. And I think this means we should all be trying to rekindle reason in public discourse, and we should be trying with a desperate energy and focus.

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