The world of romance writing has fallen into a major dispute after an official ruling was made against author and advocate Courtney Milan apparently for criticising racist tropes in a book. News coverage here https://www.thewrap.com/romance-writers-courtney-milan-suspension-racist-mess/ I say “apparently” because the gist of the finding against Milan is very unclear in the report of the committee.Continue reading “The Romance Writers of America confusingly rule against criticising books for racism”
For those keeping score not only has Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel Not to Feature an Actual Horror Novel, Brian Niemeier got a new post about the existence of god up (https://www.brianniemeier.com/2019/04/a-proof-for-god.html ) but in a outbreak of morphic resonance John C Wright has a post up about the cosmological argument as well (http://www.scifiwright.com/2019/04/an-uncaused-first-cause/ ). There’s an excellent take down of the Wright post in the comments that’s well worth a read.
I’ll stick to Brian’s post:
“What we mean by God is the uncreated, all-powerful, and absolute Being who transcends the created order.”
OK but does he transcend time? Does he transcend mathematics? Does he transcend logic? Earlier Brian dismissed discussion about a god “making boulders he cannot lift” but there’s a reason why such cliched argument keep cropping up. What the heck does “all powerful” mean and what are the limitations to that. “No limitations” is fine and a god that can (but chooses not to) do paradoxical things is also fine but if we have a being that transcends logic then any argument about the necessary properties of that being is hogwash. On the other hand, if the being does not transcend logic then, sorry, you’ve still got to deal with tiresome questions about unliftable boulders and who shaves God’s beard if he doesn’t shave himself
“Anyone who says God’s existence can’t be proven is either ignorant or lying. The deception usually lies in moving the goalposts regarding what constitutes evidence. Materialists are fond of demanding physical proof of God while they themselves required no physical proof for materialism.
The claim that God’s existence can’t be proven contains another subtle a priori bias. It assumes that God exists in the same way that a hydrogen atom, a pencil, or an aardvark exists; that is, contingently within the order of creation. God does not have existence per se. It’s more accurate to say that God is Being. The Bible sees eye to eye with Aristotle here. “I Am that I Am.”
That last bit is the Popeye argument: I yam what I yam. It no more demonstrates god’s existence than it demonstrates Popeye’s.
The deception lies in moving the goalpost, says Brian, as he busily digs up the posts from one end of the field and moves them to the parking lot. ‘Exist’ normally means to exist physically but fair enough, there’s other kinds of ‘existing’. Popeye has tattoos (you can see them in the picture) so they ‘exist’ in a narrow sense but we all get that Popeye isn’t real and niether are his tattoos. Gods clearly can ‘exist’ in the sense that fictional beings exist. They exist in the sense that we can have discussions about them. Ficitional beings can have fictional truths about them: Popeye is a sailor and a man. How do I know? Because he is Popeye the Sailor Man!
But if I concede that ‘exist’ can mean something other than physically exist then maybe God exists in someway that is more real than fictional but a the same time not the same as physically existing? Sure! I really can’t prove that’s not the case and it’s not intrinsically irrational if that’s where your faith takes you. However, Brian wants to prove that God exists really real and that’s going to take more effort.
But before we go any further it’s worth pointing out an issue Brian has skipped over. Brian is dismissing God existing in a materialist physical sense. Brian also thinks *JESUS* existed in a physical sense. He’s half a step from demonstrating that Jesus was not God. There’s ways around that but I think most of them are heretical from a strict Catholic perspective. I digress.
“In truth, absolute, uncaused, necessary Being is self-explanatory. The physical universe is more in need of an explanation–both from its origins and at every moment–than the eternal, transcendent God.”
Brian is nodding back to the ontological argument: god is a necessary being and therefore exists because he necessarily exists because we said so. See Popeye above. However, today’s “proof” will be the cosmological argument instead:
“The most elegant and time-tested arguments for absolute Being are the cosmological arguments refined by St. Thomas Aquinas. Moderns and Postmoderns will glibly scoff that these arguments have long been discredited. But each attempt to refute the classical arguments from cosmology, such as David Hume’s, is revealed as a straw man under scrutiny.”
Yes, moderns, post-moderns et al will glibly scoff at the cosmological argument, also there was some scoffing at in the Middle Ages. The link is to a post by Edward Feser who I have discussed before and is a key source for a lot of this necromantic attempts to revive Thomas Aquinas. That link is worth following but it doesn’t adequately deal with the objection, it just points out that the objection has similar problems rather than making the problems go away.
Anyway the next step is the interesting one:
“Here’s a common cosmological argument. An apple ripens on a tree branch. That means the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness, and that potential was put into act. We can rightly ask where the impetus to actualize that potential came from. Apples aren’t self-sufficient. They need water, sunlight, and a host of other conditions to grow. You can try locating the source of the apple’s actualization in any or all of these contingencies, but that just kicks the can a little farther down the road since water, the sun, etc. all contain potentialities requiring external contingencies to actualize.”
You’ll note there’s another assumption of existence there: “the apple had the potential to move from unripeness to ripeness”. The assumption is that potentials are also things that exist in some sense or other. Brian then asks us to imagine what made all these dominoes of potentiality knock each other over.
“Positing that it’s contingent beings all the way down doesn’t do any good. That just gets you an infinite train of boxcars with no locomotive. Such a train would be incapable of motion. Similarly, an infinite chain of contingent causality could never move the apple from unripeness to ripeness.”
Except it doesn’t. The added hidden assumption here is that there can be no cases of something happening FOR NO REASON. “Reason” in the sense of things having a reason to happen is central to understanding how the term “cause” is used in these arguments. A bunch of random stuff just happening because of no reason at all is regarded as axiomatically not possible. Of course LOGICALLY we cannot assume that. It has not been established that everything happens for a reason and there’s good (ahem) reason to think the opposite. Sure, random effects at a quantum level MAY have hidden causes but there’s no logical reason to think they must. It’s an assumption, a reasonable and appealing and maybe even aesthetically nice assumption but not one that we can prove. If anything, it’s a habit of mind that we adopt because it is handy at the macro level and has a survival advantage when dealing with other human beings.
“[Ed. Why not? Because there would be an infinite number of preceding steps that would have to be completed before the apple could ripen. But by definition, an infinite series of steps can never be completed.]”
Eeek. This is just an unforced error. I’d pick on it but Brian doesn’t need this point for his argument. Having said that over at John C Wright, he’s also trying to be moderate with his views on infinity:
“Infinite is a word that causes endless confusion. All it means is that there is no boundary, no stopping point, or, in this case, no starting point.
We call the number line infinite not because any real human being in real history ever counted all the numbers that exist and discovered that there were an infinite number of them: no, that is nonsense.
What we mean is that there is a rule of mathematics that says that for any given number, no matter how big, you can always add one and get a bigger number. There is no end point to the process of adding.”
Good grief, if I was going to start believing in a god it would be precisely so I wouldn’t need to be so mealy mouthed about actual infinities. Having said that, I think this is in line with Aristotle’s view on infinities, as in no limits to extension rather than there being an actual thing called infinity.
Except…well you can see the problem. Infinities don’t ‘exist’ in the materialist sense of exist as far as we can tell. We don’t find them in nature and either at the very big or the very small. Everywhere we have looked we find very big finitudes or tiny granularities. But we’ve admonished to take off our materialist spectacles and consider existence from the perspective of things with NECESSARY properties. Well in that sense of ‘exist’, the mathematical sense, we have not just infinity but infinities — an infinite number of infinities.
Circling back to both Wright and Niemeier, they want their version of god to exist in the mathematical sense of existing (which may not be existing at all) and also be a thinking person even though the are no examples of thing that only exists in the mathematical sense being a thinking person and all examples of thinking people exist materially.
When P.Z. Myers is cited positively and unironically by Vox Day, you know there’s something amiss with the universe. There’s heresy in the air and right-on-right attacks going down.
On the one hand, we have Jordan Peterson: transphobic right-wing purveyor of semi-coherent self-help books for people frightened by women going to university. On the other hand, we have Vox Day: a man who regards the terrorist child-murder Anders Brevik as a hero and who pushes a violent nationalism based on pseudo-scientific race theories. While we could see Peterson as at least being more moderate than Day, we can’t ignore that Peterson is a kind of gateway drug into the morass of confused thinking based on male resentment at a changing society. What Vox has in toxicity, Peterson has twice as much in reach.
Who is the more appalling of the two? Perhaps we need another candidate…
[more appalling people after the fold]
Cast your minds back to April 7 2015. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were beaten by the Connecticut Huskies in the NCAA Division I women’s basketball championship and Senator Rand Paul announced he was going to run for the Republic nomination for President of the United States. Meanwhile, in Sad Puppy related news, Larry Correia posted this: https://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/07/addendum-to-yesterdays-letter/
“To the the SMOFs, moderates, new comers, and fence sitters I addressed yesterday, yes, we have disagreements with you. We’re happy to discuss them. We are not, however, happy to be libeled as the vilest forms of scum to walk the earth, and we are not happy to live in fear of career destruction. You want my part of fandom to coexist peacefully? You want to work out our differences and keep the awards meaningful? So do we. Though we disagree on the details and the issues, we also love this stuff. But coordinated slander campaigns, lies, character assassinations, threats, witch hunts? No… We won’t stand for that.” [CF: my emphasis]
“Coordinated slander”, oh my golly gosh! The issue being that the Sad Puppy campaign had become notable enough that its impact was being covered by the mainstream media. You’d think that was predictable — make a loud enough noise, eventually pay attention — but no, for Larry the news coverage must have been because of some hidden layer of coordination. A week later he was on the same theme: http://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/14/george-r-r-martin-responds/
“So here is a question for you. What term would you use to describe the shared politics of the dozens of reporters, columnists, and bloggers who have run similar articles this week with obvious false accusations that Sad Puppies supporters ran an anti-diversity slate, motivated by racism, sexism, and homophobia? Jerks? Yes, they are, but that is a bit too coordinated for mere jerkage. That was a political attempt to establish a political narrative.” [CF: my emphasis]
Changing topics but not themes and sticking with a Sad Puppy outlet for a moment, fast forward to February 3 2017. Milo Yiannopolous’s star had risen high with an invite to the Conservative Political Action Conference and a book deal with Simon & Shuster when anti-Trump Republican group The Reagan Battalion released an edited version of a 206 video in which Yiannopolous justified sex with 13 year olds. At Mad Genius Club, Kate Paulk was unhappy about Yiannopolous’s book deal being cancelled: https://madgeniusclub.com/2017/02/23/the-inadequacy-of-silence/
“What I care about is that someone who has – objectively – done not one damn thing wrong is the subject of a coordinated effort to not merely silence him, but disappear him. I’ve seen this happen in the past. It happened to Larry Correia. To Brad Torgersen. I didn’t get the full force of it last year, but instead got the cold shoulder of people doing their best to pretend I’d already been disappeared.” [CF: my emphasis]
The theme being coordination obviously, the idea that if multiple sources are saying similar things it must be because of hidden coordination. Of course, some people really do plan things and approaches. Obviously the Reagan Battalion planned their media campaign against Yiannopolous but the “coordination” claim is stronger than that and proposes that the subsequent fuss and related outrage was also somehow coordinated.
I was initially planning this post yesterday after I read a series of tweets from Ethan Van Sciver, the right wing comic book artist who claims the mantle of ‘ComicsGate’®™. EVS was the guy who had the big falling out with Vox Day in September. In a series of tweets he disappointed me slightly by using the word “organized” instead of “coordinated”. I shan’t link to the tweets because it messes with the WordPress layout but the combined message was this:
“This Wave of Organized Attacks on ComicsGate consisted of:
1. The rise of @sinKEVitch as leader of AntiCG!
2. Jeff Lemire calling pros to arms against us!
3. Darwyn Cooke’s widow baiting CG!
4 Three Bleeding Cool hitpieces on me!
5. Hit pieces in the Washington Post, & INVERSE
6. Hit piece in The Guardian! The Daily Dot!
7. Robbi Rodriguez sending me a photo of his anus!
8. Vox Day trying to co-opt ComicsGate for the Alt Right!
9. Patton Oswalt condemning ComicsGate!
10. Pablo Hidalgo of Lucasfilm compares ComicsGate to the KKK!
11. John Layman spews bile at 21 year old CG writer Nasser Rabadi for 21 consecutive tweets!
12. Kieran Shiach penned hitpiece in POLYGON!
13. Marvel Comics Chief Creative Office Joe Quesada weighs in to debate @DiversityAndCmx and EVS: Loses debate.” [CF: my emphasis]
Rather like the Yiannopolous defence, the charge of coordination here crosses political lines. EVS suggests a conspiracy between a disperate group that includes the Guardian and Vox Day. The Yiannopolous piece suggested coordination between the left and the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Like I said, this post was going to concentrate on a theme among culture wars and be a break from writing about the nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. However, the morning news presented this to me: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/09/24/politics/read-brett-kavanaugh-letter-senate-judiciary-committee/index.html
“These are smears, pure and simple. And they debase our public discourse. But they are also a threat to any man or woman who wishes to serve our country. Such grotesque and obvious character assassination—if allowed to succeed—will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service. As I told the Committee during my hearing, a federal judge must be independent, not swayed by public or political pressure. That is the kind of judge I will always be. I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process. The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out.” [CF: my emphasis]
It’s an interesting principled-tone Kavanaugh strikes whilst simultaneously accusing two different women of inventing ‘smears’ against him. And there is that tic again. Of course, yes, clearly the Democrats coordinate their opposition to his nomination just as the Republicans and other conservative groups have coordinated their support of him but the ‘coordination’ here is intended (as it does in the examples above) to imply that criticism is not just illegitimate but sinister and underhand.
“They” are out to get me and it doesn’t matter who ‘they’ are or that ‘they’ are a superfluous hypothesis to describe events. By casting events in this way, a call to action is made against the shadowy Them — who, to quote Kavanaugh, are a threat “any man or woman who wishes to serve our country”.
Personally I like to believe Them are giant ants. I prefer the classics.
[A content warning: this post discusses sexual assault reports.]
All reports of a crime have potential consequences. We live in an age where false reports of crimes lead to death and where “SWATting” is a murderous prank. However, only one class of crime leads to constant concern from conservatives that false allegations are sufficiently common to require a kind of blanket scepticism. Amid the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, conservatives are pushing back against treating allegations of sexual assault at face value. This is part of a long history of people demanding that sexual assault crimes, in particular, require additional scepticism and scrutiny. That history pushed an idea that rape claims are made by women to ruin a man’s reputation even though historically the consequences of speaking out have always fallen more heavily on women than men*.
A piece by David French at the conservative magazine National Review attempts to pushback against modern feminist advocacy for supporting victims of sexual violence:
“It happens every single time there’s a public debate about sex crimes. Advocates for women introduce, in addition to the actual evidence in the case, an additional bit of “data” that bolsters each and every claim of sexual assault. You see, “studies” show that women rarely file false rape claims. According to many activists, when a woman makes a claim of sexual assault, there is an empirically high probability that she’s telling the truth. In other words, the very existence of the claim is evidence of the truth of the claim.” https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/09/brett-kavanaugh-accusations-rape-claim-statistics/
The tactic here is one we’ve seen in multiple circumstances where research runs counter to conservative beliefs. FUD, fear-uncertainty-doubt — everything from cigarettes to DDT to climate change has had the FUD treatment as intentional strategy to undermine research. Note the ‘how ridiculous’ tone of ‘In other words, the very existence of the claim is evidence of the truth of the claim.’ when, yes the existence of somebody claiming a crime happened to them IS evidence that a crime happened to them. It is typically the first piece of evidence of a crime! It isn’t always conclusive evidence of a crime for multiple reasons but yes, mainfestly it is evidence. The rhetorical trick here is to take something that is actually commonplace (i.e. a default assumption that when a person makes a serious claim of a crime there is probably a crime) and make it sound spurious or unusual.
The thrust of the article rests on an attempt to debunk research that has been done on the issue of false rape allegations. To maintain the fear of men suffering from false rape allegations, the article aims to emphasise the uncertainty in the statistics to provoke doubt (and uncertainty) amid its target audience.
After a broad preamble, the article focuses on one study in particular and to the article’s credit it does actually link to the paper. The 2010 study in question is this one False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases by David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa and Ashley M. Cote. The specific study looks at reports of sexual assault to campus police at major US Northeastern university. However, the study also contains (as you might expect) a literature review of other studies conducted. What is notable about the studies listed is that they found frequencies of flase allegations were over reported. For example a 2005 UK Home Office study found:
“There is an over-estimation of the scale of false allegations by both police officers
and prosecutors which feeds into a culture of skepticism, leading to poor communi-
cation and loss of confidence between complainants and the police.”
The space were David French seeks to generate uncertainty around these studies is two-fold:
- That sexual assault and rape are inherently difficult topics to research because of the trauma of the crime and social stigma [both factors that actually point to false allegations being *less* likely than other crimes, of course…]
- That there are a large numbers of initial reports of sexual assault were an investigation does not proceed.
That large numbers of rape and sexual assault reports to police go univestigated may sound more like a scandal than a counter-argument to believing victims but this is a fertile space for the right to generate doubt.
French’s article correctly reports that:
“researchers classified as false only 5.9 percent of cases — but noted that 44.9 percent of cases where classified as “Case did not proceed.””
And goes on to say:
“There is absolutely no way to know how many of the claims in that broad category were actually true or likely false. We simply know that the relevant decision-makers did not deem them to be provably true. Yet there are legions of people who glide right past the realities of our legal system and instead consider every claim outside those rare total exonerations to be true. According to this view, the justice system fails everyone else.”
The rhetorical trick is to confuse absolute certainty (i.e. we don’t know exactly the proportion of the uninvestigated claims might be false) with reasonable inferences that can be drawn from everything else we know (i.e. it is very, very, unlikely to be most of them). We can be confident that cases that did not proceed BECAUSE the allegation was false (i.e. it was investigated and found to be false) were NOT included in the 44.9% of cases precicesly because those cases were counted in false allegation. More pertinently, linking back to the “fear” aspect of the FUD strategy, the 44.9% of cases also led to zero legal or formal consequences to alleged perpetrators.
I don’t know if this fallacy has a formal name but it is one I see over and over. I could call it “methodological false isolation of evidence” by which I mean the tendency to treat evidence for a hypothesis as seperate and with no capacity for multiple sources of evidence to cross-coroborate. If I may depart into anthropoegenic global warming for a moment, you can see the fallacy work like this:
- The physics of carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect imply that increased CO2 will lead to warming: countered by – ah yes, but we can’t know by how much and maybe it will be less than natural influences on climate and maybe the extra CO2 gets absorbed…
- The temperature record shows warming consistent with the rises in anthopogencic greenhouse gases: countered by – ah yes, but maybe the warming is caused by something natural…
Rationally the the two pieces of evidence function together: correlation might not be causation but if you have causation AND correlation then, well that’s stronger evidence than the sum of its parts.
With these statistics we are not operating in a vacuum. They need to be read an understood along with the other data that we know. Heck, that idea is built into the genre of research papers and is exactly why literature reviews are included. Police report statistics are limited and do contain uncertainty and aren’t a window into some Platonic world of ideal truth BUT that does not mean we know nothing and can infer nothing. Not even remotely. What it means is we have context to examine the limitations of that data and consider where the bias is likely to lie i.e. is the police report data more likely to OVERestimate the rate of false allegations or UNDERestimate compared to the actual number of sexual assaults/rapes?
It’s not even a contest. Firstly as the 2010 report notes:
“It is notable that in general the greater the scrutiny applied to police classifica-
tions, the lower the rate of false reporting detected. Cumulatively, these findings con-
tradict the still widely promulgated stereotype that false rape allegations are a common occurrence.”
But the deeper issue is the basic bias in the data that depends on reports to the police.
“It is estimated that between 64% and 96% of victims do not report the crimes committed against them (Fisher et al., 2000; Perkins & Klaus, 1996), and a major reason for this is victims’ belief that his or her report will be met with suspicion or outright disbelief (Jordan, 2004).”
Most victims of sexual assault do not report the crime at all i.e. most victims aren’t even the data sets we are looking at. Assume for a moment that the lower bound of that figure (64%) is itself exaggerated (although why that would be the case I don’t know) and assume, to give David French an advantage, that 50% of actual sexual assaults go unreported and that half of the 44.9% figure were somehow actual FALSE allegations (again, very unlikely) that would make the proportion of false allegations compared with (actual assaults+false allegations) about 14% based on the 2010 study’s campus figure. It STILL, even with those overt biases included, points to false allegations being very unlikely.
It makes sense to believe. The assumption that rape in particular is likely to draw malicious allegations is a misogynistic assumption. That does not mean nobody has ever made a false claim of rape, it just means that we do not place the same burden of doubt on people when they claim to be robbed or mugged etc. People make mistakes and some people do sometimes maliciously accuse others of crimes but such behaviour is unusual and, if anything, it is particulalry unusual with sexual crimes where, in fact, the OPPOSITE is more likely to occur: the victim makes no allegation out of fear of the consequences and because of the trauma involved.
Somehow it is 2018 and we still have to say this.
*[I don’t want to ignore that men are also victims of sexual violence, perhaps at far greater rates than are currently quantified, but the specific issue here relates to a very gendered view of sex and sexual assault.]
While I had more important things to post about today, I couldn’t let this post by Brad Torgersen go by without some comment. Having said that, this isn’t a Brad bashing piece. Rather, some of his comments got me thinking about some of the language we use (as well as touching on some questions about truth and evidence which is very much my briar patch).
Brad, somewhat late to the party, discusses Larry Correia’s disinvitation as Guest of Honour at Origins Game Fair. He summarises the problem as this:
“What’s concerning is that conventions — indeed, almost all institutions of various descriptions — are being placed in the position of either bending to the will of what are essentially mobs, or facing threats of both bad PR and, potentially, painful legal annoyance. In each case, the institutions almost always take the path of least resistance. It’s far easier to eject a guest who has attracted the mob’s attention, than stand your ground and endure the mob’s ire; as a “defender” of the alleged wrong-doer.”
‘Mob’ is doing a lot of work here. It is partly a way of making those who complain faceless & depersonalised and partly a way of making them seem irrational, angry & threatening. It is easy to characterise groups of people doing something as a ‘mob’ – for example, it would have been easy to call Sad Puppies ‘a mob’ or the Tor Boycott the action of a mob but the ease with which it can be done also demonstrates why it is largely an empty term.
But what about something like Gamergate? I can see why people use a term like ‘mob’ there but I am still worried that the term clouds issues more than it describes actions. The actual decisions made by people in Gamergate (or if you prefer some leftwing incident of many people acting on social media) were not those of an actual mass of people in physical proximity but rather many separate individuals making distinct decisions over long periods of time. I’m not trying to play dictionary definitions on the word ‘mob’ but rather trying to point out that ‘mob’ creates a misleading impression of the psychology and the community dynamics here.
In the case of the Origins Game Fair, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of a mob of any kind. Larry Correia himself is blaming one person as the source of complaint but I’ve seen evidence of other, quieter concerns raised to the con.
“Mob” as a term primarily obscures. It hides the way social media forms out of individual action both negatively and positively. An individual who is told they were part of a social media mob can look back at their actions and think “No, I just made that one comment and it was a reasonable one” and yet the subject of the comment may genuinely feel mobbed. At the Gamergate end of this spectrum, direct, individual acts of malice are made to look like individual responsibility played no part.
The (often genuine) feelings of being mobbed comes from the volume and the individuals making comments are often unaware of how they contribute to that volume.
An examples that crosses the Puppy/Puppyologist divide would be the recent brouhaha concerning the Romance author who is attempting to trademark the word ‘Cocky’ for her book series. I’ve written about it and Mad Genius have written about it and I don’t think there is much of a difference between our views on the issue. I’m sure the author concerned is feeling mobbed by the sheer scale of the response. It is unlikely she has read the Mad Genius posts on the topic and even more unlikely she has read my post but to some extent those posts all contribute. If our answer is ‘well she deserved it’ then I can see how that is a reasonable conclusion but that feeds into a different issue.
Brad raises other questions:
“None of this — in 2018 — happens without social media, of course. One might argue that Social Justice Zealotry could not exist without the anonymity and virility that social media provides. Pick your target from behind the safety of your keyboard, light the digital torch, rally your friends to the cause, and off you go to pillory whichever offending party suits your fancy this week. Proof? A preponderance of evidence? P’shaw!”
I’m not going to pick through the obvious hypocrisy of Brad’s complaint there — if we lived in a world in which Brad reflected on the faults he sees in others and whether they applied to themselves, then I’d have far fewer blog post topics.
Rather, it is worth asking about standards of evidence. Rather absurdly, Brad compares the con’s decision to the work of a military ‘seperation board’:
“Thank goodness separation boards don’t rely on the mob’s methods. Because when I am sitting down with my fellow officers to review a case, we’re all poignantly aware of the fact that we’re holding somebody’s career in our hands. We are not a court martial, so we can’t determine anyone’s guilt or innocence of a crime. But we can determine if the evidence of misconduct — not necessarily criminal in nature — does warrant severing the servicemember, and what the character of that severing should be. Because any discharge below honorable carries potentially life-long, negative consequences for the servicemember in question. And when something’s going to stick with somebody for the rest of their lives in a bad way, there better damned well be plenty of proof that it’s necessary, and justified.”
Again, self-reflection would probably help Brad see that, no, the standard of evidence that people should feel they need to have before commenting on social media about a con’s choice of guest should NOT be required to be of the same standards of evidence as a board convened to determine whether somebody should lose their full-time job. But that does not imply we should have no standards of evidence or truth.
Baseless accusations are not a good thing but we also can’t hold all truth claims to some sort of court-of-law standard either or even the standards of a HR function of a major institution*. To shift contexts slightly, there is a problem of regress here – imagine a company with some sort of grievance policy. The policy has to have at least two standards of evidence:
- The standard used for the company to act on a complaint by one employee about another.
- The standard used by the company to regard an employee’s complaint as reasonable.
The second standard has to be less than the first standard because employees need to be able to make complaints without undertaking the same due-process/evidence gathering/discussions that the complaint process uses. Indeed, there needs to be a third standard: the evidence needed for the company to regard a complaint as malicious or frivolous.
The same is true for reporting something to the police. It’s unreasonable to demand that somebody reporting something to the police should have ascertained the level of evidence needed for a trial. It’s unreasonable (indeed absurd) for the police to need that level of evidence to decide whether to investigate a possible crime. However, there has to be SOME standard because people make malicious complaints to harass others and there are obvious (and sometimes deadly) instances of the police acting on the basis of very poor quality information and/or prejudice.
There’s no easy answers at the end of this. To not just be truthful but to be concerned about the truth is a moral imperative. To consider the collective impact of our individual actions is also a moral imperative. That there are social consequence for bad (but not illegal) behaviour is part of how societies work. That there is no one-size-fits-all standard for evaluating the truth of a claim before commenting on the claim is a logical necessity.
*[Only afterwards did I see that calling the US Army a ‘major institution’ was a pun.]
Major spoilers for Get Out and lesser spoilers for Six Wakes follow below. This got long and warnings around topics that touch on (but don’t discuss in detail) body image.