Friday, November 24, 2017

Amidst The Tide Of Abuse Allegations - The Risk Of Trivialization & Overkill

Image may contain: 1 person

"What we owe all people, including women, is to listen to them and to respect them and to take them seriously. But we don’t owe anyone our unthinking belief. “Trust but verify” may not have the same ring as “believe all women.” But it’s a far better policy."- Bari Weiss, NY Times

As more allegations of "inappropriate touching" come from female accusers of Sen. Al Franken, the whole abuse meme threatens to get out of control and bring down the entire #MeToo  movement by trivialization.  This isn't just whistling Dixie either. After more accusations of "verbal bullying put downs" came from a former female staffer (Melanie Sloan) of Rep. John Conyers, even wifey had appeared to have had enough saying: "This is ridiculous! All these women coming out with these trivial complaints (compared to those against Roy Moore) now risk degrading and trivializing the whole movement!"

She has a point, and whether people want to hear it or not there is such thing as indignation overkill.  Right now as the allegations of sexual harassment and minor abuse ("butt pinching", "verbal abuse' etc.) continue,  the whole impetus is threatened by implosion if  serious violations get conflated with minor or trivial ones.  Some outspoken feminists and defenders of women's rights  have actually come out in public and insisted "Zero tolerance!"   Meaning that even the slightest perceived infraction must receive the full, maximal weight of penalty. In other words, analogous to putting a jaywalker in a gas chamber.

But this is bonkers and counterproductive. If all infractions major and minor receive the same condemnation and sanction - say expulsion from office and equal destruction of reputation -  then there is total loss of balance, of moral perspective. In that case, what we end up with is a misfiring moralism and an atmosphere of feeding frenzy, not morality.  We end up with absolutism as opposed to conscious interpolation of actions differing in intent and transgressive impact. 

While I've been tempted to describe what's happening now as bordering on hysteria, my great niece Shayl (completing her psych Ph.D.) disagrees and compares the incipient atmosphere to the witch burning frenzy of the Middle Ages. While "hysteria" suggests individuals affected, the frenzy denotes an atmosphere of imbalance and unreason. For example, one beheld mainly elderly women led to dreadful torments based on mere allegations, including (Malleus Maleficarum , p. 68):

i) Her spouse (if any) being unable to “perform the carnal act”

ii) A female friend is prevented from conceiving or miscarries after she conceives.

iii) Possession of specific herbs such as “savin”.

Later, the ownership of a cat or cats was deemed evidence of  consulting a "familiar" or minor demonic entity.  In the age of witch burning, the "MeToo" meme (mind virus)  manifested as "She cursed me too!" Or "Her cat looked at me in an evil way!"

In each case, for each type of witch,  Kramer and Sprenger's  book gave the formula for extracting the confession. Worse was how easily a poor innocent woman could be suspected of being a witch since the threshold criteria were so low and subjective.  Shayl observed the same low criteria apply now, say in the case of the "inappropriate touching" allegations made by Franken's recent accusers. "It's too subjective!" she asserted, "What does that mean anyway? It could mean different touches for different women. The most innocent contact could be construed as 'inappropriate'!"

Let me add in conjunction with this that new polls disclose males are less likely to give cardio-pulmonary resuscitation to a female because of the possibility she will later cry 'Foul'. In other words, this frenzy about touching is no laughing matter, it could cost a young, single woman her life!

What is needed  instead of "zero tolerance" absolutism is to arrive at a weighing or interpolation of actions based on critical thinking combined with the exercise of ethical provisionalism. Just as provisional ethics provides a reasonable middle ground between absolute and  relative systems, it also provides a middle ground for sanctions imposed on a scale of actions or infractions.  Thus, while one may rightly demand a capital punishment (say lethal injection) for a mass murderer of infants in their cribs, one may not do so for a jaywalker.

The scale of infraction is vastly different, hence it is madness to apply the same sanction to both violations.  By the same token, provisional ethics bids us withhold the hand of punitive extremism, say for infractions like Al Franken's,  compared to those of  Roy Moore (sexually assaulting children).  Hence it is also madness to demand the expulsion of Al Franken for his alleged violations, which are nowhere in the same league as Moore's.  It is also nonsense to demand Franken's resignation if you don't also demand Donnie Dotard's for his much more malicious "grabbing pussies".

Former GOP Rep. (FL) Dave Jolly put it well in his appearance on Lawrence O''Donnell's show on Wednesday, that "we have to take care to distinguish fallibility from criminality".  This is especially as Mr. Jolly expects many more allegations to erupt in the coming weeks. As these further accusations pile up one must bear in mind that Roy Moore's advances on underage girls amount to the criminality (pedophilia), but Al Franken's mock grope of  Leeann Tweeden  does not.  Neither do his "inappropriate touches" - construed as such by assorted women who posed with him in takes at the MN state fair.

If Franken did cross a line in his accusers' minds it more likely was an  instance of over familiarity and perhaps fallibility.   It is also an overstep a male teacher can easily make - say in the jubilant moment a female student exceeds beyond all expectations in a science fair project - and hugs her without thinking. Is he guilty of "inappropriate touching" for being spontaneous?  As Shayl would put it "Give me a break!"

 And let us pause here to note again that not all allegations made by women are true, especially if there is no clear evidence of such. While we desire to give women's claims of sexual harassment validation, we cannot ignore the possibility that there may also be ulterior motives in play- and bad actors.  These motives (and strategies) didn't just originate recently but have been around for decades under the guise of "dirty tricks" -  e.g. since the Nixon campaign's tactics against Dems in 1968 and 1972..

As I pointed out to wifey (and she agreed) what better way  - in the wake of the  Roy Moore tarnishing of the GOP - to bring down Dem efforts to take back the House next year?  All the Roger Stone- trained hit team would need to do is hire dozens of female moles to come out of the woodwork at different times and make all kinds of allegations against sitting Dems.   At the very least - even if the accused parties weren't forced to resign - those less substantive allegations ("He pinched my ass!") would cast such a pall as to make their lives and service almost unmanageable.  Worse, most of this could be done - in the current climate- without demanding one scintilla of hard evidence. Just validate whatever accusations as part of #MeToo.

As John Conyer's lawyer Arnold Reed put it yesterday:

"If people were required to resign over mere allegations a lot of people would be out of work in this country, including the president."

This is exactly why we have a standard of jurisprudence in this country that says a person is innocent until proven guilty. But with the tidal wave of new allegations we are expected to dismiss or forget that standard and just toss Franken and Conyers  (to start) out based on sketchy, subjective allegations.

Unlike Franken's photo showing him mock groping  Leeann Tweeden  there isn't anything - other than his latest accusers' words - to prove Franken's "butt pinches" or "inappropriate touching"  occurred.  We have no distaff side images of his hands doing any gropes or pinches, only what they claim. That simply isn't good enough given : 1) it risks conflation of serious abuse with minor forms, and 2) it risks degrading the whole effort of women who've been seriously violated - to come forward, and 3) it risks casting suspicion of a political hit job or dirty tricks, with the 2018 mid terms approaching.

Even Left blogger Amanda Marcotte - after Tweeden's more justified accusation (with an actual photo to back it up) - has suspected her claim of being a Reepo dirty trick.  However, she's perversely invoked that to insist Franken resign -which is total bollocks. According to Marcotte "if this is a political stunt then the people behind it surely want Franken to stay". Thus, she tried to make the case that Franken "take one for the team"- which, of course,  would demonstrate to the GOP the dirty trick worked.

Bottom  line: it's critical now to distinguish between minor and serious violations, as Dave Jolly noted . If you got your butt pinched in a one off  ten years ago, deal with it, don't make a federal case out of it  now .  Unless the violation is of the most egregious type, don't turn it into a capital crime just to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon. Be conscious then that we are in a conflationary environment or a "frenzied atmosphere" to use Shayl's parlance.

Even political contributor Michelle Goldberg, on All In Wednesday  evening, seemed to be dithering with respect to Roy Moore's serious abuse of young girls, and Franken's (alleged) butt pinches of adult women. She actually whined at one point: "I  just don't know if I can go on splitting hairs about these things".

Sorry, Michelle, but you do have to keep making distinctions and it's NOT "splitting hairs"!  Franken's mock groping of Leeann Tweeden and assorted, alleged butt pinches (if true) of adult women - while immature and disrespectful  emphatically are NOT on the level of what the Alabamy slime ball Roy Moore has been doing, including to a young girl of 14. Anyone who tries to equate those two things on a moral spectrum is guilty of false equivalence. It is also up to those of us capable of critical thinking to make that distinction clear.

So let's not talk of 'splitting hairs' - let's talk of separating a cholera bacteria from one that maybe causes salmonella.

The worst thing we can do now is get intellectually sloppy with our categories of offense, and become too lazy to make the necessary distinctions. 

No comments: