Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bring a Torch

As the hashtag MeToo movement continues to line up and bring down targets, there have been complaints, of varying levels of reasonableness that it's becoming something of a witch hunt, and will end up with some number of men going down for offenses that they didn't commit. And there have been just as many rebuttals to that line of complaint, also with varying levels of reasonableness.

I, of course, having nothing better to do, have also come up with some thoughts on the matter, namely: Yeah? So? What were you expecting?

There are some seriously flawed systems of justice in the world, and the Court of Public Opinion is among the worst of them.It has poor to non-existent standards for evidence, sentencing guidelines that are wildly arbitrary at best and doesn't recognize any right to effective counsel. And that's just a very short part of a very long list. And MeToo is just another division of the Court of Public Opinion. So why expect it to somehow be better at dispensing justice that its parent?

There is a component to many people's understanding of justice that is about the restoration of a sense of power in one's life. As many forms of victimization directly attack people's sense of being powerful, justice that attacks and injures accused perpetrators salves it. And in doing so, becomes a form of power itself. And in the end, power isn't really power if it can't be abused. Not to say that power must lead to abuse (although there are any number of examples that would point to that being true), but that the potential for abuse is a central component of power.

So why not expect the power granted by the MeToo movement to wind up in a certain amount of abuse, and why think that MeToo's supporters should be above participating in that abuse, intentionally or otherwise? The cynic in me thinks that a lot of the concern comes from people who have never really had to deal with the arbitrary nature of the way justice is applied. Consider Harvey Weinstein. Despite the sheer number of allegations against him, he hasn't actually been criminally charged with anything, as I write this (although that might change before too much longer). And a lot of the high-profile men that have been brought down by MeToo could otherwise have been considered untouchable under normal circumstances. While they may not have been at the level of being able to stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot someone, they had enough social currency to shield themselves from the consequences of bad actions for years. (Note that this is not to say that everyone who has thus far run afoul of MeToo is guilty - having the ability to get away with something is not the same thing as getting away with something.) And given that MeToo, like the Court of Public Opinion overall, tends to take a dim view of due process, it's not hard to imagine that someone who was heretofore shielded from the vagaries of the legal system could suddenly find itself in the crosshairs.

As an Black man in the United States, I grew up with well-meaning relatives constantly warning me that the criminal justice system would just as soon put me away for life as look at me, and if that meant needing to come up with fabricated evidence for fictitious charges, then so be it. And while that's a view that may be extreme to the point of cartoonishness, the fact of the matter remains that fairly or not, being Black in the United States carries with it a higher degree of the risk of incarceration than some other groups, even accounting for differences in the actual rates of criminal behavior. Who wouldn't appreciate not having to deal with that?

Fair a place where pigs go to earn prizes, and that's simply a fact of life in my world. The choice as to whether or not to hold people accountable for things is related just as much, if not more, to how people feel about themselves and the person in the dock as it is to what that person may have actually done. Perfect justice, or even a reasonably close facsimile, requires, in most cases, far more knowledge that most of us can actually have of events that we weren't a party to. And for all of the rules, processes and procedures that they may (or may not) have in place, formal systems of justice are typically only perfect to people who are convinced that they'll never be on the sharp end of them. And MeToo is not a formal system of justice. It's an expression of anger, hurt and frustration. And to expect anything approaching objectivity and rationality from a process driven by emotion is inane.

So MeToo goes hunting witches and decides that being burned is the best proof of guilt. So what else is new?

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