Just something obvious I’ve noticed recently – which suspect others will have noticed before me
People seem to be using a formulation of a rule which seems designed to discredit the rule it is supposed to be protecting. The formulation is of the form: “X is terrible and should be stopped. But any particular incidence of X can always be dismissed or excused.” These supposedly excusable cases are then claimed to not reinforce the problem of X.
The Heard Depp Dispute
I first noticed this as a regular thing, in a discussion about the Heard Depp trial. I’m not that interested in this trial, but I have noticed that it seems to be caught in a massive propaganda war, and that the ‘reporting’ I’ve seen seems to be overtly trying to influence my opinion on the subject and promote particular agendas and emotional reactions in its audience. Reporting seems to coagulate around two poles
- a) women are hysterical liars who try to frame men by accusing them of rape and cruelty, when really the problem was the woman. Believe the man, castigate the woman. This is the position I have come across most often.
- b) Men are inherently violent and untrustworthy and women are constantly in danger all the time. Believe the woman, castigate the man.
I suspect that the divisions are likely to be based on gender and on Democrat and Republican political allegiance. It is also not surprising given the apparent aims of some of the reporting, that Heard claims she has received a torrent of abuse and death threats. The reporting would often seem to be aiming for that level of anger and interaction – perhaps apolitically, just to get eyeballs for advertising as the phrase goes.
To get back to the subject. In this charged atmosphere, I met someone who appeared to argue that he was opposed to Heard because she was ruining #Metoo for other women.
[I am not alleging anything about this particular person, this is a social phenomenon, not necessarily anything to do with individuals or their intentions.]
Anyway, in this case, the proposition mentioned above, appears to go:
“#Metoo is right for pointing out that women get beaten and raped by men regularly and that they then have their protests and charges casually and demeaningly dismissed as falsehoods, hysteria or malevolence.
“However in this particular case Heard is clearly hysterically and malevolently claiming to have suffered from threats and violence, and so her claims should be dismissed.
“This quick dismissal does not reinforce the difficulties that women face in coming forward.”
Given this dismissal, the death threats etc, she has likely received, can be ignored. It appears likely to me that after seeing what Heard has been through, even if she is proven to have lied, other women will feel inhibited about coming forward. Why, if they have been assaulted, should they suffer twice from the violence of the attack, and the violence of the manipulated (?) audience?
I have no idea of Heard or Depp’s real motives of course, or the real events that each interprets differently, or why it is obvious she (or he) is lying. I do know that a British judge thought that “the great majority of alleged assaults” on Heard by Depp had been “proved to the civil standard”. But this is largely ignored. The argument that the person is defending #Metoo does not seem to be neutral or encouraging women to stand up to violence and intimidation, but discouraging it.
This discouragement may be the argument’s intention, but it would seem to be its function.
In using the argument, the person can claim to be virtuous and recognising that violence against women is bad, at the same time as encouraging people to dismiss claims of violence by any particular woman, especially against men they like.
This argument strikes me as similar to many US based arguments I’ve heard over Black Lives Matter, in this case the formulation appears to be:
“Of course it is bad that so many people get shot by police (avoiding the race issue). We should protest against this and stop it. But in this particular case (whatever it is) when a black person was shot in a confrontation with police they were: a known criminal (even if they were not making threats or engaged in violence); they could have been on drugs; they are unsavory; the police thought they went for a weapon; they were not obeying the police; they were running away in terror; they shouted at the cops threatening them; they acted surprised and guilty when the police knocked down their door by mistake, and so on.”
Again while the person can concede that police shooting people is supposed to be bad, in practice they say this black person deserved it, or it was a sad mistake. The formulation suggests that there is nothing to worry about really. With each particular murder a person excuses, they can still claim to they are virtuous and opposing police violence. In reality, the formulation excuses the police violence it is supposed to be against.
This is a slight variant. The Australian government admits that climate change is bad, and that emissions are bad – but in any particular case of mining fossil fuels, the emissions or burning that result should be ignored, because one case cannot make any difference and is beneficial for someone (usually the mining company). No matter how much the ‘single cases’ add up to produce harm that is supposedly recognised by the arguer, any single case is fine, which eventually means no case should be stopped. Again the person can claim to be virtuous and recognise climate change is a problem, while still doing everything they can to make it worse.
The point of the formulation is that it is a way, the person seeks to establish their moral credibility on the issue (violence against women, police shooting unarmed or unresisting people, or avoiding climate change), while actually excusing the crime they are supposed to be condemning.
A constant use of special cases, undermines getting rid of the evil we are supposed to be condemning, and yet there may be occasions in which the exception is real: the woman is lying or the police responded appropriately. This is the deadly paradox, and its certainly possible and needs to be factored into trials.
However, in climate the special exception is probably more rarely justifiable, because the cumulative bad is inevitable, no matter the virtue of any particular mine or power station.
If the formulation is common, then we can be reasonably sure that people are using it to reassert the established ways of dismissing and denying the problem, while pretending to virtue. Becoming aware of this standard formulation, may help us become aware of it, so we can try and escape it, or argue against it – and remain more neutral during the trial whatever politics gathers around it.
If we were to identify something as “virtue signaling” then this would be a fine candidate. It signals virtue to the audience while allowing the condition to continue, and using the person’s signaled virtue to excuse the crime in this case, and possibly in every case. The exception functions to break the rule completely.