Sunday, October 15, 2017


     Has anyone noticed just how ready far too many Americans are to believe an accusation over a denial – in fact, to regard the denial as proof of the accusation?

     Perhaps you have. I certainly have.

     I’ve told this little parable more than once, but its import keeps being missed:

     Some years ago, a theater impresario whom we shall call Smith, whose current production Hoity-Toity was, shall we say, not repaying its production costs received a phone call from Jones, a well-known reporter for the prestigious publication Theater Life. Their conversation ran as follows:

     "Mr. Smith," Jones said, "I'm calling to ask a few questions about Hoity-Toity."

     "Go right ahead," Smith said.

     "Well, first of all," Jones said, "the talk is that Hoity-Toity is falling deeply into arrears and will soon be closed. Is that the case?"

     Smith, a careful and experienced man, counted to ten before answering. "I would imagine that if I were to say no, your story in tomorrow's edition would be headlined 'Smith Denies Hoity-Toity Near To Closing.' Am I correct?"

     "Well, yes," Jones said. "Something like that, anyway."

     "Well, then," Smith said, "I'll answer your question if you'll answer one for me. How's that sound?"

     "Fair enough," Jones said warily. "What's your question?"

     "Mr. Jones, is it true that your wife has syphilis?"

     "What?" Jones shrieked. "Why are you asking me that? What put such an idea into your head?"

"Oh, you know how the rumor mill churns," Smith said breezily. "But, as it happens, you're on speakerphone and Davis is here from Variety. If you were to answer no, he might have a story in tomorrow's edition headlined 'Jones Denies Wife Has Syphilis.' What would you think of a story like that?"

     There was a long silence on the line. Finally, Jones said, "All right, Smith. I take your point."

     Now that’s a complete fiction, pulled out of the air by my excessively inventive imagination (which, for some reason or other, has refused to choose a new plot on which to set to work since I completed Innocents). But there’s a multiply verified anecdote about an American politician that’s eloquent on this point as well.

     The politician was running for a seat in Congress, and was having a hard time establishing a lead over his opponent. So he instructed an aide to circulate a rumor that the opponent was known to have sex with pigs.

     The aide was astonished. “How could we say such a thing? We know that’s not true.”

     The politician smiled grimly. “I know. I just want to hear him deny it.”

     The politician, who eventually became the 36th president of these United States, was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

     It’s not about truth or falsehood. It’s not even about our attraction to scandal. It’s about our propensity to believe the worst about others we don’t know personally, on virtually no evidence.

     A man of integrity, who holds himself to a moral-ethical standard, will not mount an accusation he knows is untrue. However, such a man, however strictly he regulates his own conduct, might suffer a flaw that’s common to good men: the tendency to believe that others’ ethics are the same as his. So when ethical man Smith hears an accusation from Jones, whom he knows only slightly, against complete unknown Davis, he’s likely to proceed from the assumption that Jones “wouldn’t say that if he didn’t sincerely believe it.” His willingness to believe the accusation won’t be much affected by his evaluation of Jones.

     What factors would enter into Smith’s acceptance or dismissal of the accusation?

  1. Stories he’d heard previously about Davis or the company he keeps;
  2. His opinion of some group to which Davis belongs (e.g., his religion, race, sex, or ethnicity);
  3. His opinion of Davis’s occupation;
  4. His political convictions.

     There may be other factors, but those are the most commonly effective.

     It is not entirely unfair or unwise for Smith to consider the first three of those things in forming his opinion of Jones’s accusation against Davis. We are routinely judged according to such matters. Juries do it all the time, and they’re not frequently wrong. But those considerations are peripheral to the substance of any accusation. Others are far more imperative:

  1. Were there witnesses to the event?
  2. Is there any circumstantial evidence?

     Item #4 is quite another matter.

     Activists on the Left have made a habit of denouncing anyone they disagree with as a “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobe,” “white supremacist,” or what have you, usually without any evidence whatsoever. This speaks to two characteristics of persons on the Left:

  1. Their “assumption of differential rectitude;”
  2. Their unwillingness to concede the integrity and sincerity of their political opponents.

     The first of those elements indemnifies them – to their own consciences if nothing else – for hurling scurrilous accusations potent enough to ruin the life of a good man. The second is built into the “compact and unified church” of the Left (Eric Hoffer): the premise that only those on the Left can be reasonable, moral, “compassionate,” and so forth.

     However, as Tom Kratman said in his postscript to A Desert Called Peace:

     [I]t has been said more than once that you should choose enemies wisely, because you are going to become just, or at least, much like them. The corollary to this is that your enemies are also going to become very like you....

     If I could speak now to our enemies, I would say: Do you kill innocent civilians for shock value? So will we learn to do, in time. Do you torture and murder prisoners? So will we. Are you composed of religious fanatics? Well, since humanistic secularism seems ill-suited to deal with you, don't be surprised if we turn to our churches and temples for the strength to defeat and destroy you. Do you randomly kill our loved ones to send us a message? Don't be surprised, then, when we begin to target your families, specifically, to send the message that our loved ones are not stationery.

     This seems lost on the current enemy, but then, he's insane. It's very sad. Yes, it's very sad for us, too.

     The Left should fear this dynamic. They’re in far more danger from it than we in the Right who’ve endured it for decades and have learned to shrug off their slanders. Yet there is danger to us, as well.

     I dislike the hurling of accusations “to see what sticks.” I particularly dislike accusations about attitudes, prejudicial or otherwise. But those, being inherently substanceless, can be “shrugged off” with a little practice, and the testimony of one’s family and friends. Accusations of criminal wrongdoing are a far more serious matter.

     Recently we’ve seen a few high-profile individuals drowned by such accusations. They may be true; they may not. But the part of a good man is not to assume guilt but rather innocence until guilt has been proved. That should go without saying, which makes the necessity of saying it painful. More, the presumption of innocence should not be conditional upon political affiliation.

     Good men do not slander others. It is especially vile, a clear violation of the Eighth Commandment, to do so for utilitarian reasons such as political gain. We should not make accusations of truly evil conduct without substantial evidence to support them. That the Left frequently does so does not license us to do likewise.

     You might want to consult Gary Condit on the subject.


Pascal said...

I'm surprised there were so few comments. You provided me with support for my latest, what many may deem, farrago.

Linda Fox said...

Yes, we should be careful about accepting what is - at this point - thinly substantiated accusations.

Keep in mind, however, that one of the accusers (an admittedly over-the-top emotional twit) has NOT been contradicted with facts, so far. She accused Ben Affleck of sleazy behavior (he has been caught on film molesting women). She has not deviated from her story. It has been remarkably close to that of other women, who - up to now - had not pursued legal action.

Is it possible that relatively innocent (by comparison) behavior is being blown up into a 'scandal'?


But, I wouldn't bet the rent money on it.

SOME of the behavior is loutish, rather than criminal. But, there really is no excuse for appearing nude or in an open bathrobe before a woman who is looking for a job, nor of 'requesting' a massage, to mention some of his LESS objectionable behaviors.

My take on the situation is different from yours, in part because my prior experiences colored my viewpoint. I've posted it in the link below.

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) I wasn't thinking of Harvey Weinstein, Linda. That having been said, I agree that the evidence against him is quite substantial. Most people would call it conclusive.