This is not the best point to lead with

As the allegations regarding who groped who and who propositioned who and who assaulted what fly back and forth like fifth graders on zip lines, one thing I’ve seen pop up (as it often does) is commenters and pundits and politicians alike all undercutting the points they try to make in what seems to be a very deliberate way.  They make this assertion like they’re revealing a very pertinent fact that should give them credibility, when in reality they’re making an assertion that only reveals their bias.  This might be commendable if they were “pulling the sting” and engaging in some kind of preemptive full disclosure, but in almost all cases they’re making these statements as if they’re part of their curriculum vitae on the subject.  That statement goes something like this: “I’m a woman.”  “I have a daughter.”  “I’m a victim of abuse.”  The clear implication they’re trying to make is “I have a connection to the accuser therefore I’m REALLY mad about this particular subject and that gives me authority to speak about it!”

Actually…no.  It doesn’t.  In reality it means that you’re biased.  It means you are not impartial and cannot look at this subject with anything approaching objective reason and logic unless you acknowledge and deal with your biases.  I’m not just hearing this from insignificant know-nothings on Twitter and Facebook but from very significant know-nothings like Nancy Pelosi and even intelligent experts at argument and debate like Stefan Molyneux.  Not one of them is confronting this as a means of dealing with and adjusting for their own leanings and instead they are all putting this forward like it’s some sort of identity badge conferring jurisdiction upon them to sit in judgment.  In reality, leading off by revealing your own emotional connection to the subject at hand is equivalent to saying “I don’t know what I’m talking about but I sure am angry about it!”

You see, in a criminal court hearing, the judge is supposed to be completely dispassionate and disinterested, and a cardinal rule of evidence is that showing bias is always relevant (and relevant evidence is always admissible).  Because it doesn’t matter what the crime is, to the victim (or “victim”) and those affected by it, it’s the worst thing ever.  I remember when I was in law school I had something of value stolen from me, and while it was an expensive item in itself and that’s entirely why it got ganked, it held a great deal of sentimental value as well for a lot of reasons.  I wasn’t thinking or feeling about the incident in terms of “this would be a reasonable response and penalty for this crime if the thief is ever caught.”  I wanted retribution.  I wanted pain.  I hoped that the thief would return the item and was willing to forgive if he ever did so (he didn’t), but if someone had to go out and find the son of a bitch, then I wanted five minutes in a room alone with him.  Now don’t misinterpret me, I never actually would do something like that, but there’s a wide moral gulf between wanting badly to take a pound of flesh from someone who has wronged you and actually getting out the carving knife.  But the point is, I should not be sitting in judgment of anyone accused of grand larceny for that reason without accounting for and cordoning off that bias, much less using that bias as some kind of qualification to judge the accused in such a case.  I have (or more accurately, I used to have) an emotional and admittedly irrational connection that may have overridden even my defense attorney inclinations if I found myself on such a jury (and note, this does not mean I have any problem defending someone accused of grand larceny.  In fact I think it gives me a bit of an edge in dealing with complaining witnesses).

So when you go out and say “I’m a father of a young woman” or “I think rape is every bit as bad as murder” (which is asinine and actually trivializes rape) or “Every woman deserves to be heard and believed,” you’re not establishing your credentials.  You need to follow that up with a reason why anyone should think you can be objective and honest about your perspective on the subject at hand, or else you might as well just stop talking, because you’ve just admitted you’re tainted.  You’re not impartial, you’re not looking at things reasonably and logically, and you are either so arrogant or so ignorant that you’re holding that out as a qualification.  Now, if you come out and say “I have this particular bias regarding this situation, BUT I still think this is bogus,” then it gives you credibility.  To go back to my own example, if I was to make a statement regarding thievery that was sympathetic to the reasons and situation of the thief, that ought to be given equal or even possibly greater credence than a statement from someone who had never been a victim.  As the old Vulcan proverb says, “only Nixon could go to China.”

So when you hear someone say “I’m extra special interested in this issue!” then you need to be listening for the followup reason why they can still be objective.  Otherwise all they’ve succeeded in doing is handing you the lens through which you should view everything else they say, and that glass is pretty dim.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s