Monday, December 08, 2014

The Rolling Stone/UVA Rape Fiction: Maya Dusenbery Doubles Down

   Wow. This is really, really bad.
  So, in the midst of a shitstorm in which basically everyone is (wrongly) placing 100% of the blame on Rolling Stone, and in which Rolling Stone wrote one sentence that could be interpreted as kinda sorta attributing a tiny bit of responsibility to, y'know, the person who told the lie that they reported, Dusenbery writes an article about how everybody is blaming "Jackie" when Rolling Stone actually deserves every ounce of the blame despite the fact that everyone is blaming the victim here GAWD.    Though, just for the record: the "victim" was not a victim. See, that was the really big news in this case. The rape didn't happen. Ergo no victim. That's actually an important fact... It speaks volumes that that is being ignored...
   Then there's the bad philosophy... Dusenbery writes:
But, of course, the one thing that journalism refuses to question is its own ability to reveal the truth. It clings fast to its central conceit: that it has no biases of its own, and if followed correctly, its standards and conventions are enough to magically correct our cultural biases and lead us to some “objective” truth — or at least get us closer than anything else will. isn't actually true that "journalism"...if we can really attribute any quasi-mental states to it..."refuses to's own ability to reveal the truth"...and it doesn't actually "cling fast to its central conceit: that it has no biases..." Rather, it's pretty common for journalists to recognize that they probably have some biases. What they try to do is minimize those biases and get as close to the truth as is necessary with respect to a given story. But here's something to keep in mind: it's almost always the party that is wrong that starts to invoke the specter of pervasive and ineliminable bias, and starts to put "'objective' truth" in scare quotes...
   And then there's:
It’s possible that so long as journalism insists on some fiction of objectivity and refuses to really own up to its bias, the full and awful truth of sexual violence will continue to slip through its attempts to capture it.
   Again, no. Objectivity is no fiction. And those who call it into question on an ad hoc basis are typically  those who have been proven wrong. And they themselves typically would never allow such arguments to go unchallenged under different circumstances. Imagine, if you will, that after Jackie's story was first reported, someone had made arguments analogous to Dusenberry's. Vicious gang rape at UVA? Well, no need to worry! Objectivity is impossible! Why get ourselves all worked up about someone's purely subjective, biased narrative-spinning? It's just a story...just a "narrative"... Dusenbery & co. would have burst into flames at such arguments--and rightly so. Dusenbery's arguments are sophistical nonsense, a rear-guard action, a desperate ploy to provide verbal cover while she ostentatiously refuses to admit that she and her theory were wrong. It's a gruesome, embarrassing sight. It's the very dogmatism that got her and us into this mess in the first place, a dogmatism now hard at work trying to make sure that we learn no lessons from this massive cultural mistake. If science operated like that, we'd all still be geocentrists.
   The belief in objectivity simply is not the problem here.
   The problem is that "Jackie" told a lie, and the vast, vast majority of people believed it, because they have been falsely convinced that they must believe every accusation of rape, no matter how fantastic. And they've been convinced of that falsehood by people like Ms. Dusenbery. Who is now trying to put 100% of the blame on somebody else.
   Don't get me wrong; Rolling Stone deserves blame. 
   But Rolling Stone does not deserve all of the blame... Not by a long shot.
   Dusenbery quotes someone else as writing: “As a culture, we don’t seem to know how to hear stories about rape and sexual violence.” It’s possible we also live in a culture where journalism is not equipped to tell them." I suppose that's possible, but it's not relevant to the case at hand. See, there was no rape. Even now, Dusenbery and company seem incapable of admitting that, and everyone else seems hesitant to call them on it. We don't need a fancy pop sociological theory here. We are not struggling with our cultural failure to correctly "hear" a story of rape and sexual violence. We are dealing with a run-of-the mill falsehood. The story is, so far as we can currently tell, just plain false. Objectively false. Forays into sophistical never-never land, compete with casual sophomoric relativism aren't going to change that fact. We are actually dealing with a problem almost the opposite of that described by Dusenbery. We are dealing with our inability to disbelieve a patently unbelievable story about rape. It's not that objectivity is impossible, it's not that journalism is somehow, magically, incapable of reporting on rape. Those are just vaporous ploys to avoid the plain truth: Jackie, so far as we can tell, lied about the rape. Rolling Stone printed the lie. Almost everyone believed the lie. And they did so largely because people like Dusenbery told them that they had to, and browbeat them into believing that they were horrible people if they didn't. And now Dusenbery et al. are doubling down, refusing to admit error, and spinning out elaborate sophistries to avoid admitting, to themselves or anyone else, that they were (a) responsible for a lot of this and (b) wrong.
   I wonder whether they'll get away with it?  
   If I had to bet, I'd guess that they will.

[Oh...and don't miss the comments on Dusenbery's story... They exhibit a degree of disconnection from reality that makes Dusenbery herself look downright realistic...]


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