Saturday, September 29, 2018

Somin on Kavanaugh-Ford

   I thought Christine Blasey Ford was credible. It is hard to deny she genuinely believes that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her.....
   Kavanaugh's anger and belligerence struck me as less persuasive than Ford's calmer demeanor. Some of his insinuations of being a victim of a left-wing conspiracy (motivated by "revenge for the Clintons," among other things) seem excessive and inappropriate for a Supreme Court nominee... That said, it is not surprising that a man who is falsely accused (or believes himself to be) would feel great anger, and might engage in rhetorical excesses that would not occur at other times....
   More generally, we should be wary of judging the witnesses based on our subjective impressions of demeanor. Studies show that most people are not as good at detecting liars as they think they are. And we also should not dismiss the possibility that one or both witnesses' recollections of long-ago events could be seriously inaccurate even if they genuinely believe they are telling the truth. [my emphasis]
   Our judgment may be even more flawed in a case where it is likely to be compromised by ideological and partisan bias. One of the most striking aspects of commentators' reactions to yesterday's hearing (and the sexual assault accusations more generally) is the extremely high correlation between what people think of the allegations and whether they believe Kavanaugh should be confirmed aside from them. Liberals who opposed to Kavanaugh before the accusations overwhelmingly believe they are both accurate and disqualifying. Most conservatives who like Kavanaugh's jurisprudence believe that the accusations are false, or at least insufficiently proven to warrant rejection of the nomination. As a matter of logic, it should be possible to simultaneously believe that Kavanaugh is a great jurist, yet also likely guilty of sexual assault, or, conversely, that his jurisprudence is badly flawed, yet Ford's accusations are insufficiently proven to be disqualifying. The fact that these two positions have so few adherents is a strong sign that reactions to the accusations and hearing are heavily influenced by "motivated reasoning"—the tendency to interpret evidence in accordance with political and other preconceptions....
   Amen, brother Somin. The degree to which people are relying on their subjective impressions about this is truly disturbing to me.
   To very loosely paraphrase a Peirce comment on metaphysics: both sides are passionately certain that the truth of the matter couldn't be clearer...but they disagree about everything after that.
   I wouldn't, as things now stand, bet any money at all on either story. I think Kavanaugh's lying about his boozing, and probably doing so because the deck is so stacked in Ford's favor. If Kavanaugh turns out to have been an ordinary teenager who drank so much that he blacked out*  more than zero times, this will be taken as evidence that he's a rapist. Anybody out there want to have that standard applied to them? If he ever, in his youth and his cups, said anything sexually disrespectful about women, that'll be taken as evidence. All it'll take is somebody to have a faulty memory, one story not to add up, one unfortunate juxtaposition of facts...and he's a rapist for the rest of his life. And: the obviously false "third accusation" is still being cited as evidence in support of Ford by the media and Dems.
   Contrary to what all sorts of people are inexplicably saying, there's nothing at all about Ford's testimony that makes her story particularly believable--nothing that makes it anything more than assertion. People swooned over her gratuitous, semi-scientific gestures at epinephrine, but what's really important here never gets mentioned: the well-established unreliability of memory, and of eyewitness reports. Not to mention: the fact that accusations of sexual assault "in the #MeToo era" confer high status on the accuser. People say: "it's so embarrassing for a rape victim to come forward..." Well, it's not correspondingly embarrassing for a false accuser to come forward. It's celebrity and status on the left without the corresponding embarrassment and trauma. Many people enjoy sympathy.
   OTOH, of course, Ford could be telling the truth, and Kavanaugh might be--or might have been--a repulsive scumbag. Many men are repulsive scumbags. Many of them keep this fact about themselves concealed, of course. From my observations, I conclude that it's not all that hard. They usually have help from people around them. (Though if Kavanaugh were like that, someone credible would have said so by now, IMO.)
   But anyway...behold the nature of politics: though it's objectively unclear whether A or not-A, it just so happens that the side that wants A to be true is passionately certain that the evidence makes A undeniable. Exactly the reverse is true of the other side. This fact alone should force rational people to admit that the matter isn't clear. But, of course, it doesn't.

*Though the mighty Armenius and I were having a discussion about this the other day in which we realized that we weren't exactly sure what counts as "blacking out." Is passing out blacking out? Does blacking out require that one remain ambulatory and at least semi-vertical/functional?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing is, the deck isn't actually stacked in Ford's favor. Every attempt at corroboration has actually provided defeating evidence for her claim, including the testimony of far many people than herself. The reason the deck is stacked in her favor is because it's being shuffled by people with plainly partisan interests. If we were simply investigating it, it wouldn't even be close.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Deft improvement of the metaphor, Anon.

My pendulum is definitely swinging more and more toward *bogus accusation*.

The more little pieces fall into place for me, the less I believe Ford. Or that's been the trend over the last 24 hours or so, anyway. I'm not committed to that...but it's my personal trajectory on this.

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Honestly, the killer evidence for me is the testimony of her friend, Leland Keyser. She didn't only not remember the party, she didn't know Kavanaugh at all based on her statement. Given that, I'm inclined to think it's not only unsupported but just false.

You can sort of understand Judge not being there, because his presence at the party was probably BS in the first place (hey here's a prominent R who happened to have been in Kavanaugh's class and who has a memoir we can use to sprinkle in corroborating claims, of course he's there). But the friend disagreeing is close to outright falsification.

3:49 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home