Truman Show World

Or maybe “The Matrix” would be more accurate.  I’m not that conversant.

Part of me feels some obligation to weigh in on the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Because of both profession and interest, I do know something about the reliability of memory, and of trauma memories in specific. I do know something about trauma and the range of behaviors people show afterward. I know less, though still more than average, about people lying and being evasive. Being the Assistant Village Idiot, I am also at least better than average at noticing simple things (though still not good enough); in particular, things that do not fit together. Why did various actors do X and not Y? Readers might expect me to weigh in on such matters, in hopes of sorting things out for themselves. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. In reality, most of you have already formed an opinion of what is most likely true, what is inconclusive, and what is false. Inconclusive often does not last long in the human mind. We have to make an effort to stand back and hold pieces aloft and separate, or we just automatically move to one story or another. We must fit everything into a story. We can decide to say that something is simply unknown and unlikely to ever be known, and thus put irresolution to bed, but this takes more effort.

I refrain now because my knowledge is general, and we have moved beyond that. Had I been paying attention the first 24 hours I might have provided value-added by posting on the general questions, which would help others move toward More Likely/Less Likely. Even at that, I would not have been able to provide anyone with answers. General knowledge on such topics involves on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand discussions. Women who have been in similar circumstances usually do X; but not all women do. Some women do Y or Z. Memories are usually reliable in this circumstance, but unreliable in that circumstance. We are beyond that because this is now a specific accuser, who we can discover information about. What “women usually do” is much less of an issue. It is a mere indicator, not real evidence for this day and time.

Of the many things that bother me, the failure to recognize this distinction may be at the top. A letter from 65 women who knew Brett Kavanaugh when he was young, asserting that he was an unfailing gentleman, is minor evidence that his character is inconsistent with this action. A similar letter from the opposite POV, asserting that Brett was a known problem when he had a few drinks in him would likewise be minor evidence that such things were possible. Neither would be proof, but they have some value. The letter signed by 200 women who went to this woman’s school, spanning years both before and after the alleged incident in question and noting that it feels like their experience, is not in the same category. It is worse than useless, because it stirs up people into thinking that this is germane. The question before the Senate, and thus before the country, is not a referendum on whether men in general are likely to do these things or women in general are likely to misrepresent them. The same would be true of a counter-letter signed by 200 males from Kavanaugh’s school asserting that Holton girls have been making false accusations for years and they’re sick of it. In both cases it’s irrelevant, even if true. Even if all 200 women had bad experiences, even if all 200 men had been falsely accused, it tells us nothing about this case.

Why, then, are we so quick to make real individual events into abstracts, into referenda whether our particular prejudices are the true ones and those other people’s prejudices untrue? My suggestion is that everyone who does this should be ineligible from participating in further discussion. This is not occasional.  It seems to occur even in everyday conversation.  If you talk about statistical associations between single parenthood and some pathology, single parents immediately rise to defend their child, who is not actually being discussed.  It’s an every-issue thing.  But I know some really nice gay people.  My cousin married a black man, and he has a good job. I knew this kid who went to Christian school who was the biggest druggie in town. 

There is something so automatic about this that I have to believe it is  hard-wired and completely usual, despite its illogic. While I think it is related to intelligence, or at least the ability to think abstractly, I can give you plenty of examples of very bright people who do it anyway. The ability to consider people statistically does not guarantee the performance of it.

Athletes and entertainers complain that fans don’t always get that they are real people with real feelings.  We treat them like things. I have only a little sympathy with this idea.  It’s their job to be mythological.  They wouldn’t have jobs if that didn’t happen.  Yes, sometimes it is reasonable to break the fourth wall and look at their lives. But that is actually only a version of being a mythological figure.  Because the rules of each sport are arbitrary and different people could have been the heroes with very minor changes, being a hero is their real job, not shooting a basketball.  To be good at being a hero requires intense focus on the arbitrary skill, so they have to act as if it has intrinsic value.

The same is not true for political figures and people with real power. Expecting them to be enactors of our myths is extremely dangerous. (Though I suppose it has been going on so thoroughly for so many thousands of years that it can’t be that dangerous. We not only survive it, it may actually be an optimal strategy not only for the rulers but for the ruled. Worth an evening’s thought, I think.) They are not part of our Truman Show, put there as props/characters to illustrate the dramas in our own heads. Yet we seem unable to refrain from seeing them that way.  They can send us to war, starve us, jail us, ruin or enhance our lives in a thousand ways, but we are determined to see them primarily as figures who prove or disprove our theories about how life is to be lived. Their symbolism matters more to us than their reality.

Because Kavanaugh does not seem to be rabidly pro-choice enough and might allow some slight modification to the status quo there are women, even conservative and libertarian women, who are shaken to their core that all gains for women and progress are imperiled. There are conservatives, especially religious conservatives who are likewise petrified that he is actually a squish and will sell them down the river at the first opportunity. Very primitive stuff is in play here.  Even Ann Althouse is talking about this as “Justice Kennedy’s seat” and relating that immediately to abortion.  It’s not Justice Kennedy’s seat, it belongs to the American people. She is not usually the person who you have to say “get a grip” to.

We’re crazy.  We’re all just insane.  Unable to think abstractly enough to consider important issues objectively, we retreat to the mountain people hating the city and the city people hating the mountain.

Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot.

21 thoughts on “Truman Show World”

  1. That women who once dated Kavanagh are willing to speak out for him – especially given the way women who cross the party line on such an issue are treated – is hardly unimportant. Any of us who have known both predators and gentlemen know that others may not have the same taste in men as we do, but that others’ past experience is one of the best predictors of future experience. I know some fairly good men who turn into bozos when drunk. And, unfortunately, that happens about every time they are drunk – not just once. That however is usually incompetent womanizing rather than the sign of a prowling wolf.

    I trust that preponderance far more than either of their blurred memories about incidents from a party 35 years ago where drinking was going on. I tend to be in that (as you observe large and somewhat irrational group) that overvalues anecdotal evidence – I like narrative and feel it explains more than it does. But I also believe in a certain consistency of character – and it seemed to be true of both Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanagh. And if the incident proves (if there was an incident) more like her memory than his, I would still go with the record of the years since. By the way, what is the reputation of his quite sensible friend who doesn’t intend to appear? I suspect a good deal is confused here. And I, too, don’t like the time we are living.

    I would argue that a traditional sense of character is important to our understanding of one another, but also to our ability to become better people. I love grand mythic gestures – and understand that Yeats’ vision of the IRA – realistic and mythic at once – and the men at the Alamo redeemed much that had seemed tawdry about their characters. But if we don’t see character as a changeable but still essential part of who we are, a character we want our children to build over their growing years and stay true to in their adulthood, then we begin assuming we are just dots in time, flesh perhaps continuous but not self. That is not a useful way to think (and I choose the word useful because that was, indeed, the way we thought in our youth). My narrative for this was the moment the man who was going to marry us told us that he thought Caril Fugate should be paroled (he was a minister for the York women’s prison at that time). That she, not anyone, was the same self fifteen or twenty years later.

    I thought, yes, I would like this marriage to begin with a new self – I had much to regret and much silliness to leave behind. But I didn’t think it would happen – I’d still be me. And Caril Fugate would still be the woman who tortured (or watched tortured?) her two year old sister. So, I’m returning to anecdotes – narratives. That is the core of psychological realism in the nineteenth century novel and is, I think, why they are wise. And why modern fiction which aimed at leaving both mature character and realistic narration is often not.

  2. @anon

    I’m not sure I’d necessarily call the other man named by Ford, Mark Judge, sensible except for trying to steer clear of this mess. The reporting is coming fast and confounding but I have read that he was a hard partier, verging on alcoholic, in high school and apparently has written a book about his experience. To what extent he implicates Kavanaugh in the same lifestyle I don’t know. His fenials that the incident, or anything similar, occurred have been pretty emphatic.

  3. Naming the Mark Judge guy may have been a way of trying to make Kavanaugh seem culpable. She did not give names to her therapist. She told the therapist there were four guys. She probably knew he had written a book about being an alcoholic.

    There is also a rumor that she wrote the same letter about Gorsuch when his nomination was being reviewed. He went to the same prep school as Kavanaugh and his mother was also a prominent person, EPA head. Maybe she doesn’t know who it was if something did happen.

    DiFi sat on this for months so a request for FBI investigation (of what ?) is an obvious delaying tactic.

    I have come to the conclusion that Roe v Wade is the Dredd Scott decision of the 20th century.

    It has poisoned our politics and will continue to do so until it is reversed. Don’t get me wrong. I am prochoice to viability and actually performed abortions in my training. In 1969, I did abortions at USC LA County Medical CEnter where abortion was legal in California.

    The Roe v Wade decision short circuited politics and will continue to do so. Several states had legalized abortion with some restrictions and, if Roe is reversed, more will do so. The argument will return to local politics where it should have stayed. The Court will return to other matters that are its normal business.

  4. Why, then, are we so quick to make real individual events into abstracts, into referenda whether our particular prejudices are the true ones and those other people’s prejudices untrue?

    Jordan Peterson talks about this. It’s because we all possess primordial images (for lack of a better term) that organize our mental experiences into a shared construct of reality by symbolizing inherent instincts, intuition, compulsions, etc. These are known as archetypes, a term which can tend to take on nebulous, new-agey, pop psych connotations, but it’s plausible that some do exist. For example, the common ones might be archetypes of father, mother, and child. According to Peterson, we can dig deeper and discover that those three actually represent chaos, order, and the (supposed) rationality to discern between the two.

    It is hard-wired. It’s how we make sense of an uncertain and risky world.

    Can it be dangerous to do this? For people to see a hero in Obama when he delivers a speech, no matter how bloviatingly vapid? Or for people to see a debauched prepster in Kavanaugh, a person currently living as virtuously as humanly possible?

    Undoubtedly in many cases this instinctual tendency can be exploited, and it is over and over again. No matter how smart or advanced we think we are, we still get fooled by this all the time. It’s not just in politics that we’re duped either. Con artists, used car salesmen, television preachers all to know how to push these buttons. Medical gurus selling miracle cures. I know the pitches I always fall for are the ones appealing to family, offspring, or some such variation.

    So you are correct, it is crazy. It seems irrational. But survival is the ultimate arbiter of what’s rational or not. I don’t see heading for high ground as crazy. It’s a necessary defense mechanism. Sometimes circling the wagons is all we can do. We have to make the best of it while we are still able.

  5. Interesting take on this situation, Assistant Village Idiot. And, parenthetically, Mike K is right — the Supreme Court’s Roe vs Wade decision was a horrible case of legislating from the bench. The Justices who voted for Roe have done immense harm to the US. Per the 10th Amendment, that decision should be vacated and the difficult issue of abortion returned to the 50 State legislatures.

    As to our ability to make statistical associations — we are back to the famous question: Who are you going to believe? My statistical association or your lying eyes? And those of us who have to struggle with statistics know how complex the issues with the use of statistics can be. How do we get a representative sample? How relevant are past statistics to future predictions? Correlation or causation? It is not surprising that most of us tend to lean heavily on what we have experienced ourselves.

    Looking back at my own teenage years, anecdotal data warned us teenage boys early on that teenage girls are not all innocent little flowers. Experience also showed that teenage girls talk & talk — all of them! It is simply not credible that a teenage girl got groped and did not tell all her friends about the incident at the time, in exhaustive detail.

    The only thing we can say for sure about this woman’s tale is that it is beyond stupid for 15 year old girls (16? 17? Whatever age she was that she can’t quite remember) to go to unsupervised drinking parties with older boys. We all did stupid embarrassing things as teenagers — most of us learned the bitter lessons and moved on. This woman’s apparent failure to behave in that normal fashion is troubling.

  6. Yes, abortion underlies so much that is stupid, blind, and vicious in the woman’s movement and in politics today. This is intensified by Planned Parenthood’s major function, which appears to be laundering money for the Democratic party. (It’s second, of course, is to encourage us to devote ourselves to the rather meaningless sex of their cable ads.)

    I would vote to keep abortion legal, but would also vote for considerable limitations. That abortionists do not want Gosnell labelled an abortionist tells us what they know but don’t face – when these are from the same organizations that defend Planned Parenthood (or are Planned Parenthood) and defend the selling of baby parts, the non-notification of anyone who can support the young woman or prosecute the man when a minor presents at the clinic. In many ways abortion differs from slavery but like the period from 1820 to 1860, when few northern arguments reached the south, many live in a silo where opposing information and arguments are muffled, unpublished, shouted down. Also few were traditionally willing to defend it as a good. As in the Confederacy, in the last years we have had celebrations of abortions, a greeting card series that takes Planned Parenthood’s stance, and paranoid arguments (I started the Handmaid’s Tale years ago, but actually felt sick as I got into it – how can something this crazy be created with so little understanding of American history and Protestantism?).

    What strikes me as bizarre is the equivalency of pro-choice men with men who respect women. Over twenty years ago my oldest daughter came home from a series of high school feminist meetings. She started telling me who were the “good” politicians on women’s issues and the bad. Finally, I asked her what besides abortion made that distinction. She paused and said, well, yes, that was the divider. That Kavenaugh respects life and so respects women would seem to be a cause and effect that reflects a sensible world view. That Keith Ellison respects neither is likely, also, to be true.

    My experience has been that the most licentious of men whose intentions are the least respectful are quite happy with Planned Parenthood’s equation, for it encourages the belief that having children is a woman’s choice and therefore the man has no responsibility. Pro-life men tend to be more consistent – an embryo, a man, a woman, all have a spark of the divine, have those rights to autonomy. From abortion to euthanasia, from not respecting the life of a baby to not respecting the life of a woman are not huge steps to take. Few men are as strongly pro-life as women that are, because they understand they don’t have the skin in the game a woman does, haven’t faced the experiences that may lead to that moment. Both a father and a mother may well be concerned about the life of a child who will be born with considerable impediments – sometimes involving pain and often vulnerabilities – that the parents are unlikely to be able to alleviate or give that child a lifetime of protection. I can imagine myself in a sufficient number of circumstances where an abortion would seem to be the best choice – but I cannot imagine myself in a position where a man was wanting to tie me down with a child nor do I consider, as apparently Obama does, a child as a punishment. I am not in Afghanistan.

  7. I wondered for years, why the mainstream establishment feminists chose abortion as the ultimate hill to defend. Why? There are — or there used to be — small ‘f’ feminists who were pro-life, while still asking for equality in work, financial matters, and educational opportunities. My daughter finally said – “It’s the issue that doesn’t end.” There are always women who through misfortune, or carelessness, become pregnant and then decide that they don’t want to be pregnant. They’re always with us. It’s the issue that never dies, to which a lot of moaning and groaning about ‘for the womyns!’ can be attached.

  8. the equivalency of pro-choice men with men who respect women.

    The highest percentage of pro-abortion population is young men 20 to 35, not women.

    One of the saddest things I ever read was a column in the NY Times a couple of years ago. It was written by a young man whose girlfriend was to have an abortion the next day. I tried to find it a year or so ago but it seems to have vanished from their site.

    They were having dinner the night before the abortion was scheduled. A celebration ?

    He offered her a glass of wine and she declined “because it might hurt the baby”

    He actually wrote this as a column in the Times.

  9. Classic socialist Democrat smear campaign. Playing the ‘sexual assault’ card, hoping to back everyone off to knock Kavanaugh out. Too bad we are a free society, where it is our duty to ASK QUESTIONS and require proof before anyone is convicted in the court of public opinion. Or to have their entire lives ruined because a Democrat political operative is on the attack. Too bad we have this crazy notion of ‘Presumption of Innocence’ which is a cornerstone of our Constitutional Republic. The socialist Democrats are still raging and throwing a tantrum because criminal Hillary lost the election.

    Dr. Ford is lying, and a willing pawn in the larger game to delay the nomination process until there is a socialist Democrat majority in the senate. Too bad the socialist Democrats will never reclaim power.

  10. Why, then, are we so quick to make real individual events into abstracts, into referenda whether our particular prejudices are the true ones and those other people’s prejudices untrue?

    Many women have experience with some creepy guy who put the moves on them or even tried to assault them. Many women are largely ignorant about history, politics and current affairs. If your model for evaluating an unknown person’s accusation of sexual assault is based mainly on your own and your friends’ experiences you might underweight or not even consider the possibility of politically motivated false accusations. It seems to me that the Democrats skillfully played to this tendency in the Anita Hill case and now with Ford. The Republicans don’t use this tactic as much, not necessarily because they are nicer people but because their tactics depend more on unmasking Democrats’ unpopular leftist beliefs than on personal destruction.

  11. The Republicans don’t use this tactic as much, not necessarily because they are nicer people but because their tactics depend more on unmasking Democrats’ unpopular leftist beliefs than on personal destruction.

    Bill Clinton might want to dispute that. I suspect the reason the Republicans don’t use it is because it requires media cooperation to succeed, viz. Keith Ellison.

    What really bothers me about this is that we are all sinners. If after all the exertions of the FBI, the press and the Demoncrats this is the worst thing Brett Cavanaugh ever did, he seems like a lot better fellow than most of the people I know. If we are going to go back to what we did as teenagers to determine who will be our leaders, we will be led by very lucky and effective liars.

  12. Jonathan, I suspect Republicans don’t use these tactics because their voters won’t buy it.

    I consider 95% of politicians amoral rent seekers but GOP voters are too logical to accept the group think like Democrats do.

    That abortionists do not want Gosnell labelled an abortionist tells us what they know but don’t face –

    The reason why I did a few abortions in 1969 was because I was a general surgery resident doing my GYN rotation. The abortion law had just passed in California and the County Hospital GYN residents got the duty. The ones I knew did not like it so I did my share as a good guy. Not too long after, the County hired some “Mercenaries” as we called them, and they took over the duty.

    The one medical school classmate that I considered crazy, who flunked the first year and repeated falling behind us, was later employed by an abortion clinic in the San Fernando Valley. The reason I know, because I had lost track of him, was because he shot and killed his girlfriend and went to prison.

  13. What really bothers me about this is that we are all sinners. If after all the exertions of the FBI, the press and the Demoncrats this is the worst thing Brett Cavanaugh ever did, he seems like a lot better fellow than most of the people I know. If we are going to go back to what we did as teenagers to determine who will be our leaders, we will be led by very lucky and effective liars.

    Indeed. The current system selects for 1) luck in not being recorded or remembered in committing indiscretions, 2) skill at careerist game-playing and 3) being a Democrat.

    Perhaps Kavanaugh really did assault Ford. I doubt that he did, but as a female friend with whom I was discussing the case said, it’s not unheard of for a person to do something, once, that appears to be out of character. But it’s a leap to conclude from this observation that the Senate should reject Kavanaugh’s SC appointment. I think the correct question is whether you let an unsupported accusation veto the rest of the decision process, and I think the answer is no. There is plenty of evidence for the negative consequences of accepting unsupported accusations about sexual assault or anything else. The people who want Ford’s accusation to stop Kavanaugh are arguing that the end justifies the means, much as they (or their political predecessors) argued that we should disregard accusations that Bill Clinton committed sexual assault because it was important to keep Clinton in office.

    Good point about the Republicans vs. Clinton and Ellison.

  14. Assistant Village Idiot: “We’re crazy. We’re all just insane. Unable to think abstractly enough to consider important issues objectively, we retreat to the mountain people hating the city and the city people hating the mountain.”

    That may be a little harsh. Certainly, we all know people for whom the world is “My Party, right or wrong”. But most of us also know people (try our best to be people?) who will try to be objective and consider the facts even when they conflict with our preconceptions — although Dr. Johnson probably put it best: A man may be convinced against his will, but never pleased.

    We look at facts, and see that Kavanaugh’s accuser (or her handlers) have diligently removed almost all tracks of her from the internet. Why?

    For example, the assessments of recent graduates from her academic program could speak to her character and add to her credibility — but her “Rate My Professor” entry is now empty. More strangely, her high school yearbooks have recently disappeared from the internet. Fortunately, before they were ‘disappeared’, someone downloaded them. They paint a fairly debauched picture of the behavior of the girls at that school at that time.

    Stop & think about this. If any of us wanted to have our old school remove our high school yearbooks from the internet, could we do it? What sort of clout would be required to accomplish that?

    We are not being crazy if we look at the actions of the accuser and conclude that her current actions detract from the credibility of her allegations about a long-ago teenage groping.

  15. My three daughters all went to private schools and they were Catholic high schools. The most recent graduated about 2008. There was nothing like the stuff seen at that girls school in maryladn.

    I would like to think it was the religious school but maybe it was the parents. When we went away, we took the kids once they were teens. My middle daughter, the one standing by the Rosetta Stone, went with us to Salzburg when she was 6 and that was too young. She had severe jet lag.

    None were left at home alone.

  16. The post and comments have covered many issues. I will not add personal.

    There are some additional layers to this tapestry.

    1) Prof. Christine Blasey Ford is politically motivated. She is pictured in a “Pussy Hat” and with a “Not my president” poster at public demonstrations.

    2) Prof. Ford is a player. She is described as a CIA “asset” involved in a CIA undergraduate internship program. Her family has present or past ties to the CIA and to Fusion GPS. “Normal” psychological processes are not relevant in the analysis of her actions.

    3) Prof. Ford apparently also wrote a letter about Justice Gorsuch which has not been released.

    The presentation of an event involving Judge Kavanaugh is precise but vague enough to be a variation of a standard operating procedure used to influence foreign political events by some under-cover US agency. Reasonable but nothing concrete…

    This Kavanaugh circus might be an event designed to bring out interested voters in November, but, Kavanaugh’s awareness of the Constitution is problematic at other levels.

    The possible future involvement of Roe v Wade is more than “abortion”. Roe v Wade might have carried with a direct appeal to the 9th Amendment (Other “rights” not specifically listed) but was argued via an indirect route through “privacy”. No one in the “Establishment”, the FAGs [FaceBook, Apple, Google], financial interests, or government agencies, want the flag of “privacy” waved in front of the peasants and the proletariat if Roe v Wade is relitigated. The European Union is causing enough problems in that area.

    Reproductive rights are essential but I also feel that those rights are currently entangled with other issues which are being ignored in the present debate. The general issue of “privacy” is probably a major energy-source driving this struggle.

  17. I was way too “polite”.

    Christine’s Yearbook was “saved” before it was scrubbed.

    Ford’s fancy private high school was a house of “sluts”.

    IF (*IF*) Judge Kavanaugh had a party with that CIA slut, he was expecting open sex. The CIA Professor’s current story is “entrapment” or “compromise” against a political oponent. Or, most likely a straight-out lie.

    The “bullsh_t” story preseented by the Democratic-Socialists is garbage designed to support a fraud presented by a CIA whore.

    The hiding of “privacy” is probably still the likely objective, but the tactics are right out of the Chicago gutter.

    Apparently, the CIA has been over-run by Chicago gangsters who consider the United States as just another victim.

  18. @Mike-SMO: You seem like a pleasant chap…

    That Gorsuch thing is not true, some random dude on Twitter just said it.

    Your conjecture about sexual “entrapment” by a 15 year old is appalling.

    My take is that something likely happened to her 35 years ago, but it seems unlikely it was Kavanaugh even if Ford believes it was. Not everything is a grand conspiracy.

  19. It doesn’t really matter if the Democrats believe Ms Ford. What they’re trying to do is run out the clock for Kavanaugh’s confirmation. If he’s not confirmed by the end of this month, he can’t be seated when the Supreme Court starts its session on 1 October. The Dems figure they can live with any split 4-4 decisions that may occur until they capture the House and/or Senate in November, after which point they hope to reverse things.

    Sen. Grassley is running out of time. There are some time-consuming bureaucratic hoops Kavanaugh must still got through. IIRC, one of them is that, once his name is officially presented on the Senate floor for a vote, there’s a 30-hour window for speechifying. Those kinds of things.

    That’s why Ford’s legal team keeps negotiating the terms of her presentation, while pushing the actual meeting off further into September.

    In this light, Feinstein’s timing makes sense. Wait as long as possible into September, then drop the bomb at a point when Grassley has little time for maneuver. Then delay, delay, delay until 1 October.

    Cynical as all hell. They really don’t care if her story is true, so long as it can be used to keep Kavanaugh from taking his seat.

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