By Peter Schwartz
Our postmodernist intellectuals claim that no objective reality exists; there is only the subjective world we create, shaped by the social class to which we belong. While this may seem like an ivory-tower issue, irrelevant to real life, it is actually the premise behind major campaigns in today’s culture—from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter to the “safe-space” movement on campus.
After Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her, Senator Mazie Hirono declared: “Not only do women like Dr. Ford, who bravely comes forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed.” Why? After all, Ford offered no corroborating evidence, an FBI investigation found none, witnesses she named did not back up her story, she could not recount such crucial details as the time or place of the assault and Kavanaugh categorically denied her allegations.
According to leaders of the #MeToo movement, however, a judgment of guilt does not require objective evidence. All that is needed is a woman’s claim of having been attacked.
What about the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof? That’s a biased, male perspective, they say. The female “reality” is that women are raped by men, they are intimidated into silence by men, and when one victim does speak out, she must be supported. Furthering the cause of “female empowerment” supersedes any concerns about proof. The accuser’s needs must be accommodated, and her perception of the truth must be embraced by all members of the sisterhood.
When Senator Susan Collins delivered a lengthy, reasoned explanation of her decision to endorse Kavanaugh’s nomination, citing the absence of convincing evidence of guilt, she was denounced as a “gender traitor” in a N.Y. Times op-ed, and as a “rape apologist” by the Women’s March organization. By siding with Kavanaugh, she was seen as repudiating her social identity.
Feminists regarded the Kavanaugh hearings not as a dispassionate quest for the truth about Ford’s charges, but as a clash between males and females. And in any such conflict, they insist, the decisive factor is not the objective facts, but the need to support the “oppressed” class over the “oppressors.”
The same applies to the cases that have given rise to Black Lives Matter. If a white police officer shoots a black suspect, the officer is presumed guilty. There is no commitment to discovering the facts of the case. If it is claimed that the shooting had no justification, that the suspect had posed no threat, that he had plainly surrendered, that he had uttered the words “Hands up, don’t shoot”—then that is the narrative to be upheld, even after a thorough investigation reveals it to be false.
Objective facts don’t matter. The conflict is viewed as being between two social classes—between wielders of “white power” and their black victims—with two very different perspectives on reality. Justice, accordingly, consists not in discovering and evaluating the facts, but in condemning the powerful and defending the powerless.
(Of course, we also have a President who embodies this non-objective mentality. Donald Trump’s militant obliviousness to facts starkly demonstrates the contrast between “It’s true because I can prove it” and “It’s true because I want it to be.”)
The famed legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon has said: “I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated.” (Emphasis added.) So it is a woman’s feelings, not the facts, that determine whether rape has occurred. There is supposedly a female way of perceiving the world and a male way—as there is a black way, a white way, an Hispanic way, etc. The truth, then, is not the product of reason, but of crude emotionalism—i.e., the truth is whatever some group feels it is.
Which is exactly what drives the “safe-space” movement on our campuses. Students are told that when they encounter an idea with which they disagree, they need give no thought to it. They needn’t judge whether it is right or wrong. Instead, it if clashes with the views held by their social class, they should be shielded from it.
If they hear the disquieting idea that affirmative action is wrong, or that capitalism is good or that the individual has primacy over the collective, they have no way to rationally consider such issues. Can they seek evidence to support their opposite beliefs? To them, evidence is as irrelevant as it is in deciding Kavanaugh’s guilt. After all, if the content of their minds is subjectively determined by their social class, there are no objective facts to identify and no logical inferences to draw from them. Consequently, there can be no purpose to any discussion and no possibility of persuasion. So if students disagree with some idea, they will not try to refute it; they will simply dismiss it as the biased product of the “white privileged patriarchy.”
Once reason is discarded, there is only one means of settling disagreements: physical force. Thus, if speakers whose views you find “offensive” arrive on campus, you don’t challenge them intellectually with questions and arguments—you physically prevent them from addressing their audiences. If the Senate holds hearings to confirm a judge whose views you find “offensive,” you try to shout down the participants and bring the proceedings to a halt. If a jury delivers a verdict you find “offensive,” you riot by destroying storefronts and firebombing cars in order to send a message to the next jury that might consider a similar verdict. If politicians whose positions you find “offensive” enter a restaurant, you accost them and compel them to leave.
The increasing use of violence is ominous. But it is only a consequence. The cause is the assault on objectivity. The cause is the abandonment of reason in favor of emotionalism. The cause is the growing acceptability of forming conclusions—whether about the guilt of an accused or about the truth of an idea—in disregard of evidence.
[This was published at RealClearPolitics, Oct. 23, 2018.]