October 08, 2009

A Post We Did Not Wish to Write

As I have argued on many occasions, with regard to a variety of subjects and in very different contexts, almost every discussion involving questions of "public concern" (whoever might constitute the never defined "public," whatever might rise to the level of "concern") relies on unstated and unexamined assumptions. One result is that almost every participant in sometimes very heated debates offers largely unsupported arguments. Such arguments never convince anyone who holds opposing views; in any case, persuasion is not the concern or goal of most participants.

Instead, the purpose is tribal signaling -- and it is signaling that relies almost exclusively on emotional signifiers. See, e.g., this article ("Rarely will you find a carefully presented argument as to why one particular policy is better than another. For the most part, our political writers start with the assumption that their political affiliation and its associated views are unquestionably correct. Their writing consists of emotional signifiers to other members of their political tribe. Persuasion is not the goal; instead, the purpose is the reinforcement and reaffirmation of tribal identity, and reinforcement of the view that one's own tribe is 'good,' while all opposing tribes are 'bad' in various ways and degrees.").

That is to say: Roman Polanski.

Herewith, some observations, argued (comparatively) briefly, and with an indication as to where a useful examination might be conducted. Not that such an examination will be, but, well, here we are. So let's continue.

1. The weight of the publicly available evidence leads to the conclusion that Polanski drugged and raped (vaginally and anally) a 13-year-old girl, who repeatedly said, "No," to Polanski and tried in a variety of ways to stop his actions. Although I have not followed all the details of this story or spent much time attempting to ascertain the "truth," since I consider such questions to be irrelevant at this point for the reasons indicated below, it appears that Polanski essentially admits that this is what happened.

2. Assuming the truth to be as stated in the first sentence of 1 directly above, Polanski's actions were despicably awful, and in a particularly extreme manner. Those individuals who are genuinely concerned with respecting the persons and rights of children should unreservedly condemn Polanski for these actions -- that is, they should condemn those actions in their capacity as individuals.

3. Most people, and certainly most people in the United States, will not condemn cruel behavior toward children by adults in anything approaching a consistent and meaningful manner. For an examination of emotional and psychological cruelty to children, see the discussion here and here (and follow the links for much more; you'll find still more links here). Very few people condemn such cruelty, for many people, and most parents, inflict such cruelty on children with great frequency. They consider such methods of childrearing to be "proper" and "correct," and they believe they treat children cruelly "for the child's own good."

This inconsistency becomes even more marked when we note how common physical cruelty toward children is. See "When the Demons Come," "The Search for Underlying Causes, and Why Spanking Is Always Wrong," and "From Mild Smacking to Outright Torture and War: The Lie of 'Well-Intentioned Violence.'" I also direct you to my discussion of the heated and fundamentally hypocritical Mark Foley controversy, and of corporal punishment in public schools: "The Politics of Lies: Suffer the Children." I emphasize: corporal punishment in public schools -- which means you pay for the torture of children. On the identical point, see the ACLU report here (pdf).

As noted, individuals are correct to condemn Polanski's actions, and they should condemn them. However, until and unless they demonstrate that they understand the much more common forms of cruelty toward children -- and until and unless they condemn that cruelty as well -- their condemnations of Polanski (and of similar behavior by others), however impassioned and even sincere they might be, represent nothing more than an isolated instance of happening to stumble upon the truth. It is very easy to condemn a figure such as Polanski: such condemnation involves no risk of any kind (indeed, for many people, the failure to condemn is much more likely to open them to criticism from those tribes with which they identify and to which they belong), nor does such condemnation imperil their belief systems.

A heinous crime such as rape -- rape of anyone, adult or child -- is comparatively rare. How often do adults treat children cruelly in the much more common ways I mention above, and that I have analyzed in detail in the past (and which I will soon analyze in still further detail)? Why, every minute of every day, all around you. Do you react with horror when the angry parent smacks a child at the supermarket? You should. Do you intercede to protect the child? I would not suggest that you should in every instance; it might be very inadvisable, for a number of reasons. But you should want to. Most people don't. Many people approve the parent's behavior, and many other parents treat their own children the same way.

For these reasons (and many more), while I regard the condemnations of Polanski as correct in a broad sense, I view them as largely insignificant. I also regard them as worse than insignificant in one crucial way: we are eager to condemn the most extreme crimes, especially when that condemnation carries no personal risk of any kind, precisely because we do not wish to confront and condemn cruelty that is much more widespread. The eager condemnation of the extreme particular instance allows us to avoid a much more threatening and fundamental truth.

This is the same mechanism that I examined in my discussion of the behavior and meaning of those I call "the torture obsessives" ("By seeking to localize the evil in only one aspect of the much broader and more fundamental evil involved and within a falsely delimited period of time, the torture obsessives would thus whitewash the American project as a whole."). The mechanism is an especially effective means of avoidance. The torture obsessives seek to avoid far more uncomfortable truths about America the Good, America the Exceptional; the Polanski obsessives seek to avoid far more uncomfortable truths concerning their view of children and how we should treat them.

4. We all know the saying, "Justice delayed is justice denied." What most people fail to appreciate is that this truth (if it be truth) works in both directions. When the wrongdoer is not punished for his crimes for years or even decades after their commission, we believe he has "gotten away with it" in some sense. But what is the nature of the State's "justice" (if it be justice in the particular case) when that justice is similarly delayed for years, or even decades? Is it still justice, or has it become something else entirely? Does it become vengeance, no longer supported by any concern with broader principles of punishment and deterrence, vengeance meted out by the State simply because it can, without any further justification at all?

I again note that I am not familiar with all the details of this repellent business (repellent in every respect, as far as I'm concerned). But it appears that the U.S. government had the opportunity to advance its efforts to punish Polanski in the past, even perhaps on a number of occasions. It did not pursue those opportunities (from a few details I've seen), so why is it pursuing Polanski now? What specifically has happened to cause the U.S. government to be so intent on "getting its man" right now? If we genuinely seek "justice," we need to answer that question. I am confident in saying that an accurate and truthful answer will not be forthcoming.

5. The State, any State, is not concerned with "justice" in some allegedly perfect, abstract sense. The purported majesty of "the law" is not, in fact, what most people believe it is. See, "Concerning the State, the Law, and Show Trials" ("When an increasingly authoritarian state passes a certain critical point in its development, the law is no longer the protector of individual rights and individual liberty. The law becomes the weapon of the state itself -- to protect, not you, but the state from threats to its own powers. We passed that critical point some decades ago. The law is the means by which the state corrals its subjects, keeps them under control, and forbids them from acting in ways that the overlords might perceive as threatening. In brief, today, in these glorious United States, the law is not your friend.")

All of this is especially true of the United States, given its very long, profoundly sickening history of the commission of evil on a scale that almost defies comprehension. I again direct you here, particularly to the second, major part of that discussion: "Torture and the American Project." Of course, very few people want to discuss any of that. This exercise in denial and avoidance across every level of our culture, with regard to every issue, and seen nowhere more clearly than in our political debates and in the heated "controversies" of the moment, means only that we are forbidden from ever thinking or saying anything of genuine importance. As a result, our debates, including all the seemingly passionate arguments about Polanski and what, dear God, is to be done? -- all of which will be forgotten when the next controversy thankfully arrives, and not a moment too soon -- are devoid of meaning.

But, we are told, we must, absolutely must, "take sides." It is certainly true that one should not attempt to minimize or apologize in any form for acts of violence, when those acts are not absolutely necessitated by self-defense, or for rape (which is, obviously, also an act of violence). Condemn Polanski for his actions all those years ago; do so in your capacity as an individual. But what do you say about Iraq? About Afghanistan and Pakistan? About Iran? About everyday, unspeakable cruelty toward children? Do you say anything at all?

If aligning oneself with Polanski on this particular question is repellent and unthinkable (and it is and should be), it is just as and, in certain respects, significantly more repellent and unthinkable to align oneself with the State. This is trebly true when the State in question is the U.S. government, with its indisputable history of corruption, criminality, brutality, torture, conquest, and murder on a huge scale -- a history which continues into this moment and which extends its reach and destruction even as I write.

Some will undoubtedly be heard to say that those who offer a perspective like mine are engaged in merely "striking a pose," and that this is the worst of all positions. Please note: I grant the legitimacy of those who hold views very different from mine and even directly opposed to my own (at least in the general sense, and even though I'm certain many individuals are less than fully honest and are moved by factors other than a concern with "truth"); I ask only that the same legitimacy be granted to what I say here.

Well. Never mind any of this. Take a side! Let justice be done! Or not.

In other words: as you were.