Friday, February 1, 2019

Returning to the Case of Ford v. Kavanaugh

It takes a British forensic psychiatrist to return us, in the case of Brett Kavanaugh, to reason. Or to something that resembles reason.

The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings seemed to most savvy observers to be a new low in American political culture. Senate Democrats and their satraps did not want to consider the merits of the nomination. They showed no respect for one of America’s best legal minds. They paid lip service to a long and distinguished career on the bench and went straight for character assassination. Their goal was not just to deny Kavanaugh a seat on the Supreme Court. They wanted to destroy him as a human being, to obliterate him, to render him dust. And they did not care that they were simultaneously destroying his wife and daughters. Nothing would stand in the way of their will to destroy another human being.  And to do so on the word of one witness whose testimony remains, to this day, uncorroborated. It was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, arrived on America’s shores.

The British psychiatrist in question is Theodore Dalrymple. He wrote a long and detailed exposition about the hearings in the City Journal. Having worked for many years in the British prison system he is well qualified to offer an opinion on the matters at hand.

He begins by noting that the hearings were not a job interview and were certainly not a trial. I fear he was being too generous in calling them a political charade. Considering his referencing of Madame Dufarge, I would add that they more closely resembled a Reign of Terror.

In his words:

The hearings were not a trial in the strictest sense, being more of a public job interview (as we often heard them described). All the same, they resembled a trial in some respects—a trial with distinctly Kafkaesque, or even Alice in Wonderland–like, qualities. Almost all of the senators—the “judges” in this case—had clearly made up their minds beforehand, without reference to the evidence. They appeared strictly to adhere to the glorious juridical principle “Sentence first—verdict afterward!” The hearings were, in effect, an elaborate political charade.

Given that Christine Blasey Ford had no corroborating or substantiating evidence, we were left asking ourselves whether or not we should believe her recollections. Was her memory sufficient? And were we obliged to believe her because she was a woman and a victim?

Dalrymple offers some welcome context:

Most sinister was the call to believe the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford ex officio, just because she was a woman and self-proclaimed victim. The jurisprudential consequences of believing people merely because of the category into which they fall are obvious; but the radical feminists failed also to notice how auto-dehumanizing and demeaning to their own sex was the demand to believe a woman qua woman, inasmuch as the capacity to lie, dissemble, exaggerate, fantasize, and remember wrongly is inseparable from being fully human. And in the hearings, before Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh made their statements, the women disrupting the proceedings by screaming brought to mind Andrei Vyshinsky and Roland Freisler at slightly higher vocal pitch. Due process, or process of any kind other than denunciation, seemed to have no role in their conception of justice.

After noting that having an ulterior motive does not disqualify her testimony, he moves on to the way people process trauma. Again, this is a dubious standard, because different people process trauma differently. A trauma that one person can shake off might cripple someone else. Some people brush a trauma off while another might imbue it with depths of meaning. The problem is: the mind can play tricks. It can turn a small trauma into a large one or a large trauma into a small one. The mind also revises and edits memories to fit whatever theory or narrative is being applied at the moment.

In Dalrymple’s words:

People often ascribe long-term consequences to traumatic events—especially those about which they are litigating—by forgetting or downplaying other things that have happened to them. They seek coherence and meaning in their lives; and their memories, or what they think are their memories, often serve the search for meaning. This is all the more the case when some advantage accrues to attributing effects to causes, and the supposed causative link grows stronger as the supposed cause is rehearsed over and over in the mind.

Blasey Ford claimed that her fear of being assaulted caused her to install a new double front door in her home decades after the purported assault. Dalrymple argues that the evidence defies plausibility, and besides, he adds—in a point occasionally noted on this blog— therapists sometimes plant ideas in people’s heads, to the point of producing new symptoms:

Blasey Ford’s further claim of a link between installing a double front door to her home—to help keep her safe—and the alleged assault that took place decades earlier could not be taken at face value and, indeed, didn’t even meet a loose criterion of plausibility. Had nothing happened to her in the intervening period to cause her anxiety? Was she chronically nervous, even before Kavanaugh’s alleged attack? She herself said—on this occasion, plausibly—that recalling the incident made her feel worse. The magnitude of whatever happened—if anything did happen—may have grown with the recollection of it. This being so, psychotherapy might easily have made her worse and could even be the proximate cause of her installing double doors, surely a highly irrational thing to have done. It is not unknown for psychotherapists to put ideas into people’s heads and provoke all kinds of symptoms that they did not have before.

As for identifying an assailant, victims sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong. Their degree of certainty does not mean that they are right or that they are wrong:

Victims sometimes fail to recognize their assailant and sometimes recognize someone as their assailant who was not. This does not mean that identification is never of any value, or that no one ever recognizes an assailant correctly, but in Blasey Ford’s case, her identification of Kavanaugh was the only evidence against him; such corroborative evidence as she claimed was refuted.

Dalrymple was especially struck by the fact that Blasey Ford had no memory of any details surrounding the attack. She said she remembered what happened, but did not remember any of the circumstances. We note that this makes it nearly impossible for her testimony to be refuted.

On the matter of memory, Dalrymple writes:

The vagaries of her memory also struck me as suspect. They were a mirror image of the vagaries of the memories of many murderers whom I have examined. These murderers remember everything with great clarity until moments before they kill: “And the next thing I knew, doctor, was that she was lying there, not breathing.” As Louis Althusser, the French Marxist philosopher who killed his wife, wrote in his memoir (for once in his life, doing so succinctly), J’ai etranglé Hélène! After these murderers “discover” the dead body, their memory soon returns to normal: they remember perfectly putting the body into the car afterward, or whatever it is that they did with it….

She can remember the traumatic events, but almost nothing of the circumstances in which they took place. The events were like a terrifying flash of lightning in a darkened landscape. I have examined many people who have had traumatic experiences, many worse than hers, in fact, and have never encountered this pattern of amnesia, which—whether it explains her particular case or not—would be a convenient one for an accuser lacking corroboratory evidence. A colleague of mine, of much greater experience than I, has not encountered this pattern of amnesia, either. This is not to say that it is impossible—no one has experience of everything, and there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in anyone’s philosophy—but, in my estimation, it makes it less likely to be real in any straightforward way.

To be fair, Dalrymple does not claim that her fault memory disproves her allegation. Only, that it is unique. His experience tells us to remain skeptical, not convinced.


Anonymous said...

The double door was to set a private entrance for a border in her home. The remainder of her faulty recollection and the phony little girls voice from a psychology "professor" should be enough for all to know what a sham and disgusting show this way compliments of Senators Feinstein and Harris.

UbuMaccabee said...

She lied intentionally and with malice. Not a word of truth to anything she said. She was an orchestrated hit, planned at the top levels of the Media using the Democratic Party as their attack dog and vice-versa. She was vetted and chosen; and she picked her words and story carefully--just vague enough to avoid detection, but combined with a 3 or 4 woman echo chamber, the accusations will hit home. Create a fast-moving storm of lies and get Trump or Kavanaugh to fold and start the whole process over again but at an advantage. Textbook manufactured hysteria.

This was the 2nd ugliest trick in US history; the first is the hit on Trump. This is part of a coup, plain and simple, and it's happening in plain view of everyone. I give no credence to the idea that maybe she believes it; she knows she is lying and she doesn't care because when you are fighting Nazis, then you can do or say anything, because you have identified your enemy as Nazis. Truth and decorum can be tossed out the window to defeat Nazis.

Pure lies, end-to-end, and if anyone stands in their way of power, you will get the same treatment. If we can do this to a distinguished jurist, imagine what will become of a nobody like you? That was their message: we will call you a gang rapist or a pedophile if you fuck with us. We have witnesses, and willing media outlets, and hard-drives filled with porn.

Beijing Yankee said...

What incredible damage Ford has done to the workforce, male-female relations, and her profession. Wear a MAGA hat into a school to teach and because classes are not taped and recorded, get back to us when you are "Kavanaughed." Ford is not alone. Enter this angel.

Ares Olympus said...

I'll never understand people who feel sure of who is lying and who is not. Is it always a matter of personal bias, or believing one's own tribal members?

I better understand the detective's desire to look for flaws and inconsistencies in stories, on both sides, and apparent inconsistencies ought to be questioned, not because they necessarily are proof of intentional deception, but you can still assume good faith, and you help a person challenge the integrity of their own memories.

From my biases, integrity appears on Ford's side since it would obviously be traumatic if real, while Kavanaugh's obvious high level of drinking fairly suggests he may honestly not remember an incident that was inconsequential to him. OTOH, bad behavior doesn't happen just once, and that's almost the only reason to make it public - because other "victims" can come forward.

Myself I have no idea if we should "punish" adults for immature behavior as a teenager. The ideal would be if adults could be truthful, but when your career is on the line, perhaps only 1 in a million would tell the truth if he can avoid it by simple denial. I am concerned if a judge can't be honest or confess his own uncertainty, whether he'll be fair to those under his power, but perhaps his bad conscience will lead to working even harder to be fair to all. Who can know?