Death of Reason a Bigger Problem than Sexual Harassment

Here we go again:


“I believe it is in the best interest of Minnesotans and of women everywhere for Senator Franken to resign, and to set an example to powerful men across America that sexual harassment will not be tolerated,” Minnesota state auditor and gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Otto said in a statement.

The president of the state’s Democratic Farmer-Labor-Party’s Feminist Caucus, Megan Thomas, told the Washington Examiner that Franken’s misconduct was “every woman’s nightmare on a bus.”

“The ‘political’ answer is to wait and not overreact,” Thomas wrote in a Facebook post. “But I also know the next time I see him in person I will, however fleeting or unneeded, be afraid because of what he is doing in that picture. No one should fear their elected representatives, so, sadly, for me, I think the Senator should resign.”

Here’s the problem with sexual harassment: It almost never has a witness. This puts the objective third party in a terrible bind. Either you (1) drop the requirement for proof, the underpinning of reason and justice for any crime or offense; or (2) you honor the requirement for proof and evidence, making it look like you’re unwilling to consider that sexual harassment even exists. In short, either you believe accusations without sufficient evidence, or you uphold sexual harassment.

What bothers me about current controversies over sexual harassment is the unstated assumption that you must always believe the accuser, always when the accused is a Republican/conservative/libertarian and (increasingly and shockingly) sometimes even when the accused is a Democrat or progressive.

Look at what Rebecca Otto says in the above quote. She makes it sound like “sending a message” and “setting an example” is more important than justice. I am no fan of Senator Al Franken. I disagree with him on just about everything, and would suffer no sense of loss if he left the U.S. Senate. But is every male member of the government to leave his position simply because he’s accused of sexual harassment? If sexual harassment is a bad thing, and I certainly believe it is, don’t we do the cause of justice a disservice if we believe absolutely every single allegation the moment it’s uttered?

The deeper problem here is one that has been plaguing our society for a long time: the decline and slow death of reason. The way you see reason’s decline is in the attitude of, “Well, so-and-so has been accused of sexual harassment. We have to believe it, because if we don’t act like we believe it, then it will look like we condone sexual harassment.” Imagine if we treated any other offense or crime this way. “Well, I don’t have any evidence, at least yet, that you killed John. But I have to believe the accusations. Otherwise, it will look like I’m condoning murder.”

It’s less difficult to prove murder, especially in today’s hi-tech culture with DNA analysis and all the rest, than it is to prove sexual harassment. “Harassment” is often a subjective term. You can feel harassed when you weren’t actually harassed, and while the feeling may be understandable and have legitimacy, it cannot be treated as equivalent to a conviction.

Objectivity and reason apply everywhere. They are timeless and universal concepts. We eschew them at our peril.

I don’t have the simple, one-size-fits-all answer for ridding the world of sexual harassment, and I’m not suggesting women (or men) should never speak out when it happens. But if we continue on our current course, with virtually every man in government or business being accused of it and having to be automatically believed, with no consideration of contrary evidence whatsoever, then rationality and reason have gone out the window. Society becomes one big gigantic Salem Witch Trial – with the trial taking place through social media, no less, without even the mechanisms of a rigged trial by jury and judge.

You can’t convince me that any of this is good for reason, justice or the cause of reducing sexual harassment. If we sacrifice reason, logic, evidence and justice for the sake of being seen as opposing something admittedly deplorable like sexual harassment, then we sacrifice the truth for the sake of social approval.

Once reason is not merely diminished but dead, we’ll be facing a lot more serious problems than just sexual harassment.



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