Mobocracy has its down side

By JAY WIENER,

November and December saw men of prominence fall like a row of dominoes, for personal peccadilloes to which a blind eye would have been turned, early in 2017. Some individuals had enjoyed my respect. Others did not. Regardless of whether the fault is explicable -- there are two sides to any story -- sexual predatory behavior is indefensible.

I suspect that each of us could create circles of wrongdoing, just as Dante detailed the circles of hell, in "The Inferno": The miscreants misbehaved in disparate ways.

That said, there is something frightful about the extent to which public allegations proceeded without any procedure by which to ferret out truth and guilt. A hallmark of American Jurisprudence has been a quasi-scientific method to ensure that individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty and burdens of proof are met. Granted, it is an imperfect system but one that is better than the alternatives.

These days, public lynchings occur in a media maelstrom and, by the time that the news cycle dies, the truth no longer matters. Reputations are "carnage along the roadside," and "All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again."

I have been chafing at the bit to discuss these concerns. There was no local angle to the story until Christmas weekend, when Oxonian Sam Haskell resigned his position, owing to verbal and emotional abuse which allegedly occurred in his role chairing the Miss America Organization. Haskell was the darling of the administration at Ole Miss and received endless amounts of favorable publicity in that context. It will be interesting, if conclusive evidence of guilt is forthcoming, to see whether the university performs due diligence to investigate whether its good offices were used to advance the career of a rascal; to what extent it is culpable and how it might avoid a repetition of being used or abused by those who are less than a model of probity, if such was the case. One imagines that the university would turn a blind eye and act as if nothing occurred, in this instance and as far as the eye can see, such that nothing changes.

The thought is a digression, albeit an important one, but it diverts us from the central issue: Various offenses have been conflated as if each one is alike. They are not. What Harvey Weinstein is alleged to have done appears worse than what Louis C.K. is alleged to have done, which appears worse than what Charlie Rose is alleged to have done, which appears worse than what Sam Haskell is alleged to have done. Unfortunately all that any of us knows is what all of us have read in the newspapers and have heard on the radio and television. In some instances, the number of accusers are mind-boggling. In others, the number of accusers are fewer. Yet, in each, the media has acted as prosecutor, judge, and jury. Rules of procedure and burdens of proof have been wholly absent.

 

Again, I do not wish to defend people whose behavior is of considerable concern, if true. Yet what if the allegations are not true? In the current atmosphere, it does not matter whether one is innocent, and, after a reputation is sullied, "All the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again."

One hears of innumerable suits for defamation which succeed but, well before the evidentiary processes are exhausted, the public has lost interest. One receives monetary compensation but no restoration of a destroyed life; future earnings that can never be recouped -- although, admittedly, most of the people were overpaid, in the first instance, and "set for life" prior to their fall from grace.

The fundamental question is not the future of such people as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, and Louis C.K., among others. It is the future of people like you and me. What are our prospects if we live in a society that is indifferent to a Rule of Law? Such emphasis is our inheritance from Magna Carta, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. We might be squandering, in our lifetime, what has been our birthright, after centuries of intelligent evolution.

I have no desire to inhabit a despotic society nor live through the equivalent of the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. The dislocations beforehand and afterward are unpleasant and, if history is any guide, the government that replaces a despicable one is every bit as extreme in an opposite direction as that preceding it.

It is within our power to say "No." Be careful about that "for which you ask" and that to which a blind eye is turned: The consequences of untrammeled mobocracy are odious.

Jay Wiener is a Northsider.

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