Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson terms “lazy brain” the practice of either accepting or discounting claims on their face. “What you should do is inquire,” he says.
But how do we inquire without our personal biases and preferred outcomes skewing our inquiry?
The New York Daily News posted the following on its Facebook page:
As Bill Cosby’s reputation unravels, when will we learn that women who accuse men of sex-related crimes are usually telling the truth?”
Fair enough, but “usually” doesn’t cut it when it comes to assessing individual situations. It’s like saying that death row inmates are “usually” guilty. (How much is “usually”? Eight out of ten? Nine out of ten? Ninety-five out of a hundred? Whatever the accepted margin of error, is it small enough that sacrificing a few innocents still serves the greater good?)
Spotting the exception is no mean feat, yet to pretend that exceptions don’t exist screams “lazy brain” just as loudly as does any seemingly arbitrary assigning of exception status that springs from wishful thinking.
So could the accounts of meanwhile 18 women (and counting) plausibly form as many exceptions to the rule that women who accuse men of sex-related crimes are usually telling the truth?
Perchance, initially, one woman leveled a false sexual-assault charge against Cosby, and then, crescendoing from a trickle to an eventual gush, 17 others jumped on the bandwagon, either because they’re mad at the funny man for not having assisted them in their careers to the extent he had promised, or in order to use his fame to get their own 15 minutes thereof, or both.
The striking similarity of all these women’s stories, generally touted as evidence that Cosby employed a favorite sexual-assault MO, might alternatively suggest that the subsequent accusers simply “borrowed” from the original and publicly disseminated script so as to forge the narrative of a serial rapist set in his ways.
At first blush, getting close to 20 individuals to sing from the same phony hymnbook seems like a conspiracy of such enormous proportions as to border on the preposterous. On second thought, a few dozen out of a total population of millions doesn’t seem all that many, given the potential payoff in units of limelight. (Female #19 just came forward and sued Cosby over sexual battery and infliction of emotional distress dating back to an incident that allegedly took place at the Playboy Mansion some 40 years ago. The timing of this sudden flurry of accusations smacks of self-promotion more than it aids in lending credibility to the otherwise worthy cause of outing and ostracizing a sexual predator.)
One cannot, on the one hand, argue that we live in a Kardashianian celebrity culture, where people will do anything for fame and notoriety, but that, on the other hand, you won’t find a paltry double-digit number of individuals willing to embroider their recollections for the sake of insinuating themselves into a super-high-profile story.
That aside, a lynch mob composed of primarily white individuals intent on framing, railroading, and hanging, literally or figuratively, an innocent black man is not exactly unheard of in the annals of American history.
Which, of course, says nothing about the guilt or innocence of this particular black man.
Bill Cosby, of course, isn’t exactly your average black man. He’s a rich black man. A rather white black man, as it were, as measured by his socially privileged status. (On his mid-1990s talk show on CNBC, Charles Grodin, denouncing the thesis that racist white cops may have attempted to frame a black man for double-murder, described O.J. Simpson as “whiter than white” on account of Simpson’s fame and riches.)
Adding to his perceived oreo-ness, Cosby made a number of inflammatory statements regarding the plight of blacks in modern America, statements that flew in the face of contemporary civil rights doctrine. By submitting that some of the responsibility for said plight may rest with blacks themselves—as opposed to blaming it all on institutionalized white racism—Cosby drew the ire of a sizable segment of the black community while currying favor with many (white) conservatives, which is one reason why the latter group hasn’t exactly leaped to embrace these rape allegations while the former seems somewhat hesitant to rally to their brother’s defense.
In short, Bill Cosby cuts a polarizing figure that transcends the traditional lines of racial demarcation.
Besides race, there’s the gender factor that may color our judgment regarding Cosby’s guilt or innocence. One media outlet pointed out that nearly 100% of Cosby defenders were male (as if to imply that this number evinced gender bias in a way that the conspicuous dearth of female Cosby defenders did not).
Ironically, in the preface to his play Extremities, published in 1982 and later turned into a movie starring Farah Fawcett as a young woman who turns the tables on her failed would-be rapist, William Mastrosimone put forth that, as per his research, male jury members were more likely to convict accused male rapists than were female jury members. This quite counter-intuitive conclusion, so Mastrosimone, rested in men’s chivalrous proclivity to come riding in on a white charger and rescuing the woman—and, as a bonus, getting a potential rival off the streets and behind bars—whereas women were more inclined than men to regard rape victims as tawdry strumpets that had it coming. (Anyone who has ever heard women speak of other women off the record may have detected a remarkable paucity of political correctness in their characterizations. The concept of rivalry clearly wasn’t invented by men alone. Women slut-shame with the best of ’em.)
Unless one were so sexist as to consider one sex nobler and morally superior to the other, one must view the potential for evil and vindictiveness as being distributed equally among men and women, albeit—biology being destiny (at least to a certain extent)—expressed in different ways due to women’s natural limitations when it comes to applying sheer brawn in order to dominate or inflict pain.
Generally speaking, beating up a man doesn’t work as well for a woman as beating up a woman does for a man. Therefore, you’ll meet fewer men rocking shades in order to conceal shiners sustained during domestic disputes.
As to rape, even if a woman manages to subdue a man against his will, the male physiology will be unlikely to cooperate toward a successful consummation of the act, a problem that the reverse scenario does not present in quite an analogous manner.
The tool of physical violence, including sexual assault, being disproportionately unavailable for women in their dealings with men—and assuming that neither sex is fundamentally “nicer” than the other; and that hell, at times, hath indeed no fury like a woman scorned—it follows that women who wish to aggress or retaliate against men must resort to different tactics so as to redress this inherent disproportionality, e.g., to “the convenient fabrication as a weapon of choice.”
Leveling a false rape or sexual molestation charge can surely be used as a weapon, and a fairly effective one at that—especially in this day and age, where any trace of disinclination to unconditionally side with the leveler of a sexual assault charge is deemed tantamount to revealing oneself as a reprehensible human being complicit in our “rape culture”—provided the innocence of the accused cannot be proven, as is frequently the nature of these matters.
To insist that no woman would ever stoop to fabricating tales of sexual victimhood amounts to suggesting that women are less capable of (or prone to) malice and playing hardball than men are, and that would be a sexist position to take.
In the end, I have no idea whether Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted any or all of the women that came forward and claimed that he did. How am I—or is anyone, for that matter—supposed to assess what happened (or didn’t happen) in some dressing room or hotel suite decades ago?
By hiding behind impartiality in he-said-she-said (or he-said-they-said) situations, of course, we inevitably lavish way too much credit upon the guilty party or parties, and we are apt to draw flak for de facto throwing in with the villain(s) by not taking a clear stand against him, her, or them.
But no matter what stand we take, we’ll be accused of bias (racial, sexual, or whatnot)—even if we stay silent, for, to quote MLK, “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
The least we can do is not be lazy about either accepting or discounting claims on their face, even though keeping an open mind may well play right into the hands of the evildoers by gifting them with benefit of the doubt they do not deserve.