Trying Sex Crimes in the Court of Public Opinion Was Never a Good Idea if you act like any criticism of MeToo's efficacy is inherently a rejection of MeToo's goals you're defending a broken approach Freddie deBoer 2 hr ago The progressive social movement trap is this. 1. A progressive social movement fails to achieve its goals. 2. People who criticize that movement for failing to achieve its goals are accused of opposing the goals themselves. 3. Others note this and are thus afraid of criticizing the movement. 4. Therefore nothing changes and the movement continues to fail. The platonic ideal of this trap is BlackLivesMatter, which has been revealed in the past several years to be a) a make-work program for sending the most educated and upwardly-mobile Black professionals into cushy jobs at nonprofits that suck up donations and do nothing and b) a grift enabling the most connected within the movement to buy mansions and shit. And yet most people (especially most white people) are terrified of speaking plainly about what a massive failure post-George Floyd BLM has been, as they’re justifiably afraid of being accused of not supporting the fight against police violence and white supremacy. Where did the $10+ billion go, other than into a chill pad for Patrisse Cullors to hang out in? We don’t know, and career-conscious journalists know better than to ask. The risks are vastly larger than the reward of knowing the truth about the movement. MeToo has long been in the same position where it can never fail, but only be failed - every turn of the culture that would seem to reduce the power or reach of MeToo is always evidence that society has failed MeToo, not the other way around. I would argue that it’s nonsensical to act this way, as a political movement exists only to serve as a vehicle for change, and if doesn’t create such change the movement itself has definitionally failed. And I would go further and say that MeToo was misconceived from the very beginning, as trying people in the court of public opinion will always result in the kind of inconsistency of punishment that undermines the public faith. The trouble, for me, is that the whole concept of MeToo - circumventing the much-criticized legal approach to addressing sex crimes - must instead place power in the hands of a self-nominated group of judges who have the power of public censure but who operate under no rules and with no demand for consistency. There is therefore none of the underlying sense of equal punishment for equal misdeeds, which is core to human conceptions of justice. Meanwhile, the power of public censure seems both too harsh to some who are guilty only of caddish or ugly behavior and yet too meek against those who have committed acts of actual physical sexual violence. The outcomes of MeTooings are unpredictable and often disproportionate, and in the instances where the state has failed in its duty to enforce legal consequences, too weak to achieve justice. I made this point recently, but it’s worth repeating. When the “Shitty Media Men” list came out, the careers of some of the named men were vaporized instantly. The accusations on that list, some as vague as “harassment,” were anonymous and came with no evidence. And yet there were guys on that list, some of them minor freelancers who probably were clearing like $40K a year, who appear to have never published in any large places again. Such was the power of MeToo at that moment, and such was the lack of power of those particular targets. Neil Degrasse Tyson, meanwhile, was accused of sexual harassment by three women and of rape by a fourth. One of the incidents of alleged sexual harassment was on camera. Tyson admitted to some of the behaviors that were called harassing but denied inappropriate intent. These are the kinds of accusations that you would think would torpedo his career, especially given that his industries are media and academia, two spaces that have proved to be very sensitive to this type of scandal. And yet as far as I can tell, nothing happened to Tyson. There were investigations by several of his employers but he was cleared. He still has a TV show and a podcast and is developing a video game and appears on TV all the time and does relentless public speaking tours and has a cush job at the National History Museum and is Mr. Science Man to millions. You could say that his star is somewhat diminished since the accusations were made public, but still - the man is a wealthy celebrity with several cush gigs; he lives an enviable life. If you’re one of the Shitty Media Men list guys who basically never was able to write for a major publication again, the example of Tyson must be infuriating. This is especially the case because it seems clear that what saved him was simply the size of his celebrity and academic cachet. And this has been a constant element of the entire MeToo phenomenon: who survives and who doesn’t have always been deeply influenced by the power, celebrity, and wealth of the accused. Those who are the most powerful who have paid a real price are those who have been pursued by legal authority, such as Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. And of course legal authority is precisely what MeToo purports to be an alternative to. This is an inherent and immutable aspect of trying people by media: there will never be any structural reasons why there should be even minimal consistency from case to case. And this endangers the whole project! It endangers the whole project because as much as it may annoy the tiny sliver of overeducated urbanite professionals who write our culture, most people are really invested in the notion of basic consistency in matters of justice. And for good reason. There Is No Alternative to a Rule-Bound Order Since “socialism” became popular, there’s been an attendant disdain for “liberalism.” In this formulation, the former means “a system where everything I don’t like changes” and the latter means “a rule-bound order where everyone plays by the same rules.” Neither of these is remotely rigorous or convincing definitions, but then the underlying quality of socialist discourse in 2022 isn’t great. In any event, people have absorbed the idea that because the Stalinist and Maoist systems of 20th-century communism did not guarantee a system of consistent rights for the state’s enemies and friends alike, to be a socialist is to abandon the very concept of a rules-based order, rules like “we should have a fair and impartial judicial system that ensures that different people receive equal treatment and there is some degree of proportionality between the punishment and the crime.” We have people who have never read a word of Marx but who self-identify as Marxists and who insist that Marxism entails a rejection of the rules-based order that they mistakenly believe constitutes liberalism, we have the theories of the marginalized that insist that all humans exist on a simplistic spectrum of power that makes the more marginalized the more noble, and we have a broader annoyance with the idea that people we don’t like should have the same rights and protections as the people we do like. But Marxism is a rules-based order. There is nothing within the core texts of Marxism - that’s Marx and Engels, friends - that necessarily disdains the concept of equal treatment under the law and the guarantee of civil rights. The association between Marxism and the demise of individual rights is a quirk of the history of 20th-century communism and the ruinous misinterpretations of Stalinism and Maoism. As I am fond of saying, Marxism is not a rejection of the Enlightenment and the liberal values that it engendered, but rather the culmination of the Enlightenment, taking it to its logical and humane ends. After the revolution there are still rights and procedures and trials and such; there must be, for a functioning and compassionate society to function. The very basic conceptions of an end to exploitation that Marxism contains are dependent on the existence of a rules-based order where the strong cannot prey on the weak thanks precisely to those rules and society’s will to enforce them. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t think much of rules that apply equally to your enemies and to your friends, you’re stuck in the dilemma of whether or not you can assume that, when push comes to shove, things will work out in your favor. I’d like to think that the rule-bound order has deeper justifications than self-interest, but the fact remains that outside of such an order you never know if you’re going to be the ox to be gored, and it’s bizarre how often leftists just assume they’ll be the ones with the big stick in the end. Of course, people are going to engage in social censure of men they think are sex creeps, and there’s no way to stop that. I wouldn’t particularly want to try. But the maximalist conception of MeToo as an out-and-out alternative to a legal framework for trying sex offenses was never a good idea. I understand that it was conceived of that way in a state of desperation from women facing genuinely horrific conditions of sexual harassment and assault, and I have great sympathy. But the fact of the matter is that we have two justice systems, a lighter and less permanent and certain one where social censure and reputational harm is brought against those who do wrong, and a legal system that operates under (often arbitrary and inconsistently-applied) laws that can bring about some very harsh penalties indeed. And as much as the latter system will always be insufficient and disappointing, I think the only sound response to the last five years of society’s grappling with the question of sex-based offenses is to let the law be the law. It’s a deeply flawed system, but it’s all we got.