November 10, 2017

Roy Moore and the Court of Public Opinion

legal gavel
I've mentioned Roy Moore more than a few times here at Atheist Revolution. I'm familiar with his work and to say that I'm not a fan would be a massive understatement. Not only is he the sort of far-right conservative with whom I can find virtually no common ground, but he's a proud Christian extremist who has made a name for himself by promoting Christian theocracy. If I spent enough time thinking about it, I could probably come up with someone who was more antithetical to my values than Moore, but that would take considerable effort. It is very difficult not to view him as "the enemy."

I realize that some will be determined to interpret what they are about to read as a defense of Roy Moore. I appreciate their willingness to believe that I am capable of writing a defense of Moore, and I take that as high praise. The sad truth is that I think Moore is probably one of those cases that illustrates the limits of my own rationality. Even if I wanted to defend him (and I certainly don't), I don't think I could bring myself to do so.

Let's begin with a good illustration of what my irrationality on the subject of Moore looks like. I firmly believe that the entire Ten Commandments monument debacle should have been the end to his political career, and I remain appalled that I live in a country where it ended up being more of a political asset than a liability. When I first heard the news that Moore had been accused of sexual misconduct, I thought to myself, "I don't even care if it is true or not. As long as it ends his political career - something that should have happened long ago - so be it." Hopefully, you'll appreciate just how irrational such a thought is. I'm ashamed to admit that I had it.

Fortunately, two things jolted me out of this troubling line of thought. The first was the social media outrage I saw on Twitter after the news broke. Aside from a handful of evangelical Christians defending Moore simply because he is one of theirs, almost everyone else was insisting that all the accusations against Moore must be true. He was quickly convicted in the court of public opinion. I saw left-leaning atheist after left-leaning atheist piling on to demonize Moore. The almost unanimous sentiments were that all the accusations were 100% accurate (either because they were consistent with the shared anti-Moore narrative or because any woman who accuses any man of anything bad must necessarily be believed) and that they should bring a swift end to Moore's career. Seeing this flood of irrational outrage helped me recognize my own irrational outrage.

The second jolt was when I realized that the widespread insistence that all the accusations against Moore had to be true and that he must be punished accordingly reminded me of what I witnessed during the Satanic panic. This was a time when many people, mostly women, came forward with accusations of child sexual abuse and ritual murder. We'd discover later that many of these accusations were false, although most were not intentionally false (i.e., many of the women had been misled by well-intentioned but dangerously incompetent therapists). Some people even went to prison based on what we'd later learn were false accusations. It seems that many of the lessons we should have learned from this ordeal have been forgotten.

I have no reason to suspect that any of the allegations against Moore are false, and I am inclined to believe them. Of course, I recognize that my inclination to believe them is based at least in part on my dislike for Moore and the fact that the nature of the accusations is consistent with my opinions of Moore. What I soon realized was that I wanted to see a permanent end to Moore's career just as badly as the most outraged people I encountered on Twitter; I just wasn't comfortable having that end be based on accusations that could be false (even if they probably aren't). Mere accusations should not end anyone's career. Some accusations are false, and we have seen over and over again that false accusations can do considerable harm.

It sucks that we are so far past the statute of limitations that none of the allegations against Moore can result in criminal charges. Not only does that mean that he will get no due process, but it also means that we won't have the opportunity to have the sort of investigation that would let us weigh the evidence against him and determine guilt or innocence. This leaves us with little more than our own uninformed opinions about merits of the allegations against him. And as much as I'd like to see an end to his political career, I'm uncomfortable claiming that these allegations are sufficient to end it.