Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Of Cosby, Crime, and Calumny


There is one glaring fact about the allegations against Bill Cosby that few, if any of the increasingly voluble commentators either defending the comedian (a small but diminishing number) or nodding sagely that they knew all along there was something fishy about the guy, a crowd seemingly as large as the vast majority who never voted for Richard Nixon.

What is this glaring fact?  Not one single person has advanced anything resembling proof.  Cosby has already been tried and convicted without ever having been indicted.

Admittedly, this saves a lot of time, and gives a lot of people with nothing better to do a great deal to occupy their time.  The problem is that it isn’t right or even rational in any degree.

Does this mean we think Cosby is innocent?  Or do we think Cosby is guilty, guilty, guilty?  Let’s answer that question: in our opinion, is Cosby guilty or innocent?

Answer: our opinion in this has nothing to do with the case.  Period.  It’s an opinion, and in matters regarding someone’s guilt or innocence, is a matter for the courts and a jury to decide based on facts, not on personal opinion.

The only thing that matters with respect to Cosby’s guilt is proof.  Absent proof, he must be regarded as innocent.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  End of story.

Innocent until proven guilty is a legal requirement as well as a fundamental principle of moral philosophy.  Why?

Because the burden of proof is on the accuser, a concept that has all but disappeared in today’s world as people decide based on anything other than established fact.  Otherwise, someone charged with a crime is put into the position of having to prove him- or herself not guilty.

Do you see the catch there?  It is logically impossible to prove yourself — or anyone or anything else — not guilty.  You cannot prove the existence of non-existence.  It doesn’t make sense.  Exactly how, for instance, do you prove that something you claim does not exist (e.g., guilt), has existence?

Without proof, allegations are mere detraction of another.  Detraction can be what Catholics call a venial sin, i.e., something shoddy that dims your friendship with God, but doesn’t cut you off from Him entirely, or a “mortal sin,” i.e., one that damns you to hell for all eternity.

Detraction comes in two despicable varieties.  There’s backbiting.  That’s when something is true, but you have no right to reveal it; it’s not your business.  You’re only revealing it to gain some personal advantage, or even just for the sheer pleasure of causing pain and suffering.

For example, suppose you know of someone who spent ten years in prison for something he didn’t do.  He was totally exonerated, absolutely no question, and managed to get a job with someone who knew nothing about the prison term.  The subject never came up, and naturally the guy didn't want to talk about it.  You want his job, or maybe you just plain don’t like the guy, so you go to his employer and reveal the whole story.  The employer, outraged that he hired an ex-con (he must really have been guilty, despite your assurances, wink, wink, because innocent people don’t go to prison), fires the guy immediately for concealing the fact he spent time in prison (even though he was never asked if he had), and hires you.

You didn’t say one untrue word, but you caused harm to the reputation of another when you had no business doing so.

Now for calumny.  That’s when you spread a story without knowing it to be true, or even knowing full well it is false.  Even if you are legally judge, jury, and executioner and have the right to carry out sentence of someone who is proven guilty, you don't have the right to execute innocent people.  That actually makes things worse, being an abuse of authority, like the German judiciary that kowtowed to Hitler and condemned innocent people they knew were innocent.  When the matter is sufficiently serious — and Cosby’s reputation has clearly been irreparably harmed — calumny is a sin “that cries to heaven for vengeance.”  It’s really, really, really bad.

Morally, you are the guilty one, not the person about whom you’re spreading a story without proof.  Nor do you get off the hook because you’re just repeating what someone else told you, regardless of the reputation of the talebearer — just how much integrity does someone have, by the way, who spreads stories about others without proof?  Your responsibility when someone relates a story to you that harms another’s reputation or anything else is to demand proof.

If the tattletale (let’s not mince words) refuses to prove his case, or cannot prove his case with actual logical argument or empirical evidence, you might consider demanding proof, and letting the little weasel know what you think of such cheap tactics.  Worst case scenario, if the fink continues his merry way, go to the accused and ask if it’s true.

Yes, you’ll get a denial in any case, but you at least alerted an innocent person — innocent until proven guilty . . . remember? — what is going on, instead of leaving him or her completely baffled as to what is going on.

So, what do we think about the allegations made about Cosby?  None of your business — or ours, for that matter, if by that you mean are we judging someone in advance of the evidence (prudence is another thing, but should not dictate public statements . . . or objective judgments based on subjective opinion), which we have no business doing.  What we know is another matter altogether: that there is no proof and he is therefore presumed innocent.

#30#

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