October 24th, 2017

There is no group you should always believe

Anyone who says that members of a certain group always tell the truth is lying.

There is no such group on earth. I don’t care if it’s a group of Catholic nuns or Buddhist monks. There are liars in every group, at least potentially.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’d take the word of an ex-con in the same way I’d take the word of some upstanding citizen of the community. But it means that in any given circumstances—and in particular if that circumstance is a court of law—a person is only as good as the evidence behind him or her.

The difficulty lies when there is no evidence other than a person’s word. Sometimes with sexual harassment or assault claims there is some independent corroborative evidence: an emailed photo, for example. That’s the petard with which Weiner was hoisted. But harassers and abusers aren’t always so dumb as to leave evidence, and then we are left with a hesaid/shesaid scenario. In that case we look at demeanor, before and after behavior, and all sorts of other information that could help us come to a decision.

But never should we rely on something like “being a woman” or “being a man” to tell us whether a person is a truth-teller in each particular circumstance. Nor does membership in a certain race or religion or any other demographic group, including being a child. Even children lie about abuse, sometimes at the behest of a scheming parent and sometimes on their own. It happens, although how often it happens is a matter of some dispute.

In the area of abuse there have been some pretty wild pendulum swings in terms of the belief in the veracity of members of groups. In my opinion, it’s best not to use such categories at all. But that’s not the way things have been going lately [emphasis mine]:

[A recent NBC piece] says one of the big problems with [To Kill a] Mockingbird is that it “complicates the modern ‘believe victims’ movement”. As most people educated in a school in the Anglosphere over the past 30 or 40 years will know, Lee’s tale focuses on siblings Scout and Jem and their dad Atticus, a lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman called Mayella. Mayella is lying. …Letting schoolgirls read this book will fuel their “growing suspicion that people don’t believe girls who say they have been raped”, says the NBC News piece. It makes us think there is “reason to doubt” rape accusers.

So the NBC piece isn’t as eccentric as it first seems. It speaks to a now mainstream view: that women (and children) who claim to have been sexually assaulted must be instantly, uncritically believed. “I believe” has been the rallying cry of feminists and journalists and others for years. “Believe the women”, they say, just as anti-abuse campaigners in the 1980s and 1990s said “Believe the children” about children who claimed they had been taken into forests and ritually molested by men in black cloaks (they hadn’t)…

But here’s the thing: there is “reason to doubt” rape accusers. Just as there is reason to doubt everyone who makes an accusation of a crime, be it rape, assault, harassment, or whatever. Indeed, doubt is written into fair justice systems. We treat accusers sympathetically, yes, but not religiously. (“Is the accuser always holy now?”, a character asks in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, to indicate how horribly wrong things can go when accusers are treated religiously.) Our belief in the innocence of the accused, our insistence that his guilt must be established beyond reasonable doubt, our affording to him of numerous opportunities to scupper the accusations against him — all of this is designed to indicate scepticism towards accusations, and make it difficult to turn accusation into conviction. Why? For one simple reason: the accused stands to lose something incredibly precious — his freedom. It is right that that should not be easy. It is right that we should be doubtful towards those who say things that could remove liberty, the stuff of life, from another person.

Our entire criminal justice system is built on that edifice. Tear it down and you destroy safeguards that are basic to our liberty.

19 Responses to “There is no group you should always believe”

  1. charles Says:

    While he didn’t mean it about crimes like rape; Reagan did have a great idea:

    “Trust; but, Verify.”

    I’d say it can often be hard to do; but we should still aim for it.

  2. Tuvea Says:

    I believe that Atticus Finch is the greatest of all American movie heroes.

  3. Dave Says:

    believe the women, except Bill’s accusers. I am not saying Bill was absolutely guilty, I just think that democrats should respect the due process of the other accused like those college kids as they respect Hillary and Bill’s due process.

  4. BB-Idaho Says:

    You touch on witness testimony vs circumstantial evidence, which interestingly, juries are more convinced by the former than the latter (or so I’ve read) Witnesses are coaxed and rehearsed by lawyers, subject to recalling an even from perhaps a year prior. Circumstantial evidence
    tampering is much more difficult, but possible.
    We note that DNA testing has led to both putting
    the guilty in jail and releasing the innocent from
    prison and more rarely a prosecution witness
    changing their mind years later. It is tempting to conclude that there is a difference between law,
    justice, right and wrong…and that, as you note,
    is why we carefully consider our source.

  5. parker Says:

    IMO we as a socetyhave good reason to distrust the rule of law. I offer up the Clintons as a prime example.

  6. TommyJay Says:

    I find it interesting that we are at a point in history where we are on brink of having highly reliable lie detectors, and I don’t see anyone talking about it.

    I’m not talking about polygraph tests that have been proven to be unreliable. I think the best technology so far uses functional MRI, or fMRI, brain activity mapping. Right now, this type of testing is extremely costly and cumbersome.

    And often that which seems to be a silver bullet, isn’t. But wouldn’t it be nice to cut through the garbage? I bet the tort lawyers would fight this like the plague. Then it would never be accepted in a court of law, blah, blah, etc.

  7. M J R Says:

    neo begins, “anyone who says that members of a certain group always tell the [truth] is lying.”

    This has biblical precedent! In Titus 1:12 we read (KJV), referring to the Cretian philosopher Epimenides,

    “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, . . . .”

    It’s the Epimenides Paradox:

  8. Dave Says:

    With Chinese as my naive language i find that English is very limited in giving clear description of many different forms of lying. In Chinese we have hundreds of words for many different techniques of deceiving that they are all under the English word lying.

  9. steve walsh Says:

    Human beings desire simplification and rules, they despise confrontation and complication.

    “I Believe” is simple, easy, non-confrontational. “Reason to Doubt” is messy, takes time and critical examination, can be confrontational and unpleasant.

    Justice is not simple, nor easy, but must be the goal for both the accused and accuser.

  10. GRA Says:

    This post certainly would raise some fire in my social work class.

  11. neo-neocon Says:


    Go for it.

  12. AesopFan Says:

    By silencing Atticus, they also eliminate a counter-example to their claim “all white men are KKK supremacists”.

    Everything the Left does is over-determined.

  13. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    I sense a common thread here.

    A lot of what passes for new political thought these days, particularly on the American Left, seems to be to be dedicated to shutting down discussion — and perhaps shutting down thought as well.

    It is an obvious fallacy to describe human behavior with words such as “all”, “always”, and “never”. There have been male and female rapists; there have been Jewish pig farmers, and gay homophobes, and just about any other combination you can imagine. People are complex!

    So why do we try to pigeonhole people? Because then we don’t have to think so much. If women always speak the truth, especially about sexual assault, then we don’t need to think about what they say so much, do we?

    And it is a very short leap indeed from “you can’t say that” to “you shouldn’t think that”. So such attacks are dangerous indeed.

    Fortunately, such attacks are easy to refute; all you need is a repertoire of counter-examples. If all female accusers of sexual assault must be believed, one answer is: “Including Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky?” If all white people are racist Nazis, one could respond: “Including Hillary Clinton?”

    Leftists have sacred cows too.

  14. Ymar Sakar Says:

    It is why when people follow a cult of personality, like Jim Jones, Clinton, Joss Whedon, Harvey, or Polanski, I don’t get it. Why would you, a supposed member of this great exceptional nation founded for the souls of the brave and free, kneel down in submission to the idols of humanity?

    They will crash and burn sooner or later. It’s why I can watch Rubin or Peterson on youtube, and I don’t worship them, nor particularly give them more respect than I do other humans. They are as flawed in their own fashion as everybody else, they are in no way superior, yet people treat them as superior because they “provide content”. Like Hollywood used to provide content, in return for whores and sex slaves…

    Humans, on average, even including exceptional individuals, are not all that great in organizations and mobs and groups. Even the most exceptional individuals, such a Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan or Andrew Jackson, can’t inculcate virtues in other people with all the masses that follow and emulate and worship them. Their individual greatness prevents that, they are so out of the mainstream.

    That is why Yeshua is considered a master teacher. A mortal that became an immortal and now promises to teach everybody else to follow a Way that leads to immortality, true immortality rather than just 1000 years like most Eastern cultures talk about. You’d have to be a master teacher to be able to uplift humans from mortal to immortal. Otherwise, it’d be better impossible. People can’t even get their families to shape up…. recall the number of times people tried to change just one little quirk or bad habit, and what backlash they would get. That’s why the US system is constructed on the Deist belief that it doesn’t matter what god you worship, so long as you don’t use state power to persecute minorities or establish a Vatican.

    Not even Israel could settle on worshiping which god (monotheism was a term created centuries later by the Romans and Greeks, originally most great religions consist of multiple divinities in a hierarchy). Golden calf, Moses had a little civil war where he killed a few thousand of the precious clansmen he brought back from Egypt. That was pretty serious if he was willing to go that far. How far would you go to prevent a family member from worshipping a Golden Calf, start a civil war and kill them for it?

    So why do we try to pigeonhole people? Because then we don’t have to think so much.

    You cannot divide people until you get them to classify each other. On this note, Peterson is very accurate.

  15. Sergey Says:

    While I in general agree with the thesis that no group of humans can be trusted absolutely, still different groups differ a lot in their proclivity to lie. Culture can greatly supress or encourage this universal human trait, and different cultures can be worlds apart in their approach to lie. I happened to know at least two persons in my close family who never (yes, never!) lied: my wife and her late father. He was a Lutheran, not really religious, more of agnostic type, but atmosphere in his family and school he attended (Anne-Peter Shule in Moscow) was very rigorous in this relation. What is even more curious, all his co-workers and friends in workshop (they were part of atom-bomb factory at Ural, all ethnic Germans, released from Gulag where they were interned during WWII), also, as my wife witnessed, shared this trait. So, I have a very big trust in this specific group, now almost extinct (Lutherans from Russia, of Swedish, German or Dutch ethnic origin). And when I read what Dave wrote about many different words in Chinese describing many different kinds of lies, I can not avoid an inference that Chinese people also practice on regular basis so many different types of lies that they need special words to tell one type of lie from the other.

  16. neo-neocon Says:


    Yes, different groups have different attitudes towards lying and different degrees of lying. But the point is that anyone can be lying, despite being in one group or another. The legal system in the US absolutely depends on devotion to the idea that every person is an individual and that person’s statements must be evaluated for truthfulness based on the statement itself and the evidence surrounding it rather than on his or her membership in a certain demographic group. Prior inconsistent statement can be used to discredit the witness, and the witness is cross-examined to see if the story holds up under difficult questioning. Also, the fact that a person is a felon or cellmate can come under consideration in assessing his or her veracity, as well as that person’s demeanor on the witness stand.

    But never can it have anything to do with race or gender or anything like that. The idea that female accusers always tell the truth is preposterous and dangerous.

  17. Sergey Says:

    It makes sense to assume that women in general have less inhibitions for lying, since in Western tradition for them it is a lesser sin than for men. Also, for women lying is often the only defence, because they are weak and can not defend themselves by brute force.

  18. Ymar Sakar Says:

    And when I read what Dave wrote about many different words in Chinese describing many different kinds of lies, I can not avoid an inference that Chinese people also practice on regular basis so many different types of lies that they need special words to tell one type of lie from the other.

    That’s because in Chinese, it is considered polite and respectful to other people to lie to them, a white lie, to avoid stressing them or making them lose face.

    All the Asian sub type cultures have something like that.

    The Japanese, well the US had a story about post WW2 Japan, in which an American took care of a widow in the GHQ occupation days. Later her brother came back and was indebted to this American, because he had taken care of his sister. Or rather, it was actually his wife, but because it would make the American lose face and suffer pain to know this, he just said she was his sister.

    The Western concept of “clearing the air” or speaking what one truly thinks, is truly foreign and alien to many Asian cultures. ALthough it is becoming popular amongst Japanese youth who consider the old ways to be “rigid” and inflexible.

    A Westerner will come to China, and ask something, and then people will lie to them. They then take offense and say “why didn’t you tell me the truth”. And the Chinese don’t actually know why. They just know it is customary to lie to customers to make them feel better. Even if it is a lie. It saves their face and also the face of China itself.

    There are two inhibitions to lying. External cultural controls (fear of punishment or consequences) and internal controls (spirit or soul based).

  19. Ymar Sakar Says:

    took care of a widow

    Oh, by that I mean “intimate care”. I was using my Japanese core at the time in parallel to English writing core, and that phrase when translated into English, loses some of its contextual implications.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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