>> Tuesday, February 04, 2014
The damnably difficult thing about all of this, of course, is that you can't presume that both are innocent at the same time. One of them must be saying something that is not true. But "he said, she said" doesn't resolve to "let's start by assuming she's lying," except in a rape culture, and if you are presuming his innocence by presuming her mendacity, you are rape cultured. It works both ways, or should: if one of them has to be lying for the other to be telling the truth, then presuming the innocence of one produces a presumption of the other's guilt. And Woody Allen cannot be presumed to be innocent of molesting a child unless she is presumed to be lying to us. His presumption of innocence can only be built on the presumption that her words have no credibility, independent of other (real) evidence, which is to say, the presumption that her words are not evidence. If you want to vigorously claim ignorance–to assert that we can never know what happened, in that attic–then you must ground that lack of knowledge in the presumption that what she has said doesn’t count, and we cannot believe her story.- Aaron Bady, "Woody Allen's Good Name", The New Inquiry,February 2nd, 2014.
The damnably difficult thing, actually, is that you can all-too-easily presume that two people telling diametrically opposed stories both believe they're recounting actual events. That one of those accounts might not jibe with what a third party would have observed if they'd been there, or might not accord with whatever consensual reality might be agreed to by a dozen observers, or might not accord with other evidence, doesn't mean that a party is "lying" in any meaningful sense of the word.
Woody Allen is a creep,* but I have my doubts about the accusations that have been made by his ex-girlfriend, Mia Farrow; his daughter, Dylan; and other estranged family members. That doesn't mean accusing Dylan Farrow of being a "liar"--indeed, much like blogger Chez Pazienza, I think Farrow believes what she's written and said; I'm just not sure that what she's saying is objectively true, to whatever extent anything is objectively true. (We could have a nice little ontological debate about how much of reality is objective and how much of it is made up of consensual subjectivity, but I'm not in a coffee shop with a cuppa and some decent light fusion playing in the background.) I can very easily say I have no idea what, if anything happened between them, and that it's possible both are innocent: that Woody Allen didn't molest Dylan Farrow, but Dylan Farrow sincerely believes that he did. It's possible she's both honest and wrong.
That happens quite a lot. The brain isn't a mechanical recording device that absorbs input and locks it into a physical form like a stylus carving an acoustic vibration into one of Edison's wax cylinders where it can be reproduced and duplicated over and over again. The brain is a piece of charged meat steeped in a chemical brew--in most ways, it resembles a pot roast more than it does a VCR, despite our chronic insistence on treating it more like the latter. A pot roast that is still in the oven, no less, undergoing constant physical changes over time in response to external stimuli. Just don't eat it, you'll get kuru.
I have had arguments with friends and family members over things they or I happen to remember. My mother has frequently insisted we saw Star Wars in 1976, a year before the copyright office thinks it was released. I have never admitted to my father that a family vacation we took when I was a teenager happened the year he said it did and not the year I clearly remember it, despite having gone over it in my mind and concluded he must be objectively right (or more right); perhaps more interestingly and relevant to the topic at hand, even though I'm intellectually certain he's probably right (or more right), my memory continues to place the trip in what is almost certainly the wrong year and wrong age. Similarly, my friends have photographs of events and gatherings that my brain claims never happened or happened differently or involved different participants or other locations; and no, alcohol wasn't involved (nor other controlled substances), and I think it's extremely improbable they would have bothered creating an extremely convincing artifact just to screw with me, though one can do amazing things with computers these days.
I have bad meat in my can. So do you. Or it's great meat: it's probably better to observe that it's really amazing what a brain can pull off when it evolved to perform entirely different tasks that have nothing to do with the things we ask of it. There's probably no reproductive advantage in being able to recite the Gettysburg Address from memory, nor in being able to name all fifty American state capitols, or in knowing even one digit of pi.
It's just that this bad--or wonderful--meat can get us into trouble. When Jennifer Thompson mistakenly identified Ronald Cotton as her rapist in 1984, she wasn't acting from malice or being dishonest: Thompson's efforts to bring her assailant to justice were heroic and heart-wrenching. Unfortunately, the tasks of identifying another person seen at intimate proximity in a terrifying situation and then repeating the identification to law enforcement officers, prosecutors, jurors and other parties to a criminal prosecution are tasks that the brain really simply isn't very good at. Thompson shouldn't be condemned; for that matter, ironically, the judicial system that did the best it could with the tools it had and still managed to deprive Cotton of nearly eleven years of his life can't really be condemned, either. The whole thing is a tragedy and a lesson in our own limitations, not an excuse for some kind of sanctimonious finger-pointing.
It is well within the realm of possibility that Dylan Farrow is recounting something that really did happen to her in an attic in Connecticut; but it's just as within the realm of things-that-have-happened-before-and-could-happen-again that a child immersed in an environment in which her father was castigated as a villain and a predator, her mother cast as a victim, and in which she was asked to repeat and clarify and relive an alleged assault came to accept that assault as a set of facts she really experienced. That it's as real to her as if it had happened, regardless of whether it did happen.
Lest someone draw a stupid conclusion from the foregoing paragraph: the second possibility wouldn't make Dylan Farrow "sick" or "deluded" or "crazy", it would make her normal. Her brain would be operating within normal operating parameters, doing the stupid things brains do.
Do I know what really happened? No more than you do.**
*While I understand the physical attraction a nineteen-year-old might have for a man creeping up on sixty (Allen was fifty-seven), I have no idea what they'd talk about when the lights are on. I already have a difficult time understanding people half my age, and I'm merely in my forties. Add in the fact that he was his girlfriend's mother's boyfriend, and the whole thing strikes me as a bit icky, notwithstanding my attempts not to judge the consensual relationships of adults; the vaguely paternal status of "mom's boyfriend" indeed strikes me as the kind of thing that where there's a power imbalance that makes consent a dubious proposition. That said, they've been married close to seventeen years now. Still, it does smell a bit dodgy to me, personally, y'know?
**Admittedly, I do know something else: I know that probable cause is an extremely low burden for a prosecutor to satisfy--as the saying goes, a good prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich--and that a district attorney saying he has probable cause to indict a suspect for an extremely serious sex offense but is declining to do so is really, really odd. If he has probable cause, cooperative witnesses, and a possible child molester on the loose--all of which Litchfield County DA Frank Maco seemingly claims to have had--then a far more typical practice in my own experience would be to indict the hell out of the suspect, and if you're concerned about the victim's sensitivity, offer a tough but fair plea that gives the defendant plenty to lose if he goes through with a trial.
Indeed, that's more or less what Los Angeles County DAs did in the Roman Polanski case: the victim and her family were cooperative but expressed through their lawyer that they would simply prefer an acknowledgement of guilt and respect for his victim's privacy over the rigors of a trial and probable incarceration for the defendant, the evidence against Polanski was compelling (and certainly exceeded the standards needed to indict Polanski--which LA County prosecutors did), and the initial plea offer and sentencing recommendations were merciful and seem fair under the circumstances (the way everything went to hell at the eleventh hour notwithstanding).
Frankly, it's the prosecutor's puzzling and incoherent statements about the case that are the source of most of my doubt. If you have PC, indict, unless you have a really compelling reason not to. Compelling reasons might include the difficulty of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt, but that would tell you a great deal right there: I am speculating in an effort to understand, but if Dylan Farrow's credibility was questionable in the immediate aftermath of the alleged events, if there was a dearth of corroborating evidence, or if there was perhaps even an issue of possible witness tampering by Mia Farrow, those causes for doubt grow stronger, not weaker after twenty-something years.
One other relevant contextual matter: in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the assault on Dylan Farrow allegedly occurred, it's not as if American prosecutors were gun-shy about pressing child sexual abuse cases where the credibility of extremely young witnesses was questionable and corroborating evidence scant: in fact, there was a wave of daycare prosecutions across the country sufficient to merit its own Wikipedia entry. Prosecutors across the country appeared to have remarkably little difficulty convincing Grand Juries that children don't lie and wouldn't make up a story about sexual abuse if it wasn't true, and the sole difficulty in finding an expert witness to testify about the veracity of child witnesses and the efficacy of therapy in bringing out repressed memories was merely one of opening an office window at the courthouse and throwing a wadded-up piece of paper at an expert to get his or her attention. And judges weren't especially reliable gatekeepers of admissibility, keeping pseudoscientific testimony from self-anointed "experts" out of jurors' ears.
In short, if Frank Maco didn't think he could prosecute Woody Allen, I have to assume it was a really, really shitty case for the State Of Connecticut, regardless of Maco's poor--and subsequently sanctioned by the state Bar--decision to talk through both sides of his mouth about it.