(October 5, 2018 / JNS)
1. Do yourselves a favor, and save yourselves from the social and cognitive inquisition. This inquisition comprises a well-known and powerful group that has assumed the right to convict people without trial (and at times even after they are acquitted by the court), solely on the basis of the stories told by its members. I say “stories” rather than testimonies because they are seldom investigated, they don’t have any evidentiary merit and, most importantly, they fail to take into account that there are two sides to every story and that everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
To be considered innocent until proven guilty is not a privilege, it is a moral right. Anyone who convicts outside a court is no different than totalitarian regimes throughout history that convicted people on the basis of questionable testimonies, or blatant lies, without giving the accused an opportunity to defend themselves.
In the current context, instead of an evil totalitarian regime, there is an evil totalitarian thought police that is using the media to socially lynch its victims.
In urging you to save yourselves from the inquisition of thought, I am, first and foremost, asking you to take a cognitive, ideological and principled stand against the emotional pornography that cruelly forces anyone who watches it to yield to the power of a tear-jerking testimony and consider it an absolute truth, even though it was never actually verified. In fact, it cannot be verified.
2. When faced with this mass lynching on social media, there is a moral obligation to fight back. Not with a counter lynch (heaven forbid), but rather with an honest quest for truth. There is such a thing: truth. It has criteria. But the members of the current inquisition do not possess these criteria. What this reality needs is people who are familiar with the current insanity and, in their quest for truth, refuse to capitulate to the dictates of this group. We need people who can take a moral stand against extrajudicial convictions. Think of it as a moral obligation to save society from this boundless emotional stupidity, which could drive people to suicide.
What about the victims of sexual assault, you may ask. First, two wrongs don’t make a right. Second, who can guarantee that they are always actually victims of sexual assault? How can anyone know for sure that indeed, after 40 years, that’s really what happened? If the woman testifying before the Senate can’t say exactly where it happened or exactly when it happened, how in the world can anyone defend themselves against her allegations? Why are we expected to stand with the woman testifying just because she cried and showed emotion? Is that a criterion for truth? Is there a shortage of people throughout history who committed heinous crimes and then, years later, cried with great emotion and recounted the event solely from their subjective perspective? Does the fact that they cried mean they are right? When the accused is denied the opportunity to defend himself, that is not a trial, it is a miscarriage of justice. It is placing a man before a firing squad and presenting him with a fait accompli. His life will never be the same, without any claim having to be proven.
3. The New York Times reported last month about Ian Buruma, the editor of The New York Review of Books, who left his position amid an uproar over the magazine’s publication of a controversial essay. What do you know! He dared publish an essay titled “Reflections From a Hashtag,” written by Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, who had been accused of sexually assaulting women and was later acquitted in court. In his essay, Ghomeshi recounted how he had become an outcast and a target of ridicule on social media and in the Canadian press—an experience that left him “suicidal.”
“There has indeed been enough humiliation for a lifetime,” he wrote. “I cannot just move to another town and reboot with a pseudonym. I’m constantly competing with a villainous version of myself online. This is the power of a contemporary mass shaming.”
Some of the magazine’s discriminating readers flew into a frenzy over the fact that Ghomeshi was even given a platform, even though an extensive disclaimer was attached to the top of the essay, openly presenting his so-called crimes, or rather the allegations made against him (of which he was acquitted).
The most entertaining, yet simultaneously terrifying thing about this affair was what Buruma, who was born in the Netherlands, told the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland: “I expected that there would be strong reactions, but my hope was that it would open up the discussion about what to do with people who have misbehaved but have been acquitted by a court.”
He felt the attacks made against him were ironic, because he himself had “made a themed issue about #MeToo perpetrators who were not convicted by the judiciary but by social media, and now I am on the pillory myself.” Those who transgress are destined to be victims of the same transgression.
Incidentally, CNN legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin said this week that “if you sexually assault someone in high school, your life should be ruined.” You see? The inquisition doesn’t care to discuss, investigate or seek the truth, not to mention justice. Is that the kind of society we want for ourselves?
4. In the Mishna, at the end of tractate Sotah, our sages spoke about the distant future when “the truth will be lacking.” They relied on the prophecy of a Jerusalem man from the eighth century BCE, the prophet Isaiah, who scolded his people, saying, “And justice is turned away backward, and righteousness standeth afar off; for truth hath stumbled in the broad place, and uprightness cannot enter. And truth is lacking, and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey. And the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice” (Isaiah 59:14,15).
The truth hath stumbled on the road. That’s a rather accurate description of precisely what is happening in today’s version of the town square: social media.
In the third century C.E., the talmudic sage Abba Arika’s followers interpreted Isaiah’s words “And truth is lacking” to mean that “the truth will become a flock and disappear” (in Hebrew, the words for “flock” and “lacking” have the same root). In our context today, the truth will become a narrative and disappear. What actually happened doesn’t matter. The acquisition of knowledge these days rests on the construction of evil institutions (male, white, privileged), which in turn create a specific reality in our minds (“false consciousness” in Marx’s teachings). Fortunately, sociologists, philosophers, literary critics and art critics and the like have succeeded in freeing themselves of these false constructs and discovered the mythic philosopher’s stone—they are here to grant us ignorant masses of their wisdom. They teach us that we’ve been led astray and that the reality that we have been taught is not the real reality. In his prophetic novel Brave New World, author Aldous Huxley created an entire world where those same self-appointed wise men take control over society and use democratic means to coerce everyone into thinking the same, ostracizing anyone who deviates or dares to think differently.
5. This Shabbat we will begin reading the Torah from Genesis, where, in the first chapter, it says “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him” (Genesis 1:27). The Torah is not afraid of describing God in physical terms. Perhaps it is the Torah’s complete rejection of idolatry that allows it to do that. It is obvious to the readers that this is a metaphor, an abstract idea. Indeed, between then and now many pens have broken from writing so much about the topic. Some interpret the “image of God” as free will. Thus, for example, Rabbi Judah Loew, known as the Maharal of Prague, wrote in his book Way of Life: “Just as God, blessed be He, has the freedom of doing as He pleases, so man is permitted to do as he pleases. He possesses choice.”
Free will places a heavy burden on man, to choose good and right. If we expand on the Maharal’s interpretation, we can say that the “image of God” is also our moral obligation to pursue truth and judge people only in a fair hearing, not on the whims of the masses, as enlightened as those masses may be.
Dror Eydar is a columnist for Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed in the United States exclusively by JNS.