Justice on the gossip standard
January 28, 2018 § 78 Comments
Consider two college classmates, Bob and Fred. For a time they seemed to be friends; later they stopped being friendly.
Fred talks to a professor about his falling out with Bob. Fred claims that a year and a half prior Fred had driven Bob out into the Shenandoah wilderness to go hiking. He says that the two had disagreed about how far into the wilderness they were going to hike, and that when Fred insisted that they go no further the larger and stronger Bob attacked him, beat him up, and forced him to go all the way to Old Rag. Then Fred drove the two of them back to campus and said nothing about the incident for a year and a half.
The professor (correctly) tells Fred that if this story is true he was a victim of criminal assault and battery.
Bob denies that he ever threatened (criminal assault) or hit (criminal battery) Fred, and says that Fred was the one insisting that they go on a longer hike.
As an administrator at this small college with a very small campus and very limited resources, you have to decide what to do. Fred already has a psychiatrist/counselor, and in the course of investigating one of the things you do is ask Fred if you can talk to his counselor. The college is far too small, maybe a few dozen classrooms in total, to enforce a regime of strict separation every time two students don’t get along and accuse each other of wrongdoing.
Knowing all this Fred’s parents continue to send him back to the college, where his alleged attacker also continues to attend, because apparently they themselves don’t think he is in any danger. Bob is subjected to special scrutiny; is reprimanded and punished in a few cases where there is evidence of obnoxious behavior toward Fred.
Seven years later a flock of shrieking harpies descend, demanding justice for Fred’s victimization to “assault and battery,” carefully avoiding the inconveniently truthful word “alleged.” The form of justice they demand is to insist that the college must “take accusations seriously” — that is, the college must treat (some) gossip and rumor as if it were true for the purpose of making administrative decisions.
It is at this point that you, gentle reader, have to decide what sort of society you really want to live in: a civilization where public justice is carried out based on evidence available to third parties, third parties who out of necessity have to make authoritative decisions about what to do; or a banana republic in which public justice is carried out based on unverifiable gossip. It is indeed a weakness of evidence based justice that some people get away with wrongdoing; though of course this is also true, to an even greater extent, in a gossip-based system.
Be careful what you decide; because the most common refrain some time after saying “what could it hurt?” is “how were we supposed to know?” You are setting up your own daughters to fall victim to a future transsexual/non-cis gossip system of justice; since natural, surgically unaltered women are not at the top of the liberal victim hierarchy.
 The gossip and rumor which must be treated as authoritatively true are the gossip and rumor that the harpies favor. Other gossip and rumor is to be discounted. The criteria for accepting some gossip and rejecting other gossip is ambiguous, but definitely does not involve evidence.