LTE: Response to “A few questions”



Mohammed Rawwas, senior MIS major, pens an LTE response to the Oct. 15 letter to the editor, “A few questions,” written by Dennis Clayson, UNI professor in College of Business.

Letter to the Editor

Editors’s Note: This letter to the editor was submitted by  Mohammed Rawwas, senior MIS major, in response to a letter to the editor titled “A few questions,” published in the Oct. 15 issue. of the NI.

Recently, I read a Letter to the Editor entitled “A few questions” responding to an opinion piece regarding Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Having read the original piece and finding nothing objectionable, I was surprised to see a response where issue is taken up with the idea that “there’s nothing anyone could say or do to make what happened last weekend acceptable.” There does not seem to be anything wrong with that statement, as how could a rushed nomination of someone accused by multiple women of sexual assault and the limiting of the scope of a farce of an investigation be anything other than unalterably unacceptable? How could any response to sexual assault allegations other than delaying the process to give time for a proper investigation whose scope is not limited to take place be acceptable?

The rest of the letter contains many leading questions that assume the conclusion and lead to circular reasoning. The questions are intentionally vague so as to obfuscate the author’s positions, but the framing of the questions allows us to gain insight on the author’s perspective nonetheless. 

For a fair and compassionate society, is it better, when charged, to be guilty until proven innocent, or innocent until proven guilty?

This first questions asks whether or not it is better to presume someone guilty until proven innocent, or innocent until proven guilty. The implication is that those who believe Ford’s allegations are presuming Kavanaugh to be guilty. However, by that logic, those who do not believe Ford’s allegations are presuming that Ford is guilty of lying, perhaps even defamation, so this argument is immediately invalidated. Furthermore, no one is arguing that Kavanaugh should be charged with a crime and sent to prison simply because of an allegation without first conducting a trial. That would be presuming someone’s guilt, in a legal sense.

What people are arguing for is that the confirmation process should have been delayed to allow time for a proper investigation whose scope was not severely limited to look into these allegations. This is not presuming someone’s guilt but rather the opposite, which is to investigate the allegations to see whether or not they are credible, with no presumption. Furthermore, there is no presumption of guilt, because those who believe Ford’s allegations are not stating that the default position should be that Kavanaugh is guilty before any evidence is provided and that the burden of proof is on Kavanaugh to prove his innocence, but rather that evidence has already been presented, and having evaluated that evidence, they have reached the conclusion that Ford’s allegations are probable. Even so, bringing up this legal concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is completely irrelevant, as no one is calling for legal ramifications against Kavanaugh without a trial, just that his confirmation should have been delayed for a proper investigation to take place.

Are we to assume that victims never lie?

This question asked whether we should assume that victims never lie, the implication being that those who believe Ford’s allegations assumed that she was not lying simply because she claimed to be a victim. Once again, this is a misreading of the situation. No assumptions were made. Conclusions were drawn after reviewing the evidence presented. Furthermore, according to a quantitative analysis by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, only about two to 10 percent of sexual assault allegations are false. Furthermore, these false allegations usually only occur in specific circumstances, such as in the case of pregnancy, where there is a motive for a false accusation. In this case, there is no such motive, as Ford told her therapist about these allegations in 2012, well before Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court. The British Broadcasting Corporation also notes that, in many of these cases, the person falsely accusing someone of sexual assault has a history of lying or has a criminal record, which does not fit this case. Therefore, there is even a case to be made that, based on the statistics, sexual assault claims are likely to be true.

Are we to assume that even if victims of sexual assault might lie, the injustice which will be created against an innocent person is acceptable if a greater justice is served? In other words, do we need to break a few eggs to make an omelet?

Another question is whether we should punish those falsely accused of sexual assault if a greater justice is served. The answer, of course, is no. And once again, no one is calling for this, as there would be no process through which this would even be possible. Furthermore, the underlying assumption in this question is that Kavanaugh is innocent, because otherwise the question would be irrelevant. Once again, telling of the author’s stance on this issue.

Is injustice acceptable against an innocent individual because the person is a member of an unjust group?   Would the answer to this question change if the individual belonged to an unjust group because of factors beyond their control, such as birth?

The underlying assumption of this question being that Kavanaugh was targeted for being a straight, white, male conservative and that those who believe Ford’s allegations believe that he is not entitled to as much justice as others because of these characteristics. Once again, this is blatantly false, and the fact that it is even brought up as a question is ridiculous. Why is it so difficult to believe that some people are actually concerned about sexual assault, regardless of the perpetrator, and want to ensure that justices on the Supreme Court have not sexually assaulted others? Why is it easier to believe that these people are just irrational and that they hate all men?

Is injustice acceptable against a person because the persons’ ancestors were unjust? 

The problem with this question is that it is completely tautological: by labelling something as injustice and assuming that this action is unjust, the question answers itself. This is a logical fallacy known as “begging the question.” The reasoning, therefore, becomes circular; the argument is essentially: “injustice is wrong because injustice is wrong.” And because we can look up the word injustice in the dictionary, we can see that it is, by definition, wrong.

By presupposing the action to be “injustice”, the author of this letter completely sidesteps any interesting discussion. Furthermore, this question has been abstracted to such a degree as to be meaningless; it has been obfuscated so much as to be merely a thought experiment, with little to no practical value. For example, some people believe that reparations would be an example of performing an injustice against a person because their ancestors were unjust. However, this view oversimplifies the situation, just as this thought experiment does. This is because those ancestors financially benefitted from the injustice that they caused, to the detriment of those that were the victims of that injustice, and that wealth that was accrued was passed down over generations, just as the poor financial and educational conditions of the victims were passed down from generation to generation. We are still dealing with the ramifications of slavery, and therefore there is still injustice currently being done that needs to be ameliorated.

Social mobility rates are low in the US compared to other developed nations, and therefore generational wealth is a real issue to contend with. The Washington Post reports that the average white family in the United States has net worth more than 10 times that of the average black family, which is a direct result of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws. People inherit wealth from their families and people are more likely to obtain a higher education if their parents did, which is why these problems do not go away instantly. People today have undoubtedly benefitted from injustice in the past, which is why reparations would not be an injustice because the money that would be taken was never deserved in the first place. This is the problem with abstracting into oblivion, which is that the nuance and complexities of the situation have been completely hidden and obfuscated. People can agree, in a vacuum, that someone should not be punished for the crimes of their ancestors. However, if that person is still benefitting from those injustices, is it not fair to ask that they give back what never should have been theirs?