The Jackie Cult
Via Ryan Booth, here’s Amanda Hess in Slate, making sense:
And there are many feminists who claim that the situation ought never be clarified because attempts to “pick apart” Jackie’s story are necessarily offensive to Jackie and by extension all rape victims. “The current frenzy to prove Jackie’s story false—whether because the horror of a violent gang rape is too much to face or because disbelief is the misogynist status quo—will do incredible damage to all rape victims, but it is this one young woman who will suffer most,” Jessica Valenti wrote in the Guardian on Monday. It is wrong to assume that seeking the truth—to the extent that it is discoverable—comes from a place of mistrust or outright derision of rape victims. Carefully examining the Rolling Stone debacle and taking rape seriously as a national problem are not incompatible goals; we are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.
… And yet there is something strange in the claim, from advocates at the NAESV, Valenti, and Autostraddle’s Audrey White, that they “believe” Jackie. I don’t challenge their right to believe in anything they choose, but I do question whether belief is a productive framework for this story, because it suggests faith in something that lies outside the bounds of human knowledge. To put claims of rape in this category is to buy the idea that rape reports are by nature ambiguous, and that feelings override facts. The Rolling Stone incident shows that is not the case—many aspects of many rape allegations are capable of being thoroughly investigated, and one of the greatest problems with the American justice system’s response to rape is that police so often refuse to do that work (or in this case, that a journalist declined to). The idea that fully investigating or truthfully reporting on rape claims boils down to a simple “belief” in a victim’s account is simplistic and offensive, as Rolling Stone itself realized after it claimed that its trust in Jackie was “misplaced,” and it was swiftly and rightfully shamed for saying so.
Similarly with the Michael Brown story, which a careful investigation of the facts by the grand jury showed was not the open-and-shut case of police brutality that activists claimed. When facts and logic don’t matter, a narrative becomes unfalsifiable, and moves into the realm of religion.
I understand the all too human tendency to believe stories that confirm our preferred narrative, and to disbelieve those that dispute what we wish to believe. I’m guilty of that at times, and so are you. What is absolutely inexcusable is to shut down the pursuit of truth, either in public or in your own mind and conscience, because it threatens the narrative that gives their lives meaning.
Truth is the universal solvent of all narratives.