An Inconvenient Presumption
Russell Brand, a moderately clever British comedian who has of late taken to playing the celebrity-pundit-for-profit game on the internet, and who has thus effectively self-identified as an opponent of the radical Marxist zeitgeist, has, not surprisingly, become the latest popular target of a progressive pogrom, aka he is being “cancelled.” In this case, the modus operandi appears to be the same one employed against Brett Kavanaugh during the hearings related to his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, namely the sudden discovery of years-old claims of sexual crimes, though the alleged crimes were never reported to the authorities at the time, and may therefore be mired in foggy memories and after-the-fact reinterpretations of ambiguous or complicated events. But if there is one thing the Marxist tribunal will not stand for, it is ambiguous or complicated events. The mere accusation, if it serves the purposes of the revolution, is certainty enough to warrant the immediate and unambiguous elimination of undesirable elements.
To be clear, I have no evidence to offer in support of Russell Brand in this matter. I think it highly likely, given what little I know of his public persona and on-screen behavior, that he has engaged in a good many activities which might be judged unseemly, immoral, and reckless. But criminal? I absolutely do not know, one way or the other. Nor do the proprietors of YouTube, although they have, on the basis of nothing but media reports of old and unsubstantiated allegations, summarily demonetized his videos, thus immediately cutting off his income as a content producer with millions of subscribers. In other words, they have denied him his source of income. Nor do the feminists (militaristic or opportunistic) elbowing past one another for a seat at every televised roundtable discussion on the planet, desperate to demand justice against Brand on behalf of the “five-sixths of rape victims who never report to the police,” which shocking numbers are of course cut out of whole cloth, since unreported rapes, from a legal point of view, are simply rape allegations that have not been and (in most cases) cannot be substantiated. (And if they are unreported, how have they been counted?) Nor do all those publicity hounds racing to their nearest podcast or chat show to express their horror and disgust at the enormity of Brand’s criminality, or alternatively (i.e., on the populist right) their absolute certainty that Brand is merely the victim of a political vendetta who would never do anything wrong (or at least nothing so very wrong).
But unlike all those rushing to their judgments of convenience, and especially those all too happy to convict and imprison Brand as a rapist on the basis of nothing but his betrayal of the revolution, i.e., his refusal to publicly espouse the Marxist moral manifesto of the moment in its entirety, I am compelled to adopt the admittedly reactionary, not to say systemically oppressive, position which until quite recently was regarded as the rule of thumb in such cases, namely “innocent until proven guilty.” And against those so quick to respond to that old-fashioned notion, explicitly or implicitly, with, “That only applies in court, not in public discussion,” I respectfully demur, “Poppycock!”
The legal concept of presumed innocence, like all legitimate legal concepts, is merely a conventionally formalized replica of a premise of human nature itself, which is to say a maxim dictated not by force of political authority, but rather by force of reason. The inherent unfairness of condemning a man of impropriety on the basis of hearsay or allegation, without tangible proof or the weight of verifiable testimony, is borne out by experience, personal and reported, a thousand times over, from childhood on up, including those times we ourselves were falsely accused (“Why won’t you admit you took the cookies!”), leading the mind quite naturally to the intentional and routine suspension of judgment in all instances in which no hard evidence of impropriety has been presented. More widely, the palpable danger to civilized society inherent in allowing unproven accusations to sway collective behavior towards a man or group leads a community, as a collection of rational beings living together for mutual benefit, to insist upon the general acquiescence to this premise of presumed innocence, as a matter of mutual protection and in the name of peaceful coexistence.
This premise does not entail the complete suspension of all judgment regardless of circumstances, but merely the refusal to pass judgment where the evidence of one’s own eyes, prior judgments, or practical reasoning is non-existent or non-compelling. That is to say, if I personally witness a man engaged in wrongdoing in a way that cannot reasonably be doubted as a matter of contextual misunderstanding, then I may pass judgment; if someone whose character and good faith I have the strongest personal grounds for trusting bears witness to the man’s wrongdoing, then I may, though perhaps with a sort of provisional conviction, pass judgment; and if my own rational assessment of all the available circumstances (the context) leads me to conclude that wrongdoing has been committed, then I may pass judgment.
As an example of the third condition, I offer my own judgments of the actions of governments, corporate masterminds, and international quasi-governmental organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. I was not privy to any secret deals or communications of nefarious intent among the power players of the time — although some such deals and communications have subsequently come to light — and yet I wrote publicly and often of my disdain for the illegitimacy of the tyrannical strategies undertaken by said entities in the name of public health. I formed this judgment, however, not on hearsay or speculation that happened to suit my temperament, but on the basis of repeated and continual rational assessment of the statistics and known facts related to the pandemic and its health effects, comparing these both to previous global outbreaks and to the extremes of government-corporate oppression being exerted, and then drawing plausible conclusions from the disproportions gleaned, within the wider context of a well-known growing impulse toward global governance and socio-economic micromanagement of the human population by the established powers that be.
I noted above that I have no evidence to offer in support of Russell Brand in this matter. But the point is this: Dismissing the Marxist tribunal’s summary cancellation and public execution of Brand does not require any evidence. It is only those who wish to condemn him who are obliged — not only legally but morally and rationally — to provide evidence. For the presumption of innocence, not only as a legal concept but as a natural deduction and a condition of civilized coexistence, means exactly what it says. It is not merely a suspension of judgment, or a granting of equal weight or equal time to competing claims for and against a man, but rather a decisive refusal to treat a man as guilty before evidence has been presented which is forceful enough to sway one from the judgment of non-guilt, which judgment is not merely “one of the options,” but unequivocally the default position.
One of the more absurd and obnoxious mantras promoted during this “Me-Too” era, particularly by those seeking to moderate the firebrand hatred and random destruction from the radicals without striking too strongly contrary a position, is to describe cases such as this one as simply a “he said, she said” dispute, and thus beyond judgment unless hard evidence is presented on one side or the other. But this is not a “he said, she said” case. This is a “they said without sufficient proof, hoping mere accusations would be enough to destroy him without having to go through the difficult process of actually justifying their claims before impartial judges” case. The entire burden of proof is on the heads of the accusers. Brand does not have to prove anything. He must be presumed not guilty, in the name of civility and human decency, unless and until his accusers are able to substantiate their claims in a properly scrutinized fashion, rather than the completely sympathetic, damn-the-monster, scary background music fashion of the mass media.
To conclude with a reiteration, this is not really about Russell Brand at all. I have no interest in his bluster, either before or since his transmogrification into a “guru” friendly to the conspiracy-theory-for-profit addicts on the populist right. I also have little doubt that he has lived a life most “ordinary people” would claim to abhor, at least as long as they could not have such privileges themselves, or unless the celebrity engaged in that life happened to be one on their side, or to their taste. But as for whether he ought to be pilloried in the public square as a rapist or sexual abuser, on the basis of anonymous claims made to reporters about events of many years ago, rather than substantiated claims made to police, this, I believe, is where all of us who prefer civilization to primitivism, reason to outrage, the rule of law to the lynch mob, must draw the line.
If there is to be a criminal investigation and a legal process, then fine, let it play out and let us all accept the results, whatever they may be. But it behooves us all to remember, during this era of tribal certitudes passed off as facts and convenient whims passed off as judgments, that the slow, frustrating, and sometimes assumption-defying legal procedures that our societies have established are not an annoying encumbrance or an obstacle to “real justice” being done. They are, rather, the means civilized people of the past, people more civilized than we are today, settled upon as the rational alternative to “justice being done” in the most unjust ways within the realm of boiling blood and vested interests, by way of the intermediary imposition of a detached and impersonal assessment of facts. This alternative, in its most advanced forms, begins with a premise intended to capture the noblest spirit of that good faith and passion-moderating restraint upon which our forebears founded institutions of coexistence and mutual benefit that would function as communities in the proper sense of the term, namely the premise of presumed innocence — the principle that anger is not enough, accusation is not enough, the desire to “put things right” is not enough to condemn a man, or to despoil his life, deny his livelihood, and destroy his name.