I guess we can’t actually be sure they weren’t witches.
For all we know, the Salem witch trials made pretty good cases against the 200 some-odd people they accused and the 19 people they killed. You certainly don’t want witches in your colony. That’s for sure.
As we all roll our eyes at incidents in our past, like the Salem witch trials, it’s always good to remember that incidents like that were considered in the founding of the United States. The whole “innocent until PROVEN guilty” thing was pretty revolutionary for its time. It was revolutionary for any time, for that matter. The idea that you could be at the scene of a crime, with blood all over you, leaning over a victim, and the state would still have to prove that you weren’t giving him CPR, is a serious built -in protection for every citizen of this country.
I, for one, embrace the idea …strongly.
Because, You. Cannot. Prove. A. Negative. It’s a universal principle that is philosophical and existential and all of those big words, combined. But what it means is simply this: I can accuse you of pretty much anything. I can say, “you look like a child molestor …prove to me that you’re not.” And there is no human way for you to prove you are NOT something. At least, not without running a real-time movie of every second of your entire life.
The real-time movies we have at our disposal are our memories. Our brains store all the information we’ve ever learned and all the deeds we’ve ever done …in theory. The problem is our ability to recall everything that has ever happened in our lives, is simply impossible to access. And in some cases, it may even be false …
We are learning some interesting things about memory that we may not want to know. A lot of research is being done that suggests our brains sort of discard things we don’t want to remember about ourselves and then even make up things that we want (or believe) to be a part of our story.
I read a piece, just today in medicalxpress.com (by Giuliana Mazzoni), that talked about how we make memories …or how, sometimes we even make up memories.
“Memories are therefore very malleable, they can be distorted and changed easily, as many studies in our lab have shown. For example, we have found that suggestions and imagination can create memories that are very detailed and emotional while still completely false. Jean Piaget, a famous developmental psychologist, remembered all his life in vivid detail an event in which he was abducted with his nanny – she often told him about it. After many years, she confessed to having made the story up. At that point, Piaget stopped believing in the memory, but it nevertheless remains as vivid as it was before.”
This is intriguing stuff. But it’s also disturbing.
I’ve been reminded lately, of things I did in my past (not bad things …just things), that I literally have no recollection of. In fact, going through a closet, this past weekend, I found a trophy I won in high school, that was some sort of award for having “Christian character.” Some of my high school friends saw the picture I posted and remembered the day it was awarded to me. Some of them have even remembered how and why it happened. I still cannot recall a single thing about it. I sat and stared at it for a few minutes. And honestly, I was disturbed at the lack of information I could access regarding said award.
Maybe I’ve decided to discard a memory of something redemptive about myself, in order to retain the image I’ve created, of someone with a little more edge. Maybe there was something positive about me …I simply don’t want to know. Or maybe I’m just getting old and have simply sipped too much whiskey through the years. All I know is it bothered me that I couldn’t (and still cannot) remember anything about that little trophy, when there were other people who remembered it vividly.
The trouble with relying on memory as an accurate source of information is that it simply may not be all that accurate.
Our nation is embroiled in yet another “he said/she said” incident, regarding Supreme Court Justice nominee, Bret Kavanaugh. And the madness that always surrounds these things is bubbling yet again.
Every woman who has ever been assaulted, is overlaying her own experience onto this one. Every man who doesn’t know whether to shake hands or bow when meeting a woman, is overlaying his experience onto it as well. And the arguments fly.
The core of it is politics: everyone thinks this nominee is the deciding vote in overturning Roe V Wade, hence reversing the legal precedent on abortion in The United States. Most people’s hopes and/or fears are completely unfounded, legally speaking. But legal misinformation aside, the stakes seem to be as high as stakes can be. So, is this man fit to sit on the bench?
Enter memories …
We are being asked to form judgments on a man (and a woman) based on their individual memories. We’re being asked to solve a mystery that cannot be solved. And in the process, we’re being invited to place our own memories in their room. And that is the most insidious thing of all.
This is why the founders placed a burden of proof on the state or the accuser. Because the truth about what happened 36 years ago, in a room, at a party, will actually never be known …quite possibly even by the two people in question.
Does she remember it wrong? Maybe. Is his not recalling it at all proof of anything? Absolutely not. He may have simply decided to not remember this dark thing about himself. Who knows? I still don’t recall my little award. God knows what else I’ve forgotten.
The standard, then, has to come from the aggregate of a life. Every woman who has ever been raped or assaulted remembers it vividly and should always be heard out. Victims of assault are nothing to joke about or take lightly. However, in the absence of proof, what do you do? My father (the Phd counselor), always says that people behave in patterns. If they’ve done something once, they’ve probably done it many times. So, when several women come forward, who have similar stories about a person, there is a more than good chance the man in question has a problem and is what they say he is (Bill Cosby, anyone?).
In the absence of a pattern, however, we’re right back to one memory against another. And that is a frightening thing.
I don’t know what happened with Bret Kavanagh and his accuser. Neither do you. But the thing that nags at me more and more, as I get older, is …quite possibly, neither do they.
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