Over the last 24 hours, I’ve read up about Dr Christine Blasey Ford and her allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and started to read Jason K Stearns Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. These disparate stories share much in common. In one very significant way, they are the same story. As Stearns writes, when discussing one of his irritations about the reception of his book:
[There] was the desire in some quarters to pin “the essence” of the book, to boil it down to its elemental residue.
In the age of “Fake News”, truth seems subjective, perception feels like reality and how a story is framed often feels more important than getting to any kind of truth. Take the Brett Kavanaugh story. He is accused of sexually assaulting Dr Ford when she was a teenager. Kavanaugh is Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Dr Ford has asked that the FBI investigate her claim. These are the facts. What is happening now is disturbing. Dr Ford, the alleged victim, is being given a deadline to testify, with one television personality suggesting she be subpoenaed; she has been attacked for the timing of the information coming out; people are rushing to defend Kavanaugh’s reputation (people that didn’t know him at 17 when the alleged event happened); and, most troublingly, Dr Ford’s character is being impugned. Many of the people that are attacking her are doing so for nakedly political reasons. Many of the people defending her seem to be doing it for the same reasons. From the link, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D):
…took the worst possible course by waiting until almost a week after Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was completed to ominously announce that she had turned over “information from an individual” about Kavanaugh to the FBI, and adding that she would be honoring the woman’s “strongly requested” confidentiality…
In concealing the accusation she had received in July, according to reports, Feinstein did a disservice to her Judiciary Committee colleagues, who might have wanted to determine if corroborating accounts were available, or at least question Kavanaugh about the accusation in a closed session.
How are these stories the same and how do they differ? To answer that, I have to give some information on Dancing in the Glory of Monsters.
Stearns’ book is about The Democratic Republic of Congo and in it, he attempts to talk to as many people as possible to try and understand why there has been such violence for so long. He wanted to avoid “Congo reductionism” and inject some nuance into the narrative about a country that is as big as Western Europe. Early on, he recalls a conversation with “a local, illiterate warlord with an amulet of…colonial-era coins and monkey skulls around his neck”. When Stearns takes a picture, the warlord told him to erase it. Per Stearns, “He was afraid…that they (white people in the west) would laugh at him, think he was a macaque, some forest monkey.” Stearns manages, in a short space, to highlight the intelligence, self-awareness and insecurity of the warlord. In searching for the truth, he manages to humanise the warlord. It made me think: if I could empathise with this man’s emotions, would I make the same decisions that he had in his situation?
The stories differ in this way: Stearns searches for the truth rather than a narrative, resulting in his reader having to consider empathising with characters who would otherwise be alien to them. By contrast, many of the stories I have read about Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assault have felt prewritten, narratives written with no desire to find the truth. Taking a stance before there has been a pursuit of truth is the kind of thing you might expect of a savage, a killer or, you know, an illiterate warlord. And that is how these stories are the same.