Intellectual norms tumbling down: Over the past thirty years, our society’s intellectual norms have been falling way down.
By now, our various tribes get to make up their facts. Routinely, the simplest logic is discarded as our tribes tell preferred tales.
You can see this process on cable—but you can also see it unfold in the New York Times. Consider the latest op-ed column from the Times’ latest hapless professor.
Ekow Yankah is a professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law. Having read his column today, we find that fact unsettling.
Yankah makes some sane suggestions at the end of his piece—sane suggestions the average undergraduate could advance. Unfortunately, these sane suggestions have nothing to do with the subject of his column, “The Truth About Trayvon.”
“Ignore the lawyers,” the sub-headline says. “This case was always about race.”
What does Yankah mean by that? Because his column is murky throughout, it’s somewhat hard to tell.
He seems to mean that Zimmerman acted on the basis of race. He may mean that the jury made its judgments that way too.
In the end, his column makes almost no sense—and the New York Times couldn’t see that. So it goes as society's standards keep getting dumbed way down.
Yankah starts with a murky complaint about a basic element of our legal system. His highlighted claim is dramatic, but a bit unclear:
YANKAH (7/16/13): Lawyers on both sides argued repeatedly that this case was never about race, but only whether prosecutors proved beyond a reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman was not simply defending himself when he shot Mr. Martin. And, indeed, race was only whispered in the incomplete invocation that Mr. Zimmerman had “profiled” Mr. Martin. But what this case reveals in its overall shape is precisely what the law is unable to see in its narrow focus on the details.It’s hard to tell what the highlighted statement means, although, admittedly, it’s dramatic. Does Yankah mean that juries bring considerations of race to their assessments that “reasonable doubt” (or its absence) blocks (or permits) a conviction?
The anger felt by so many African-Americans speaks to the simplest of truths: that race and law cannot be cleanly separated. We are tired of hearing that race is a conversation for another day. We are tired of pretending that “reasonable doubt” is not, in every sense of the word, colored.
Yankah never really explains his dramatic statement. It’s true, of course, that juries are sometimes swayed by racial feeling or racial perceptions. The jury system isn’t perfect. Juries are influenced in all sorts of ways as they reach their judgments.
By the end of his piece, Yankah is making a few mundane suggestions about some ways we could eliminate types of racial injustice from the legal system. He makes a few other suggestions which are hard to parse.
But as he continues from the passage we’ve quoted, Yankah offers his basic view of the killing of Martin and the Zimmerman verdict. In this passage, he speculates about Zimmerman’s conduct that night:
YANKAH (continuing directly): Every step Mr. Martin took toward the end of his too-short life was defined by his race. I do not have to believe that Mr. Zimmerman is a hate-filled racist to recognize that he would probably not even have noticed Mr. Martin if he had been a casually dressed white teenager.Would Zimmerman “even have noticed...a casually dressed white teenager?” There is no way to answer that question, which makes it tribally pleasing. But please note something Yankah does as he enacts the tribal prerogative:
But because Mr. Martin was one of those “punks” who “always get away,” as Mr. Zimmerman characterized him in a call to the police, Mr. Zimmerman felt he was justified in following him. After all, a young black man matched the criminal descriptions, not just in local police reports, but in those most firmly lodged in Mr. Zimmerman’s imagination.
In that passage, Yankah disappears the conduct Zimmerman described in his phone call to the Sanford police. He disappears Zimmerman’s description of the ways in which Martin was said to be behaving strangely.
Was Martin behaving oddly that night? Like Yankah, we have no earthly way of knowing. Unlike Yankah, we don’t want to discard the parts of the story, the possibilities, our tribal cohort won’t like.
But alas! As our society’s standards fall, this is increasingly the way our tribes proceed. In this case, a hapless professor rewrites events to make them fit the tribal preference, and the New York Times lets him do it.
Part of Zimmerman’s story is disappeared as Yankah advances his speculation. This makes it easier to claim or suggest that his reaction to Martin was purely racial.
Again and again, our own tribe’s leaders have behaved this way as they’ve discussed that evening’s events. Note how far Yankah is willing to go as he plays readers this way.
As he continues, Yankah asks us to “imagine” something that could happen. Imagining things can be good solid fun, of course, especially when we’re allowed to imagine events in highly selective ways.
At this point, Yankah’s column gets very dumb. If the professor is competent, this passage is also dishonest:
YANKAH (continuing directly): Whether the law judges Trayvon Martin’s behavior to be reasonable is also deeply colored by race. Imagine that a militant black man, with a history of race-based suspicion and a loaded gun, followed an unarmed white teenager around his neighborhood. The young man is scared, and runs through the streets trying to get away. Unable to elude his black stalker and, perhaps, feeling cornered, he finally holds his ground—only to be shot at point-blank range after a confrontation.How about it? In the case that Yankah imagines, “would we throw up our hands, unable to conclude what really happened? Would we struggle to find a reasonable doubt about whether the shooter acted in self-defense?”
Would we throw up our hands, unable to conclude what really happened? Would we struggle to find a reasonable doubt about whether the shooter acted in self-defense? A young, white Trayvon Martin would unquestionably be said to have behaved reasonably, while it is unimaginable that a militant, black George Zimmerman would not be viewed as the legal aggressor, and thus guilty of at least manslaughter.
Quite possibly not! But in part, that’s because Yankah has disappeared the parts of the Zimmerman case which helped produce reasonable doubt.
Please. Putting both thumbs and his knees on the scale, Yankah imagines a young white man “finally holding his ground—only to be shot at point-blank range after a confrontation.”
Trayvon Martin was “shot at point-blank range,” just like this imagined white teen. But my! How our professor cleans up the “confrontation” which preceded the shooting!
What helped create reasonable doubt in the Zimmerman case? These elements, all of which have been disappeared from this professor’s imagined account:
Zimmerman says he was sucker-punched by Martin.
Zimmerman sustained injuries before the shooting occurred. Martin did not.
The eyewitness with the best access told police that he saw Martin wailing away at Zimmerman, MMA style, in the moments before the gunshot.
In his imagined account of that white teenager, Yankah imagines several things which aren’t known to have occurred in the Zimmerman-Martin event. He imagines that the white teen-ager is “trying to get away” from the militant black man. He imagines that the white teen-ager only decides to hold his ground when he is “unable to elude his black stalker.”
It isn’t known that Martin behaved in those ways; the professor is simply imagining. Beyond that, he disappears several things which are known to have occurred.
He disappears Zimmerman’s injuries. He disappears What John Good Said.
Is Professor Yankah competent? If so, he’s being dishonest today. So too with the editor who decided to publish this crap.
But alas! This is the way pseudo-liberal elites have routinely behaved as they pretend to reconstruct the events of that evening. They imagine events not known to have happened. They disappear events that did occur.
Lord, how good it makes the tribe feel when our leaders deceive us this way! In the end, it only means that our moral standards are being dumbed way down.