Sunday, October 07, 2018

Memory

The reliability of memory came up a lot recently, and it is worth noting that we do not remember past events anywhere near as well as we think we do. Even flashbulb memories, which we feel very certain about, deteriorate and even change over time.  If this puts you in mind of Dr. Ford's testimony, remember that forgetting could apply equally to Justice Kavanaugh. I am noted for exceptional memory of past events, and am in my element at reunions, where people are gratified that I remember that they took a third on balance beam in 1969, or played the flute in 1963.  Yet I have found many places where I was certainly wrong, because some photograph or document shows up that contradicts my memory.  People of long memory are more likely to go to reunions, I would guess, and I also think I was likely to befriend those who had some similarity of mind. I thus have a store of memories rendered uncertain, because in comparing notes with these people, we don't entirely agree.  Sometimes I will realize in a flash that Ted Kontos's or Gary Hicks's memory of our first night at Manville dormitory includes an important detail I had entirely forgotten, and theirs is the better account.  Other times I remain convinced the other person has it wrong, and is conflating two events.

There will be a terrible irony about all this going forward in the Kavanaugh confirmation controversy. This will be an event which people will claim to remember and will hold those memories as important parts of their political story in the future. Yet we are already getting it wrong, each of us laying down the memory according to our previously held beliefs, and this will get worse. Things that we read as theories about Ford's motivations we will regard as something that someone somewhere proved. Ambiguous statements which Kavanaugh explained will come to be regarded as things he avoided answering. People who thought Ford's delivery was calculated will believe it was all an act.  People who thought Kavanaugh's verbal defense of himself was partisan will remember it as luder and angrier than it was, and will ascribe to him statements he didn't make.

It has already happened to me.  I had associated Senator Murkowski's statement with Senator Collins' statement on the basis of a few sentences of each and was disparaging of the latter.  A friend corrected me that I had misjudged Collins badly, and when I went back to look at it, that was abundantly so.  I had associated them in mind before.  I therefore assumed they would have similar takes.  I had already started remembering that they had similar takes, even though this is not so.

17 comments:

Texan99 said...

This is part of why it is such an awful idea to let important consequences hinge on uncorroborated memories of events from 35 years ago. Fresh eyewitness testimony is bad enough. Add in the difficulty of finding corroborating evidence, or refuting it or the primary memory, and no good can come of it. Does that mean justice can't be done? Possibly. If you wait long enough, that may be the inevitable result.

Donna B. said...

My brother was 7 years older than I was. My sister is 6 years younger than I am. I think we grew up in 3 different families. Our memories are not the same. I always thought this was due to age difference until I heard my husband and his brother (less than 2 years apart) arguing about what they remembered. Apparently, they also grew up in different families.

Korora said...

Last night I made the mistake of suggesting (bluntly) that he might be innocent. I unintentionally hit a raw wound* in the person I was talking to.

*The speech=violence lie would not have caught on without the grain of truth that ill-thought-out words can hurt.

Zachriel said...

Texan99: This is part of why it is such an awful idea to let important consequences hinge on uncorroborated memories of events from 35 years ago.

The overall circumstances of Kavanaugh's youthful drunken, boorish behavior, and Kavanaugh's recent dissembling about that behavior supports the accusation.

Kavanaugh might have said he was sorry for any hurt he caused, but that he remembers the circumstances differently. Instead, he went on a weepy partisan rant, blaming anyone but himself. Every day, people have to answer to accusations in the courts, and they are expected to maintain decorum, or can be sanctioned by the court. Kavanaugh's ambition trumped his duty to the institution. He was sworn in as Justice, but to a diminished Court.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"Remembers the circumstances differently?" Why would he say that if he did nothing at all? When you say the "overall circumstances" of Kavanaugh's youthful behavior you slyly suggest that occasionally drinking with guys and telling fart jokes is his general behavior. That's a flat lie, Zachriel. You choose your words carefully to deceive. Overall, my Aunt Fanny.

In America, the quality of the accusation is examined before all else, before anyone need make the least defense of their actions and character. This is why previous record is concealed to juries and only comes up in sentencing. Even terrible people can be innocent of a specific accusation. Supports the accusation, indeed. It does no such thing. Pretending otherwise is playing things politically rather than legally. That is - lying artfully.

It is not partisan to point out that others are being partisan against you. It is common that the person who points out a problem in a business, or club, or a church, or a planning board suddenly finds himself being defined as the problem, but that doesn't make it true. Kavanaugh's decorum was fine, and it wasn't a rant. There is no court in America that would sanction that level of emotion in testimony. You deceive again. There was much less emotional tone than many of the Senators showed.

You mind-read his motives by attributing his answer to ambition. You have no way of knowing his motives, and should not make them up. He fulfilled his duty to the institution of the Senate investigation entirely.

You were opposed to his nomination before he made his speech, and had no word of criticism for how Democrats abused the process. Therefore, you are not a credible judge of his tone and decorum. That doesn't make you dishonest on that point, but a reasonable person would take that into consideration when evaluating the behavior of another.

I demand that you retract and reword. Just because lies are allowed in the general discourse does not mean they will be allowed here.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I will note that in the very post that I warned about narratives changing away from what was known to what people thought was so, that's exactly what Zachriel did. Even when cued in the previous minute of his reading to be careful not to step in the swamp, he stepped in the swamp. For this reason, I was harsh.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: Why would he say that if he did nothing at all?

There is more than ample reason to believe that Kavanaugh engaged in sexual misbehavior.

Assistant Village Idiot: When you say the "overall circumstances" of Kavanaugh's youthful behavior you slyly suggest that occasionally drinking with guys and telling fart jokes is his general behavior.

Kavanaugh was a binge drinker, and more than one woman has accused him of drunken sexual misbehavior.

Assistant Village Idiot: That's a flat lie

That's a common failing, to confuse disagreement with dishonesty. It turns out that many people found Ford's testimony to be compelling. Just because you didn't doesn't make these other people liars.

Assistant Village Idiot: In America, the quality of the accusation is examined before all else, before anyone need make the least defense of their actions and character.

Sure. Ford was a "very credible witness". Kavanaugh then made a partisan appeal in order to shore up his nomination. And the effect is to drag overt partisanship into the Supreme Court.

Assistant Village Idiot: It is not partisan to point out that others are being partisan against you.

But that's not the source of the accusations, which were individual women who told similar stories of drunken boorish behavior. Sure, people opposed to his nomination piled on. So did women who have experienced sexual assault and knew that no one would listen if they came forward.

Assistant Village Idiot: Kavanaugh's decorum was fine, and it wasn't a rant.

It was a partisan rant wherein he blamed Democrats, the Left, anti-Trumpers, and the Clintons — about half the country. Why would any of these groups think they could get a fair hearing when he blames them for his troubles due to his youthful indiscretions, and his dissembling about them.

Assistant Village Idiot: There is no court in America that would sanction that level of emotion in testimony.

Quite the contrary. Emotions are expressed during testimony all the time. But it was more than emotion: it was a conspiratorial rant.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I am leaving this up as evidence. Republicans were able to consider the possibility that Ford was telling the truth and Kavanaugh lying. You are unable to even consider the opposite, as your claims show.

You are now banned going forward.

Zachriel said...

Assistant Village Idiot: Republicans were able to consider the possibility that Ford was telling the truth and Kavanaugh lying.

That is incorrect. We considered Kavanaugh's veracity, but found it wanting.

Assistant Village Idiot: You are now banned going forward.

You will now win every argument! Good luck with the echochamber!

Texan99 said...

Kokora--if even the concept that a total stranger might be innocent is received as a sickening blow, that person should gracefully step clean out of all public consideration of the dispute over that person's innocence and guilt. There are reasons we excuse people from jury duty when they show they can't seriously consider the pros and cons of a case because a prior experience has left them too vulnerable or unbalanced in thought.

Every time I've ever sat through a voir dire, I've been frustrated by the difficulty the lawyers have getting prospective jurors to focus on distinguishing between how they feel about a crime and how they figure out whether THIS person is guilty of THIS crime. Unfortunately, there are lots and lots of people who simply can't do it. If they hate the crime, they hate the accused, and they cannot get it straight in their heads that he could be the WRONG GUY.

About temperament: Kavanaugh's is just fine. I've had more than one excellent judge's bald pate turn purple while he lost his temper over courtroom shenanigans (never at me, thank goodness). Judges get mad. There's nothing wrong with that. There's sure nothing wrong with a judge getting mad when someone accuses him personally of gang rape on the thinnest and most scurrilous and partisan of grounds.

Texan99 said...

If someone accused me of robbing a bank in Tuscon when I could prove I was in Dallas, I don't think my response would be "I remember the circumstances differently, but please forgive me if my imperfectly remembered actions gave any offense."

Honestly, the dreck. You might almost conclude there was a deliberate effort to obfuscate.

As for Z, U mad bro?

Christopher B said...

Z wasn't remembering anything more than the Dem talking points after Ford crashed and burned at the hearing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@T99 - I have had a similar experience in the population at large in both email and internet arguments, and find it frustrating as well. I criticise the liberals that I work with for a lot, but they absolutely get this right, over and over. I have come to regard this ability to divide between "I hate this crime/someone got hurt" and "This other person is guilty. My uncle, a bright enough guy - Mensa officer at one time, trained as an engineer at Northeastern - could not understand why I though it was okay that Bush had outed Joe Wilson's wife Valerie Plame, and wasn't outraged. We went round for years, literally. I did eventually lose my temper in our correspondence exclaiming "But he didn't do it! That's the friggin' point!"

My wife just had a related frustration in jury duty. Much of her jury was worried how much impact a guilty verdict would have on the poor young woman who admitted it was her, disputing only how much fault she had.

This ties in greatly to the difficulties of credibility you note, above. When something is 36 years old, credibility is an enormous issue right off the bat. Even if someone has a very good reason for not being credible, such as length of time, it doesn't make them credible thereby. It may be, as you said, that justice is going to be forever out of reach. That is sad, but not as sad as its opposite, accepting testimony that isn't very good. We saw that in the day-care abuse and recovered memory trials of the 80's (where Janet Reno made her reputation as a protector of children, by sending innocent people to jail in Florida.) A good excuse why your testimony is unreliable does not suddenly make your testimony reliable.

Texan99 said...

Right, it may entirely remove your culpability for being unreliable, without making you reliable. If there's any culpability left, it should be for your willingness to drag someone's name through the mud under such ambiguous circumstances.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Assistant Village Idiot said...

The comment that got deleted was pretty good, if the author wants to have another go at it.

Texan99 said...

I thought so, too.